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5 Stages of Burnout: How to Cope

Burnout is a problem that involves a loss of energy, feeling distant from goals, and a sense of cynicism about work or other tasks. This feeling often emerges when people face a great deal of stress, particularly when the stress is ongoing, and the individual lacks the resources to cope.

Research suggests that burnout is often a problem for people who work in people-oriented professions, including healthcare, education, and human services. However, people in any profession can experience burnout.

To cope with feelings of burnout, it is important to understand the symptoms so you can recognize that it is happening. It’s also essential to know what factors tend to cause burnout so that you can find ways to modify some of the common risk factors. If you suspect you might have burnout, there are strategies you can try that may help.

What Exactly Is Burnout?

Burnout is defined as a psychological phenomenon that occurs in response to prolonged, chronic job stress. Job burnout has three key characteristics:

  • It causes overwhelming exhaustion
  • It leads to feelings of detachment and cynicism
  • It makes people feel unaccomplished and ineffective in their work

Burnout is a state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion that often results from prolonged periods of excessive stress, overwhelming work demands, or an imbalance between personal and professional life. It can leave individuals feeling drained, disengaged, and unable to cope with the demands of their daily responsibilities.

What Are the 5 Stages of Burnout?

Burnout is often categorized as a process that follows a fairly predictable series of stages. The five stages of burnout you might experience are:

Stage 1. The Honeymoon Stage

During this stage, you are excited and enthusiastic. You aren’t experiencing symptoms of burnout…yet. While you might be putting in a lot of time and work, your passion for the project or task is able to carry you through the difficulties you might face.

Stage 2: Onset of Stress Stage

As the honeymoon phase starts to find, the first signs of stress start to appear. You might not feel it all the time, but there are moments where it seems like the stress is getting worse and it happens more and more frequently. You might also start to experience more physical symptoms of stress like headaches and difficulty sleeping.

Stage 3: Chronic Stress Stage

By this stage of burnout, you are starting to get more frustrated and exhausted. You might feel like you are in a constant state of stress and your ability to do your job effectively may begin to suffer.

It is during this stage that you might start to feel things like cynicism, apathy, procrastination, and social withdrawal.

Stage 4: The Burnout Stage

Once you’ve gotten to this point, burnout is in full force. It can seem impossible to function normally. Symptoms of chronic stress like muscle fatigue, neck pain, headaches, and insomnia can create major disturbances in your life. You may be deeply pessimistic about your present and future, and you might even start to neglect your own needs due to your general sense of apathy and hopelessness.

Stage 5: Habitual Burnout

When burnout isn’t dealt with or treated effectively, it can become an overwhelming part of your life. In addition to struggling at work, you may have problems in other areas of your life, including your health, relationships, and home life. Anxiety and depression are common at this stage of burnout.

Common Symptoms of Burnout

There are several symptoms of burnout, including:

  • Physical and emotional exhaustion: Feeling physically and emotionally drained from work or other activities.
  • Cynicism, apathy, and detachment: Feeling negative or hopeless about your work or goals. You may also feel like you’re just going through the motions without any real investment in what you’re doing.
  • Ineffectiveness and lack of productivity: Feeling like you’re not getting anything done, or that your efforts are not making a difference.
  • Physical symptoms: Burnout can also manifest in physical symptoms, such as headaches, stomach problems, and trouble sleeping.
  • Difficulty concentrating: Feeling like your mind is foggy or that you can’t focus on anything.
  • Sleep difficulties: Having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.
  • Depression: Feeling depressed, hopeless, or helpless.
  • Anxiety: Feeling anxious, on edge, or stressed out.
  • Changes in eating habits: Overeating or undereating. You may also find yourself skipping meals or turning to unhealthy foods as a way of coping.
  • Lack of motivation: Feeling like you don’t have the energy or motivation to do anything.
  • Procrastination: Putting off tasks or avoidance behaviors.
  • Isolation: Pulling away from family and friends.

When people are experiencing burnout, they may find it difficult to perform at their usual level and may make more mistakes than usual. They may also have a decreased ability to cope with psychological stressors and may withdraw from social activities.

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s important to take steps to address the problem.

What Causes Burnout?

Work-related Factors

Burnout is often linked to specific work-related factors such as excessive workload, lack of control, unclear job expectations, and a lack of support from supervisors or colleagues. A toxic work environment can also contribute to burnout.

While burnout is often associated with stressful types of jobs, not everyone who works in a high-stress job experiences it. And people who work in less stressful fields can also develop symptoms of burnout.

Factors that can contribute to the onset of burnout include:

  • Work-related stress: Work-related stressors include a demanding job, unrealistic job expectations, lack of communication, poorly defined roles, and a lack of control over one’s work.
  • Personal stressors: Personal stressors include family problems, financial difficulties, and health problems.
  • Lack of social support: A lack of social support can also contribute to burnout, as people who feel isolated and alone are more likely to experience burnout.

