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Dossier: Stress and relaxation

Burnout: “First create boundaries”

Pascal Brotzer was just 29 when he had a burnout. As he underwent therapy, he knew he must never allow it to happen again.

Text: Helwi Braunmiller, photos: Kostas Maros

“Tight chest, dizziness, a feeling like lovesickness – but 1,000 times worse. I knew something was wrong that morning. I burst into tears on the street for no reason. I was scared and didn’t understand what was wrong so I drove to my parents’ house. My mum wanted me to stay until Sunday. When I realised that I now had three days off, I broke down: I couldn’t speak or walk and passed out. Burnout – at 29.

Looking at my blood counts, the doctor said I’d either just run a marathon or had been pushing myself to the limit for too long. He asked whether I slept at all. At this point I’d been working solidly for two years, with no holidays, not even a weekend off. Alongside my full-time job, I’d got a surf magazine off the ground and developed and driven forward the idea for waveup – my “baby”. Sometimes I’d forget to eat for two days.

“Sometimes I’d forget to eat for two days.”

I’d always thought that stress was “part of the game”. If I wanted to get my 30-million franc project off the ground, I had to roll with the punches. The problem was that my mind was permanently switched on. The ever increasing pressure got too much for me. And I was the only one to blame.

The hardest thing for me was keeping all the voluntary and new partners on board and up to speed. I was totally drained after meetings. I put the symptoms of stress – dizziness, shaking, problems with my vision – down to low blood sugar.

After my breakdown last year, I knew that I never wanted to experience something like that again. I admitted myself to a psychiatric clinic for 12 weeks.

“When there’s no more space in my diary, my day is full."

I was by far the youngest at the clinic. When you’re there it’s like you’re in a bubble, a dream world. You recover quickly in the clinic and you soon have the feeling you’re back on track. But all patients are scared of being discharged – because the real world awaits outside. Then you hear: Great that you’re better, let’s go! That’s why many of my fellow patients weren’t able to change their habits, and had been in the clinic several times already.

I realised that I can’t change my job, but I can change how I work. The first step was to create boundaries. I moved from Zurich to St. Gallen and I now leave my work behind in Zurich at the end of the day. I meet up with old friends again and make time for my girlfriend. Once a day I do mindfulness exercises to relax. And there’s one more simple change: I keep a normal, old-fashioned paper diary. When there’s no more space in my diary, my day is full.”