The Stages of Burnout And How to Acknowledge Them

Burnout is a real problem in today’s workforce, and chances are you have experienced it or are currently in the middle of it. Our incredible business coach, Natalie Underdown, Ph.D. is an Executive Coach & Organizational Psychologist, and founder of The NU Co. Natalie has personally walked our team through the steps of burnout and coached us on how to banish it once and for all. Our team found so much value in her teachings and practices that we knew we needed to share the Stages of Burnout with all of you. That being said we will turn over the mic to the professional.

Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and are unable to meet constant demands. There are actually 5 distinct stages of burnout – once you know what they look like, you can work on identifying which stage you’re in, and how to handle it!

Stage 1: The Honeymoon

What does it feel like? Oh happy days! These are the early days where things feel good, you’re excited about the opportunity ahead, and sure, you can see that there will be some stressful times ahead (of course there will be), but for now you’re relaxed and focused on the opportunity ahead.

What should I do about it? Now is the time to set yourself up for success! This where a mindfulness and wellness practice will pay off in dividends! This is also where you’ll have the time and energy to invest in support mechanisms like coaching so that when stress does appear, you have everything you need in place to handle it. AKA: don’t wait until your car is broken down on the side of the road to get an oil change!

Stage 2: Some Stress

What does it feel like? You may feel an onset of physical and emotional symptoms popping up here and there, be a bit anxious from time to time, get a little short or irritable with your loved ones, and/or feel a bit more tired. You also may start putting the things that actually help you combat burnout (like wellness and investing in your relationships) on the back-burner.

What should I do about it? Understand what’s causing it and do something about it. Now is the time to address this head on before it gets worse. Is it:

(1). Your workload
(2). A perceived lack of control (has a lot been changing?)
(3). A misalignment in the amount of effort and the payoff
(4). A values mismatch
(5). Or the community/environment/people you’re around every day?

Stage 3: Chronic Stress

What does it feel like? This is when stress has become the norm. You start expecting things to go wrong, are always waiting for the other shoe to drop, and find yourself thinking or saying “why do I have to do everything, all the time?”

Health and relationship issues start surfacing (because you have not been prioritizing them) and it starts to feel like everything is going wrong (even if it’s really just 1 or 2 areas of your life causing the chronic stress).

What should I do about it? Your health is suffering and you must take a step back.

First, ask for help. You don’t have to do this on your own and no job or business is worth your health. Let me say that again for the people in the back – NO job or business is worth your health!

If you’re dealing with Chronic Stress, you need to ask yourself: who can I ask for help?

Then, ask yourself if you have boundaries around what is causing you stress. Where can you say no, make changes, and protect your energy?

Stage 4: Burnout

What does it feel like? Burnout is when you are no longer able to live your life or perform your normal daily responsibilities. You’re most likely experiencing a myriad of health issues, combined with a great deal of emotional fallout (anxiety, fear, depression). You may feel trapped or lost, and it can feel like the only thing left to do is to completely separate yourself or leave the job causing you to burn out.

What should I do about it? You really need to take a break and take time away from your job. But don’t just drink margaritas all day at the pool. I mean, you can have some margaritas! But the goal of the time away is to recharge, heal the physical and emotional wounds that you have endured, and then strategize either how you can reframe your relationship to whatever is causing you stress or how you can separate from it long term.

Additionally, taking responsibility for your role in it (whatever that might have been) will help you if you start going into victim mode.

Ask yourself: how can I own what’s happened? What was my role in this? This will hopefully prevent this from becoming a habitual thing.

Stage 5: Habitual Burnout

What does it feel like? This is when you’ve healed from burnout, but now at a new job or in a new role, you’re burning out again. This is a trauma response pattern that feels like as soon as things get stressful, you seem to go back down the same rabbit hole (even if it’s new people, new job, new situation – all of a sudden, it feels the same).

What should I do about it? You have to look at your role in the situation.
(1). Have achievement and success always been important to you?
(2). Have you always tried to differentiate yourself from others by your accomplishments?
(3). Is your identity largely defined by what you do, your business or your career?

If you answered yes to any of these, you’re more likely to suffer from Habitual Burnout because you will naturally put more pressure on yourself to continue driving and achieving (even if there are warning signs to slow down and even if you’ve burned out before).

I would invite you to start the (sometimes long) process of untangling your true self and your identity from your career/business/achievements. (1) Who am I without my career, business, or achievements? (2) Who or what brings me even greater joy, fulfillment, and peace?

By making more room for the things that bring you joy and allow you to just be (no performance or achievement needed), you’re able to loosen your grip on the very thing causing you so much stress and burnout and can begin to explore a new relationship with your career, and a new relationship with stress in general.

Did you find this article about the stages of burnout and how to acknowledge them helpful? If so follow along with Natalie on Instagram @the_nu_co for daily tips & tricks to make your work experience as positive as possible!