In many cases, it is often a combination of factors that contribute to the onset of burnout. You might feel overly stressed by the demands of your job while at the same time struggling with personal challenges.

Feeling like you have no one to talk to or share these burdens with can lead to feelings of overwhelming exhaustion and hopelessness that characterize burnout.

How Burnout Can Affect Your Life and Health

Burnout can affect your mood and health in the short term, but it can also have a variety of long term implications:

Physical Exhaustion

Burnout can manifest as extreme fatigue, disrupted sleep patterns, and a general lack of energy. It may lead to physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, or muscle tension.

Mental Exhaustion

Burnout affects cognitive functions, making concentrating, remembering, or making decisions difficult. Individuals may feel mentally drained and unable to think clearly.

Emotional Exhaustion

Those experiencing burnout often feel emotionally depleted. They may become more irritable, moody, or even experience feelings of cynicism and detachment. Emotional responses can become muted, and individuals may withdraw from social interactions.

Reduced Performance

Burnout can significantly impact job performance and productivity. It may result in decreased motivation, creativity, and a sense of accomplishment. Tasks that were once manageable may become overwhelming.

Loss of Interest

People experiencing burnout may lose interest in activities they once enjoyed, both at work and in their personal lives. Hobbies and social relationships may take a back seat to the demands of their job.

Physical Health Implications

Long-term burnout can have adverse effects on physical health, including a weakened immune system, increased susceptibility to illnesses, and a higher risk of chronic health conditions.

Psychological Strain

Burnout is associated with increased levels of stress, anxiety, and, in some cases, depression. It can erode an individual’s overall sense of well-being and lead to a sense of hopelessness.

Impact on Personal Life

Burnout doesn’t just affect the workplace; it spills over into personal life, straining relationships, and diminishing the ability to enjoy leisure activities.

Long-term Consequences

If left unaddressed, burnout can have long-lasting consequences, potentially leading to more severe mental health issues, job dissatisfaction, and the risk of leaving one’s profession.

Recognizing the signs of burnout and taking proactive steps to address it is crucial for maintaining physical and mental well-being. It’s a state that, while challenging, can be managed and even prevented through self-care, work-life balance, and seeking support when needed.

How Do You Cope With Burnout

If you think you are heading toward burnout or are already there, it is important to recognize that there are steps that you can take to feel better. Burnout can be frustrating, but it isn’t a permanent state of mind. There are several stress management techniques that can help you to cope with burnout:

Take Breaks

It is important to take breaks from work and other activities that are causing stress. Taking breaks can help to reduce the amount of stress one is feeling and can give them time to relax and rejuvenate.

Go on Vacation

If you can, an extended break from work-related stress can often help combat feelings of burnout. Being able to step away can help you clear your head, renew your focus and come back with a renewed sense of motivation.

Care for Yourself

It is also important to maintain a healthy lifestyle, as this can help to reduce the symptoms of burnout. Make sure that you are supporting your own well-being by getting enough sleep, engaging in regular exercise, and eating a healthy diet.

Find Support

It is important to seek social support, as this can help to reduce the feeling of isolation and loneliness. Co-workers can be a source of support, but seeking connections outside of work is often a good idea. This will allow you to focus on completely separate things from your job.

Fixing Burnout Without Quitting Your Job

It is possible to cope with burnout and restore your well-being without saying goodbye to the job that is draining your mental and physical resources.

  • Assess the situation: Figure out what aspects of your job contribute to burnout. Do you feel a lack of control? Is the workload too much? Is the work environment toxic?
  • Set boundaries: Create a clear division between your home life and work life. Don’t spend time on work outside of work hours.
  • Talk to your manager or supervisor: If possible, consider sharing your concerns with your boss and see if there are things they might be able to address the issues that are taking a toll on your mental health.
  • Learn how to say no: Don’t be afraid to turn down additional tasks or responsibilities. When you are overwhelmed and stretched too thin, you have to set limits to minimize burnout.
  • Consider flexible work arrangements: You might also talk to your employer about spending a few days each week on remote work. Assigning you to different types of tasks might also be helpful.


Burnout is a problem that can occur when people are faced with a great deal of stress. The five stages of burnout start with the honeymoon stage and can lead to habitual burnout. The symptoms of burnout include physical and emotional exhaustion, difficulty concentrating, insomnia, depression, and lack of motivation.

Several factors can contribute to burnout, including work-related stressors, personal stressors, and lack of social support. There are several ways to cope with burnout, including taking breaks, going on vacation, caring for yourself, and finding support.


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