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What are the five stages of burnout?

What is Burnout?

Burnout refers to the intense fatigue people experience after working hard for extended periods of time without proper breaks or rest.

Burnout can have severe impacts on our physical, mental, and emotional health. Burnout can also negatively impact our social relationships and job security.

Contrary to popular belief, burnout does not just happen. Burnout is a slow burn that develops over the course of five stages.

1: The Honeymoon Phase

Burnout begins the moment we start a new job or role at work. This is known as the Honeymoon Phase. This is characterized by heightened creativity, excitement, and productivity. Because of these heightened, positive experiences, we may be more likely to overcommit at work.

2: The Onset of Stress

After the excitement of beginning anew role begins to wear off, so does the creativity and productivity. At this point we experience the beginnings of stress. We may begin to experience some worry, fatigue, sleep disturbances, or physical symptoms as a result. However, we may be likely to shrug off this stress as a normal part of work.

3: Chronic Stress

If the onset of stress in Stage 2 goes undressed, we enter Stage 3: Chronic Stress. This is when we continuously push ourselves to move past the stress or “shake it off.” Not addressing stress leads to heightened symptoms from Stage 2. Additionally, this may lead to a decline in work performance, an inability to complete tasks, social withdrawal, and lashing out at coworkers or loved ones.

4: Burn Out

The fourth stage is when we reach burnout. This is categorized by severely heightened symptoms from Stages 2 and 3, which can include numbness and physical symptoms like stomach and digestive issues, colds, and migraines and headaches. Additionally, burnt out individuals may feel less confident in their work or ability and may continue to experience cognitive declines and behavioral issues which may alert loved ones to an issue.

5: Habitual Burn Out

The fifth stage is when burnout becomes part of our daily life which can lead to anxiety; depression; insomnia or hypersomnia; and other physical symptoms. Additionally, we may develop a sense of cynicism toward work and colleagues. This may lead to developing an escapist mentality where we misuse PTO or sick time and jeopardize our job security. Substance use and other interpersonal conflict is also common.

Preventing Burnout

Ways to prevent burnout include:

  • Setting healthy boundaries at work
  • Maintaining a healthy work-life balance
  • Avoiding overcommitment
  • Saying no and asking for help
  • Recognizing and acknowledging onsets of stress
  • Practicing self-care consistently
  • Having a daily structure and routine
  • Identifying ways to decompress
  • Understanding personal limits and triggers
  • Implementing healthy nutrition and physical activity
  • Taking appropriate breaks and rest

Combatting Burnout

Here are some ways to combat burnout:

  • Setting healthy boundaries at work
  • Maintaining a healthy work-life balance
  • Ending overcommitment
  • Asking for help or support from supervisor
  • Recognizing and acknowledging onsets of stress
  • Developing self-care plans and routines
  • Beginning therapy or in some cases, starting psychiatric treatments
  • Taking a break or leave of absence.

This page is also part of the Roamers Therapy Glossary; a collection of mental-health related definitions that are written by our therapists.

While our offices are currently located at the South Loop neighborhood of Downtown Chicago, Illinois, we also welcome and serve clients for online therapy from anywhere in Illinois and Washington, D.C. Clients from the Chicagoland area may choose in-office or online therapy and usually commute from surrounding areas such as River North, West Loop, Gold Coast, Old Town, Lincoln Park, Lake View, Rogers Park, Logan Square, Pilsen, Bridgeport, Little Village, Bronzeville, South Shore, Hyde Park, Back of the Yards, Wicker Park, Bucktown and many more. You can visit our contact page to access detailed information on our office location.