5 Stages of Burnout

Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged or repeated stress. Though problems at work most often cause it, it can also appear in other life areas, such as parenting, caretaking, or romantic relationships. The difference between burnout and stress; by definition, burnout is an extended period of stress that feels like it cannot be controlled. If stress is short-lived or linked to a specific goal, it is most likely not harmful. If the stress feels never-ending and comes with feelings of emptiness, apathy, and hopelessness, it may indicate burnout.

Burnout is not only found in your workplace but also at home. While those who work and experience burnout can easily identify the source, those who experience it via parenting, relationships, or any other kind of caregiving find it difficult to track down resources without feeling like a failure. Most people that experience burnout outside of the workplace often keep to themselves due to stigmas and allow the burnout to continue.

If experiencing burnout due to work, some suggestions would be to speak up about your concerns. You could restructure your work environment or try to nurture your relationships. Adopting self-care habits and focusing on hobbies outside of work will help restore your sense of self and manage stress.

Three types of burnout:

  • Individual burnout is caused by excessive negative self-talk, neurosis, and perfectionism. In other words, when you place extremely high standards on yourself or believe nothing you do is good enough.

  • Interpersonal burnout is caused by difficult relationships with others at work or home. For example, an aggressive or unwelcoming boss or coworker can compound the stress you already feel at work to the point of burnout.

  • Organizational burnout is caused by poor organization, extreme demands, and unrealistic deadlines that make you feel like you’re missing the mark and that your job is in danger.

5 Stages of Burnout

1. Honeymoon Stage

When we undertake a new task, we often start by experiencing high satisfaction, commitment, energy, and creativity. This is especially true of a new job role, a business venture's beginnings, or a relationship.

In this first phase of burnout, you may begin to experience predicted stresses of the initiative you’re undertaking, so it’s important to start implementing positive strategies, such as taking practical steps to self-care.

The idea is if we create good coping strategies at this stage, we can continue in the honeymoon phase indefinitely.

2. Onset of Stress

The second stage of burnout begins with an awareness of some days being more difficult than others. You may find your optimism waning, as well as notice common stress symptoms affecting you physically, mentally, or emotionally.

  • Anxiety

  • Avoidance of decision making

  • Change in appetite or diet

  • Fatigue

  • Forgetfulness

  • The general neglect of personal needs

  • Grinding your teeth at night

  • Headaches

  • Heart palpitations

3. Chronic Stress

The third stage of burnout is chronic stress. This is a significant change in your stress levels, going from motivation to experiencing stress frequently. You may also experience more intense symptoms than those of stage two.

  • Denial of problems at work or home

  • Feeling threatened or panicked

  • Feeling pressured or out of control

  • Increased alcohol/drug consumption

  • Increased caffeine consumption

4. Burnout

Entering stage four is burnout itself, where symptoms become critical. Continuing as normal is often not possible in this state as it becomes increasingly difficult to cope. We all have our own unique limits of tolerance, and it’s key that you seek intervention at this stage. A close friend/family member with a non-bias opinion is a good place to start alongside a therapist.

  • Chronic stomach or bowel problems

  • Complete neglect of personal needs

  • Continuation or increase in escapist activities

  • Feeling empty inside.

  • Desire to move away from work or friends/family

5. Habitual Burnout

The final stage of burnout is habitual burnout. This means that the symptoms of burnout are so embedded in your daily life that you are likely to experience a significant ongoing mental, physical or emotional problem instead of occasionally experiencing stress or burnout.

  • Chronic physical fatigue

  • Chronic mental fatigue

  • Depression

To avoid experiencing burnout, reflect to stage one. Remember why you started; what was the motivation, and how can you revert to that stage?

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