Defined as the state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion and accompanied by a range of symptoms, burnout is often caused by prolonged or chronic work-related stress, and has unfortunately become a common occurrence in the lives of modern professionals. With burnout levels still on the rise, this all-too-common condition clearly requires a wider and more comprehensive understanding for us to beat it. 

Burnout comes in 5 stages. Throughout this article, we will go into detail about each stage, explain the symptoms that you can look out for and offer some wellbeing strategies you can implement in your personal and professional lives to help combat burnout. So, what are the 5 stages of burnout?

1. Honeymoon Phase

We can sometimes get an initial burst of ‘everything is perfect’ energy at a new job and perhaps ignore any stressors or issues that need confronting. It is in this early stage that intervention is the most effective but we need to ensure we are present enough to recognise and deal with any stress factors. Ideally, this phase is when we should start to notice if there are any early warning signs of poor mental health and implement consistent wellbeing strategies into our working routines.

Common Symptoms of the Honeymoon Phase:

  • Sustained and increased energy levels
  • Going beyond your limits to prove yourself at work
  • Dismissing problems and stressors

2. Stress Onset

This phase of burnout is when any underlying stress really starts to set in. You may be neglecting your general self-care duties to keep up with your stressful schedule and workload, finding yourself snapping in moments of irritability or perhaps having a hard time focusing on work. Your productivity levels may start to slip here as you struggle to keep up with everything on your plate. You might start to notice that you feel stressed, but still brush it off as the normality of working life. This stage is where it becomes vital to effectively manage your stress container.

Common Symptom of Stress Onset:

  • Niggling feelings of anxiety
  • Irritability and other stress indicators
  • General neglect of self-care

3. Chronic Stress

Chronic stress sets in when you do nothing to combat the building stress of work and other commitments. You begin missing deadlines and feel yourself procrastinating more and more to avoid any feelings of stress. You might find yourself starting to overeat or over-consume alcohol, cigarettes or caffeine in attempts to avoid this stress. Your stress may show its face more often in this phase of burnout, possibly with higher levels of irritability and anger or aggressive behaviour. Frustrations are high and physical symptoms such as headaches and fatigue may set in.

Common Symptoms:

  • Bouts of anger or aggressive behaviour
  • Missed work deadlines due to lower productivity levels and higher procrastination levels
  • Increased food/alcohol/caffeine consumption as a form of avoidance

4. Burnout

When burnout itself really hits, you may have abandoned your  self-care and personal needs, leaving you socially isolated with heightened escapist activities. Headaches and fatigue may worsen, alongside other physical symptoms. If your work-related stress levels are sky high, you feel a general sense of intense dread when you think about work. You may be taking regular sick days in order to avoid your stress. 

This phase is usually where your results take the biggest hit. Your employer might notice that your work isn’t up to scratch in this phase as you hit your limit, leading to even more stress and pressure on your plate, causing a vicious cycle.

Common Symptoms:

  • Complete neglect of personal needs
  • Chronic headaches and other physical symptoms worsen
  • Social isolation and increase in escapist activities
  • Feelings of emptiness and a complete lack of motivation

5. Habitual Burnout

Habitual burnout is the last phase of burnout, that occurs when burnout becomes an integral part of your life. It can take a toll on your career, relationships and health. Habitual burnout can also cause burnout syndrome.

Common Symptoms:

  • Chronic low mood and anxiety
  • Chronic mental and physical fatigue
  • Complete social isolation/avoidance

Wellbeing Strategies to Combat Burnout

  • Prioritise your work/life balance by adhering to your boundaries. Turn off work notifications outside of working hours. Stop checking your emails in bed. Make time for your life outside of work! It can feel impossible if you’re used to a cycle of burnout, but initially forcing yourself out of these habits is the hardest part. Your health and work performance will benefit in the long run!
  • Create a challenging, yet realistic workload that works for your employer and you. If you are just starting a job, don’t pressure yourself to work at your maximum capacity every minute of every day. Set boundaries that allow you to work efficiently without overextending yourself. Stop skipping your breaks. Take 5 minutes to stand up and stretch or get away from the screen every hour. If your workload is already too heavy, tell your concerns to your manager. 
  • Remember your personal needs! Self-care is something that we treat as a luxury when it should, in fact, be a priority. You can’t pour from an empty cup, so trying to offer your best performance at work when your wellbeing is suffering is virtually impossible. Remember the basics: eat regularly, get up and move, sleep enough! It is important to address your wider mental health and how to keep on top of it if you want to avoid burnout.

Recognise Burnout in Its Early Stages with Business Mental Health Training from Great Minds at Work!

With burnout plaguing the modern working environment, more needs to be done to tackle it. Though employees can take steps to look after their own wellbeing and avoid burnout on a personal level, companies can offer support, education and expertise in the area to ensure they are looking out for their employees’ best interests. 

At Great Minds At Work, we offer a range of comprehensive business mental health training solutions that allow you to offer an understanding of burnout and how to avoid it at a company-wide level. Contact us today to find out more!