The five stages of burnout start with the honeymoon phase, followed by the onset of stress, chronic stress, burnout, and finally, habitual burnout. Burnout can sneak up on you – know the signs.
Burnout – setting the scene
The last few years have thrown us curve ball after curve ball, causing an enormous amount of uncertainty, stress, anxiety and for many, ill health. The pandemic has piled all this on top of us in addition to all the daily stressors we are faced within our lives.
It’s the extra side of stress no-one asked for, but we all got. Thanks, thanks a lot.
Despite it all, onwards we marched, as we turned up a little worse for wear for the start of another challenging, ever-changing and highly demanding work week.
The problem was, those extra demands faced at work due to businesses trying their best to not only pivot and remain intact during unstable financial times, but also adhere to confusing and stringent government guidelines, took a hard and fast toll on the health of employees.
Chronic, insidious stress snowballed into complete burnout, and became one of the top drivers behind ‘the great resignation’ we saw during the pandemic, and that is continuing today.
🔥 What is burnout? Burnout is a work-related stress syndrome resulting from chronic exposure to job stress. It is characterized by emotional exhaustion, cynicism and depersonalisation, reduced professional output and personal accomplishment. It can happen in any profession, affecting students, teachers, healthcare workers, corporates, business owners, mothers and artists alike.
So how bad is it, really?
Recently, a group of researchers released a report on the state of burnout in 2023. The statistics were shocking, though not surprising.
A whopping 38% of study participants were burnout, with high levels of exhaustion, reduced efficacy and cynicism .
This is up considerately from the estimate that 20% of the working population could be defined as having severe burnout, back in 2006 .
Even more alarming, is new research from Intuit QuickBooks, which shows that over two thirds (68%) of sole traders already felt burnout out just days into 2023 .
Burnt to a crisp – my experience
Although I went through Covid lockdowns unscathed, I have been through burnout myself many years ago, during the transition between two careers (from advertising to natural health).
It was absolutely devastating on my physical, mental and emotional health.
I naïvely left the corporate world and threw myself into a new degree, without taking a period of rest in between. I still had to adult of course, so started a website and created digital product to sell, then took on an additional certification in health coaching.
The hours worked for the income received was disproportionate, and the uncertainty over what next month would look like financially weighed heavy on my mind.
Burnout snuck up on me. I thought I could hustle and borrow from my ‘energy bank’ to work late into the night, though never took downtime to top myself back up again.
I became moody, irritable, teary, anxious, snappy and overwhelmed. I would skip lunch and opt for toast or avocado on crackers, snack on a bit too much chocolate, and suffer the blood glucose rollercoaster that ensued. I gained weight that just wouldn’t shift, pushed myself to exercise, felt wired yet couldn’t sleep.
By the time I dragged myself into my naturopath’s clinic I was combusting right there on the chair in front of her, sobbing uncontrollably as I tried to convey the sheer exhaustion I felt (no need, she saw it).
The road to recovery was long, expensive, and unfortunately, involved medications as I’d left treatment far too long.
Trust me – burnout is the pits.
Catching burnout early
Catching burnout early starts with awareness. I don’t want burnout to sneak up on you like it did me, so the first step in taking your power back when it comes to your health is being educated on the warning signs before disaster strikes.
Here are the five stages of burnout – do you see yourself in any of them?
Stage one: The honeymoon phase
This stage is characterised by enthusiasm. However, after time, the stresses of the job start to make themselves apparent. With a lack of positive coping mechanisms, progression through the stages of burnout occurs.
💃 Is this you? You are satisfied and committed to your job or business, accept responsibility and feel compelled to work hard and prove yourself. Your energy levels are high, you feel positive, have creativity on tap, and are highly productive.
Stage two: The onset of stress
This stage is characterised by stagnation. Cracks appear and optimism wanes. Some days are harder than others, and work commitments begin to crowd out other areas of life, such as time with the kids and family, social life, exercise, hobbies and spiritual practice. Physical and emotional stress symptoms start to appear.
😐 Is this you? Stress has started to affect your physical health, you’re anxious and noticing a change in breathing (shallow), your blood pressure has increased. You are tired yet not sleeping well, suffer headaches, muscles aches and pain. Emotionally, you are more reactive, crying easily, snapping at loved ones, or experiencing outbursts of anger. You feel overwhelmed at work, yet guilty for not being present at home. You’re now avoiding friends and family.
Stage three: Chronic stress
This stage is characterised by chronic stress and frustration. Despite efforts, there appears to be no recognition or progress which leads to a sense that you aren’t good enough. Not feeling valued or appreciated turns into frustration, and if not remedied, can lead one to become apathetic. With no solution in site, there is despair.
😣 Is this you? You now seem to be permanently exhausted, relying on stimulants to get you through the day (coffee number…3?) or drugs/alcohol to help wind you down at night. You are starting to resent your work situation, procrastinate and have reduced output. You feel angry, or apathetic, have withdrawn socially and feel pressured yet undervalued at work.
Stage four: Burnout
This stage has reached crisis point. There are now significant physical and emotional challenges with an increased difficulty in the ability to cope and depersonalisation. The severity of these symptoms will hopefully cause one to seek professional help.
😵 Is this you? Those tense muscles have turned into frequent headaches, your digestive system is way out of whack, and the anxiety has escalated to panic attacks. Your libido, social life and exercise routine has flatlined. You don’t feel happy or positive anymore, have isolated yourself, have neglected your needs, feel empty inside and have resigned to feeling this way. You engage in escapist activities to avoid reality.
Stage five: Habitual burnout
This stage is characterised by the urgent need for intervention. At this point, the severity of symptoms means there is now a high chance they have become chronic rather than an occasional presentation. A wall has well and truly been hit, and it is likely the individual can no longer maintain their job.
🔥 Is this you? You feel sad, depressed, mentally fatigued and physically exhausted…all of the time.
If you saw yourself in any of those stages (beyond stage 1), consider booking in with me to help turn things around. Burnout is both preventable and reversible, so there is no need to suffer. Best of all, this is truly an area naturopathic, herbal and nutritional medicine shines in. You can get your energy back, you can have healthy relationships again, you can flourish in your business.
Life is amazing on the other side of burnout, I hope I can help support you in getting there.