Burnout looks different on everyone because there are 12 stages to burnout and we are all at different areas in life. Burnout is more than just a feeling of exhaustion or overwhelm. There are thoughts, feelings, and actions that amount to various stages of burnout. It’s important to know what they are so that you can identify similar behaviors and feelings in yourself.
Psychologist Herbert Freudenberger was one of the first to study burnout syndrome in 1980. He and his colleague Gail North, defined burnout as a “state of mental and physical exhaustion caused by one’s professional life.”
Below I’ve broken down in more detail what each stage of burnout means:
Stage 1: Excessive ambition
While ambition is a positive trait that supports our personal and professional goals, anything in excess can quickly turn detrimental. Excessive ambition can kick in when you feel the need to prove yourself – whether to yourself or to others.
Stage 2: Working harder
Establishing high goals with a work focus and all other aspects of your life fall as secondary importance.
Stage 3: Neglecting own needs
Do you ever feel you don’t have time to cook a healthy meal for yourself? Or you just don’t have time to exercise or sleep on time? Stage 3 is when our personal needs are sacrificed. We may even see the effects of this by unhealthy weight gain, insomnia, decreased focus, etc.
Stage 4: Displacement of conflicts and needs
Due to the excessive focus on work, problems are often dismissed; we may feel threatened, panicky, and jittery.
Stage 5: No longer any need for non work related needs
Friends, family, and self-care are often dismissed as being irrelevant or not as important.
Stage 6: Increasing denial of the problem
This stage signifies you may perceive collaborators or those you work with as undisciplined or lazy. Furthermore, there are often times excuses made where the only reason problems are because they are caused by time pressure and work, as opposed to any life changes. “If only I had more time, then…”. There is a sense of removal from reality.
Stage 7: Withdrawal, lack of direction, cynicism
As with stage 5 there is no room for a social life as it is small or nonexistent and often times there is a need to feel relief from stress using alcohol or drugs.
Stage 8: Behavioral changes/psychological reactions
Changes in behavior are unique to each individual but there may be noticeable changes in demeanor and behavior that are obvious to family and friends.
Stage 9: Depersonalization: loss of contact with self and own needs
Unable to see your value. You have lost the drive you used to have. You may feel like quitting/moving/leaving, making a bigger life decision.
Stage 10: Inner emptiness, anxiety, addictive behavior
There is no enthusiasm or interest in work therefore this drives destructive behavior which may include excessive alcohol and drugs. Activities are often exaggerated.
Stage 11: Increasing feeling of meaninglessness and lack of interest
Feeling lost, exhausted, anxious, and hopeless around your life, your mission, and your values.
Stage 12: Physical exhaustion that can be life-threatening
This can include a total mental and physical collapse; time for full medical attention.
After reading about these stages, ask yourself: Do you fall into any of these stages right now? Is this a pattern you have been experiencing in your life? What are you doing to support yourself right now? Do you feel what you’re doing is sustaining you and is sufficient or do you feel there’s something more?
The first step to solving any problem, is acknowledging it. Identify what you are feeling and then acknowledge that you need support to fully come to yourself again.