Is it possible your teenager has burnout?
Although classified as an occupational syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress, burnout is nonetheless marked by physical and emotional exhaustion that some experts say is becoming more common among increasingly stressed adolescents.
School is a major factor. Including the time they spend on homework and studying, many students in Germany, for instance, have a 40-hour “work” week, points out Dr Michael Schulte-Markwort, director of the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at the Hamburg-Eppendorf University Medical Centre in Germany.
“Academic demands have grown, ” he says, noting many pupils believe that if the average mark on their school-leaving certificate is more than a half-point under the maximum, it’s worthless.
Social stress also plays a large role in adolescents’ lives, fuelled mainly by social media.
“Constantly being evaluated in all spheres is an enormous burden, ” says psychologist Gabriele Bringer, director of the Berlin Stress Centre, which helps people manage stress.
Making the situation more difficult is that adolescence is a time of both mental and physical transition. “Adolescents aren’t always sure of their own feelings, ” Bringer explains.
Exhaustion syndrome is insidious. Family and friends, and the very person affected, don’t notice it at first. Common initial symptoms are difficulty sleeping and concentrating, muscle tension and reduced efficacy in performing tasks. Severe abdominal pains and headaches can occur as well.
“The adolescents affected often further increase their workload, which can lead to complete depressive exhaustion, ” says Schulte-Markwort.
Adolescents’ brain metabolism often undergoes changes that may cause depression-like symptoms, such as despondency and self-injurious behaviour. Many seclude themselves, perhaps consume drugs or spend excessive time at a computer, says psychotherapist Helga Land-Kistenich, head of a therapeutic practice specialising in the treatment of children and adolescents.
To prevent the condition from progressing this far, adolescents should seek help early. The first place to turn is their family, but it’s not always easy for them to open up. A school counsellor or psychological aid centre can also be helpful.
The first step towards recovery is analysing the stressors. What things are troublesome? What can be changed?
“It’s important not to simply do less, ” emphasises Schulte-Markwort, “because there’s good stress and there’s bad stress. You shouldn’t cut out the enjoyment you get from learning a musical instrument or training for a sport, for example.”
Some people have to develop completely new strategies to make their daily routine less stressful. The measures vary greatly from person to person.
It’s not really possible to fully prevent adolescents from becoming burnt out. Having a good relationship with their parents is important, particularly at the beginning of a new stage in life such as moving out of the family home and into their own flat.
“A true circle of friends is also worth its weight in gold – real friends and not just online ones, ” Bringer says. “Someone who makes new friends easily is at less risk of burnout.” – dpa/Julian Hilgers
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