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What Are the 5 Stages of Burnout?

0 2 years ago

Between altered work environments, balancing work-from-home expectations and juggling the COVID-19 pandemic, many Americans are becoming mentally and physically exhausted with their jobs. This prolonged period of fatigue known as burnout isn’t just a state of mind, it’s a real syndrome that affects countless workers across the country.

Burnout plays out in stages as demands and work stressors pile on. Knowing about each stage can help you recognize signs of burnout before it becomes problematic. We’ll help you identify these symptoms and provide tips for how to recover and learn to love your job again.

Burnout stages

Burnout isn’t a sudden onset of feelings. Instead, your thoughts, feelings and actions progress through a series of stages. The initial stages may not feel like much, but they can eventually lead to a habitual phase that makes it hard to carry out your occupational duties.

Honeymoon phase

Like a honeymoon phase in a marriage, this stage comes with energy and optimism. Whether it is starting a new job or tackling a new task, it’s common to experience satisfaction that leads to periods of productivity and the ability to tap into your creative side.

Onset of stress phase

Eventually, the honeymoon phase dwindles, and you begin to experience stress. Not every second of your day is stressful, but there are more frequent times when stress takes over. As this stage begins, take notice of any physical or mental signs. You may start to lose focus more easily or be less productive when completing tasks. Physically, fatigue can start to set in, making it more difficult to sleep or enjoy activities outside of work.

Chronic stress phase

You’ll reach a point where the stress becomes more persistent, or chronic. As the pressure mounts, the stress is likely to consistently affect your work. Examples include feelings of apathy, not completing work on time, being late for work or procrastinating during tasks. Socially, you may withdraw from normal work-related conversations. In other cases, you may become angry and lash out at coworkers. Sometimes, these feelings follow you home and can affect relationships with friends and family.

Burnout phase

This phase is when you reach your limit and can no longer function as you normally would. Problems at work begin to consume you to the point where you obsess over them. At times, you may also feel numb and experience extreme self-doubt. Physical symptoms will become intense, leading to chronic headaches, stomach issues and gastrointestinal problems. Friends and family members may also notice behavioral changes.

Habitual burnout phase

If left untreated, burnout can become a part of your everyday life and eventually lead to anxiety or depression. You can also begin to experience chronic mental and physical fatigue that prevents you from working. Your job status may be put in jeopardy if you continue on this path.

Burnout symptoms

Burnout symptoms vary depending on which phase of burnout you’re in. In general, there are three symptoms to be aware of: exhaustion, depersonalization and reduced personal accomplishment.

Exhaustion: This fatigue presents itself both mentally and physically. The energy you typically have is zapped by persistent exhaustion.

Depersonalization: This is a feeling of indifference. In other words, you start to feel numb. For example, you may become more cynical in your inner workings or lack the ability to communicate effectively with people.

Reduced personal accomplishment/performance: This tends to manifest when you feel your work is insufficient and you’re incapable of performing your work. For example, you may lose pleasure in work you previously received joy from. Your usual creativity may wane, and it can become harder to concentrate.

Symptoms may also present as physical, emotional or behavioral.

Physical symptoms include:

  • Feeling tired
  • Having difficulty sleeping
  • Experiencing a change in appetite
  • Dealing with headaches or muscle pain

Emotional symptoms include:

  • Lacking motivation
  • Experiencing feelings of self-doubt
  • Failure or loneliness
  • An overall feeling of dissatisfaction

Behavioral symptoms include:

  • Social isolation
  • Not performing your responsibilities
  • Work-related anger outbursts

How to recover from burnout

At this point, burnout probably sounds stressful enough to wonder if you can ever recover from it. The good news is there are ways to bounce back and learn to enjoy your work again. For starters, you need to be honest with yourself and recognize the burnout. It will be difficult to move forward if you can’t see the problem yourself.

Talk to your boss and let them know what your current struggles are. They may suggest you take some time off to recharge. If this isn’t offered, request a personal day or two to take a step back and reassess your situation. Consider taking a vacation to truly unwind.

Before you return, find new ways to cope with your job and find a work-life balance. It’s important to prioritize self-care and schedule time for yourself. This can be as simple as taking breaks throughout the day or going on a walk during lunchtime. In stressful moments, it may also help to practice breathing techniques to lower your stress.

While at work, know your limitations. People in new jobs tend to say “yes” to everything, as they feel it’s necessary to showcase their value to their boss. This can be dangerous. Sooner or later, you may find yourself drowning in too many tasks. To solve this problem, don’t be afraid to say “no”.

Knowing your limitations also includes a set work schedule. In today’s work-from-home environment, it’s easy to be flexible and work longer hours or respond to emails or texts after working hours. While answering a call at night may seem harmless, it can lead to bad habits.

If you’re struggling from burnout and are unsure of where to turn, ask your primary care physician to refer you to a mental health provider. They can help you develop coping strategies to find a happy medium with your work.


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