The 12 Stages of Burnout

These days, it seems we hear about burnout and its effects more and more and the majority of us are likely to experience it at some point in our lives. Burnout can occur as a response to long-term ongoing stress and fatigue, be it physical, mental or emotional with many of us reaching burnout as a result of feeling stressed at work. At its core, burnout is usually characterised by feeling completely depleted. You may find that you lack energy or motivation, or lose all sense of joy for the things you normally love to do. Burnout can also affect your emotions and people often report feeling a little numb and show a lack of care and consideration in their relationships and day-to-day tasks.


Burnout and depression share some similar symptoms, but they aren’t the same. Thankfully burnout usually gets better after some rest and time off, but depression is a long-term condition that requires medical support. However, burnout can also be chronic, and by this point it’s important to get some professional help. Chronic burnout can affect all areas of your life, and make you more susceptible to illness. 


There are 12 stages of burnout, according to psychologists Herbert Freudenberger and Gail North:


Stage 1 – Compulsion to prove yourself

Initially, individuals may attempt to establish themselves by demonstrating their worth and capability, often taking on higher workloads and greater responsibility to prove their value.


Stage 2 – Working harder

To meet the high expectations they’ve set for themselves, individuals often  begin to work harder and for increasingly longer hours. They may become obsessed with their work and neglect other aspects of their life, such as socialising or being present in their relationships.


Stage 3 – Neglecting own needs

By Stage 3, self-care is no longer a priority. Individuals may begin to skip meals, go to bed later and rise earlier, and avoid leaving the house, meaning their physical and emotional needs are no longer being met.


Stage 4 – Displacement of conflicts

At this stage, individuals may begin to experience conflict between their personal needs and work demands but they’re unlikely to recognise or accept these issues. It’s more likely that these conflicts will be dismissed and left unresolved.


Stage 5 – Revision of values

Personal values begin to shift at stage 5, as work becomes the primary focus. Values relating to an individual’s personal relationship and hobbies, are downgraded or lost completely. The individual’s identity becomes increasingly linked to their performance and work and what they have achieved.


Stage 6 – Denial of emerging problems

Individuals might start to deny any problems they’re experiencing, and often blame external factors or friends, family or colleagues for any stress or difficulties they’re facing. They may also become intolerant or dismissive of others.


Stage 7 – Withdrawal

As the strain continues, individuals may withdraw from social interactions and activities completely, leading to further isolation. This can manifest as avoiding social gatherings, relying on substances like alcohol or drugs for relief, or using escapism as a coping mechanism.


Stage 8 – Behavioural change

Changes in behaviour begin to become more noticeable to others at this stage. The individual’s behaviour may become odd, erratic or uncharacteristic, leading to changes and sometimes loss of personal relationships.


Stage 9 – Depersonalisation

By Stage 9, we start to see a loss of connection and detachment. Individuals might start to see themselves and others as objects or functions rather than people, leading to a lack of empathy and a breakdown of personal connections.


Stage 10 – Inner emptiness

Individuals may start to experience feelings of emptiness or anxiety, which they might try to overcome through heightened activity at work or  through escapism activities instead.


Stage 11 – Depression

This stage is characterised by feelings of hopelessness, exhaustion, and indifference. The individual may feel lost, unsure of their purpose, and uncertain about the future, leading to an overall feeling of depression. 


Stage 12 – Burnout syndrome

The culmination of each of the preceding stages leads to complete burnout syndrome, where individuals feel overwhelmed and unable to cope. If left to continue, this can lead to a significant mental, physical, and emotional breakdown, requiring professional intervention to recover.


Burnout develops over time and it’s important to recognise and be aware of the initial signs so that you can prevent it from developing further. Typically the initial signs include feeling exhausted even after having good sleep and participating in restful activities as well as feeling a lack of enthusiasm and negativity towards your job or role. You may also find that you struggle to perform your daily duties. 


So, how can you prevent burnout or stop it in its tracks? The most important thing is to communicate how you are feeling, either to your manager at work, or to family and friends. If you can identify you need support at this early stage, then measures can be put in place that will help to prevent burnout from progressing. And this could be something as simple as taking some time off from work. 


It’s also important to look after yourself by making sure you are getting enough good quality sleep, eating healthily and exercising. You may also want to plan a few things to look forward to, like going out for lunch with friends, taking a trip to the beach or having a short break away from home. Practising mindfulness is another great way to help you to stay present and relax. It helps you to keep on top of your priorities and allows you to check in with yourself more often so that you can be more aware of how you are feeling and make positive changes quickly. 


If you are starting to feel the effects of burnout or find that you are already progressing through the 12 stages, don’t delay in reaching out for help. As a mindset coach, my mission is to empower you with the tools, strategies, and unwavering support needed to harness the incredible power of your mind. Together, we’ll embark on a transformative journey that will not only shift your perspective but also open doors to a life filled with confidence, purpose, and success.




The 12 Stages of Burnout: How to Identify and Recover

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