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. But what are the 5 stages of burnout?

Throughout this article, we will go into detail about each of the 5 stages of burnout, explain some key burnout 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, let’s get started.

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 Symptoms 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 an attempt 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 of Chronic Stress:

  • 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 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 of Burnout:

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

5. Habitual Burnout

Habitual burnout is the last phase of burnout, which can occur 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.

Unfortunately, habitual burnout or burnout of a more severe nature can cause long-term issues. It’s important to get help as soon as possible if you find yourself in this habitual phase of burnout.

Chronic workplace stress over a prolonged period can be a key factor in whether an employee will develop signs of burnout, specifically workplace burnout. Other factors in an employee’s personal life can also impact this.

Common Symptoms of Habitual Burnout:

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

Understanding Burnout Symptoms

Now that we’ve gone through the different phases of burnout and their symptoms, let’s take a closer look at some of the most common burnout symptoms in more detail. 

Exhaustion

Exhaustion is one of the most common symptoms of burnout. It can be physical, mental or both. If you’re constantly feeling tired and run down, with a low mood and energy levels and no energy to complete even the most basic tasks, it’s a sign that you might be experiencing burnout.

Insomnia

Insomnia is another common symptom of burnout. You may find it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep due to racing thoughts about work or other stressors in your life. This can lead to further exhaustion, creating a vicious cycle.

Changes in Appetite

Changes in appetite are also common with burnout. You may find yourself overeating or undereating as a way of coping with the stress you’re under. This can lead to weight gain or weight loss, as well as further exhaustion and possible nutritional deficiencies.

Anxiety and Depression

Anxiety and depression are common mental health symptoms that can be caused by burnout. If you’re feeling anxious or down all the time, it’s a sign that you might be experiencing burnout. These feelings can make it hard to concentrate or enjoy activities that you used to love.

Irritability and Anger

Irritability and anger are also common symptoms of burnout. You may find yourself snapping at loved ones or co-workers for no reason. This can be a sign that you’re struggling to cope with the stress in your life.

Physical Symptoms

Burnout can also cause physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach problems and muscle pain. These physical symptoms can be a sign that your body is under stress and struggling to cope.

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s important to reach out for help. Burnout can have a serious impact on your mental and physical health, so it’s important to get help if you’re struggling.

How To Support Employees With Burnout in the Workplace

There are many different ways to treat burnout. In the workplace, it’s vital that employers provide adequate mental health training and support for employees. This can help to prevent burnout before it starts.

By training employees in Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) or Mental Health Awareness (MHFA Aware), employers can provide employees with the knowledge and skills they need to identify the early signs of mental health issues, including burnout, and seek help from a mental health professional if necessary.

They can also provide valuable resources and support to employees who are struggling with burnout. This can include access to counselling services, stress management programmes and flexible working arrangements or reasonable adjustments.

When it comes to supporting employees with burnout, every organisation is different. It’s important to find what works for your workplace. With the right support in place, you can create a mentally healthy workplace that helps employees manage stress, and prevent or treat burnout.

Stages of Burnout FAQs

What is the definition of burnout?

Though the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) does not recognise burnout under its mental disorders, the World Health Organisation goes on to define burnout as an “occupational phenomenon” which is characterised by three main dimensions:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
  • Reduced professional efficacy.

What are the causes of burnout?

There are many different causes of burnout. In the workplace, employees can develop burnout due to long hours, unrealistic deadlines, excessive workloads, and lack of support. Other causes can include caring for a loved one with a chronic illness, stress hormones, personal relationship problems, sleep problems, or financial stressors.

What does burnout look like?

Job burnout can manifest in a variety of ways. Though we have covered common signs and symptoms of burnout throughout this guide, it’s important to remember that everyone experiences burnout differently and you may not always be able to tell when someone is struggling.

If you’re worried about someone, try to offer your support.

How long does burnout last? 

Burnout doesn’t always happen overnight. In many cases, it can build up over time. Once someone is experiencing burnout, they can have little or no control over their symptoms and it can take weeks or even months to recover. However, burnout research shows that with the right support, most people do eventually recover from burnout and avoid developing burnout syndrome or habitual burnout.

What are the signs of mental burnout?

The symptoms of mental burnout can vary from person to person, but some common symptoms of mental burnout include emotional exhaustion, changes in appetite, anxiety and depression, irritability and anger, and physical symptoms such as headaches and muscle pain.

Can burnout symptoms impact physical and mental health?

Yes. Burnout can have a serious impact on your mental and physical health. It’s important to get help or support from your employer if you’re struggling with burnout.

Wellbeing Strategies to Help Combat Burnout Symptoms

It’s also important to focus on your own wellbeing if you’re struggling with any of these burnout stages or symptoms, or think you might be at risk of burnout. There are many different wellbeing strategies that can help to combat burnout. Here are some of the most effective:

  1. 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!
  2. 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 five 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. 
  3. 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, and 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 existing in 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!