From emergancy brake to escape hill

In the beginning of the burnout, I often faced unexpected situations. I regularly planned things that I could handle in a normal situation but now not anymore.

I agreed to do something and then it turned out that my body did not like that at all. Or then I planned to go to a concert with friends, for example, but when I came in, it was very disappointing. With a lot of abdominal pain, panic and stress, I was out for such a night. Because I thought: “come on Marco”, you just have to go through this. You can do this!!

Those were moments when, often painfully, it became clear that what I wanted and what I could do were still far apart. At moments like that, I fully felt my burnout.

Own experience:

I was on the train from Nijmegen to Molenhoek (5 minutes) and I felt this is not good I want to get out of here. I panicked and when we were there I had a sweat on my head. The idea that I couldn’t get out of this small space frightened me the most.

I then thought I always want to be able to escape from the situation. I don’t care what the environment thinks. If I must, I’ll leave.

I also walked away a few times: at a movie, lunch aborted, family visits. Then it felt like too much, that all the alarm bells went off.

These events also highlighted another problem. Namely that in such a case I was mainly concerned with what others would think of it.

Thoughts like:

  • how does this look to them?
  • what will they say?
  • too bad for them that this is how it goes
  • what will they say about me?

Then this idea took control of me. A feeling of feeling especially guilty towards the others was the result.

This feeling cost me a lot of energy. Days after such an experience, I was still working on it. I had to stop this please behavior.

I had to change something and start thinking more about myself.

How that went I describe below.


Because I had developed this, please behavior in previous years, I found it quite exciting and a bit scary to stop that.  This please behavior was also a kind of safety. I was under the impression that if I mainly thought about others, I would be found more fun, nicer, friendlier.

Together with my family and my psychologist, we started working on this.

First, I started looking in my area at people who could do this very well.  In my area there were  people who were good at this.  Statements such as: this is not my job, I choose for myself, I will come back to this later, if you do that, you can for me, I am now low in my energy, what do you need … etc.  With that they could very clearly set their boundaries and they stood up for themselves.

I wanted to learn that too and started practicing. For that I had to move a beacon in myself.  I found nl.  that some people took very good care of themselves.  Sometimes at the expense of others.  As a result, e.e.a. also ended up with  those others.  So, I had to cross a threshold.

So, I had to confront myself.  I found it exciting, and I didn’t really know how to do that.  I then started to come up with a break.  A way out for the moment when it really didn’t work anymore.  That was in the beginning: get up and go.  A clear (abrupt) action.

In the beginning I found it difficult to use and regularly I just didn’t dare. But by just doing it several times (with people I trusted), using it became a bit easier.

Then I would sit in a restaurant and think after an hour “I have to get out of here”. At that moment I said: guys I find it very annoying, but I’m not pulling this now. I’m going home.

Or then we went to a performance and at the start I already felt this is not going to be anything. Even then boys said: sorry but I’m not that far yet. And then I went.

In fact, I fled the situation.  But I did stand up for myself.



In the beginning I thought that was a great emergency brake.  I noticed that I did not yet master this mechanism  of setting boundaries very well. So then this was the way to indicate the boundary.  It felt good to use it.

In a special way I chose for myself.  The relief that that gave was really new to me. I did something I hadn’t done in a long time: I thought myself was important.

It was a side effect that many people around me accepted that. They said they didn’t quite get it, but if I needed it, I could just do it.  It wasn’ t a problem.

Because of this setup, I was also able to experiment even more with what could and could not be done.

What I noticed after a while was that the emergency brake was the last resort. I had let the situation get so far that only getting up and going was still possible.

So, after a while I started thinking about how I could make an escalation ladder, with interventions.  So that I could turn the situation around sooner.

To do that, I had to think in advance which intervention was needed for which action.  I thought about the situation  in advance and tried  to build in escape hills.  Moments or situations in which I could retreat for a while to recharge.

For example:

  • when we went for coffee somewhere, I said after a while: I’m going for a walk, but I’ll come back in a minute. I then bought time to recover.
  • when we got a visit, I said after half an hour: nice that you were there but I am low in my energy so withdraw.
  • at work I asked for in-between hours so I could recharge.
  • that I was not allowed to follow certain meetings or through teams.

In this way I slowly grew towards a more stable and appropriate interventions that I could make.  Dat gave me peace and confidence.

I have added a pdf file below, which you might be able to use for your own escalation ladder.



Making this escalation ladder did not go well all at once. I have been working on this for a long time and sometimes still do.

But by working on it and sharing it with my environment, I got better and better at it.  I regularly included him in my day planner and also described him in my workbook (notebook).  So that I consciously started working with it.

I grew into a more mature relationship with my environment. Where my boundaries are better guarded.


The things I wanted and could do, I got a better picture of.  Especially thinking in advance where the escape was, brought a lot of peace. I felt less overwhelmed and had the feeling that I was getting a better grip on the situation.

I gained more and more confidence that it would be okay.


Because of the emergency brake I chose a special way for myself.  I noticed: it’s not possible. I got up and went. Is it flight? Maybe so, but who cares. I saw this as a moment of success. I used to  sit dutifully. Now I made a different choice.

Over time, I came up with multiple escape hills, which made me feel much better.  I felt in my body that it was not good  and acted accordingly. That is 100% profit compared to before the burnout.


  1. Come up with an escape that works for you. In any situation (create such an escalation ladder yourself)
  2. Make sure this escape is there and make use of it if you feel it
  3. Realize that this is necessary to feel safer
  4. Think about yourself and don’t feel guilty towards the environment You have the burnout
  5. This is being kind to yourself.

Keep it should be fine!!

If you are going to use this way out, you will also think in advance where it is. I found it very soothing that I knew in advance where my escape was and could act accordingly in case of emergency.

This idea of the escape is also useful, later in the recovery. Especially when you go back to work (I have written a piece about it) it is necessary.

So, my advice to you: see where your escape is and use it when you need it. If necessary, you share this with your environment, so that they can take this into account.

Make sure that way out is there. Nothing is as bad as being trapped in fear and panic while you want to get out of the situation.

It is not about beauty or what belongs socially, but in this phase, you must be able to intervene. That feels weird and strange at first, but you learn that you’re in a situation you don’t want to be in. 

Next time, pay more attention.