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stages of burnout

The 5 Stages of Burnout

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Even though it’s not classified as a disease, burnout is still real and dangerous, affecting more and more people each year. Defined as the state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion, burnout is a state that comes out of prolonged stress.


Burnout ruins everything on its way – relationships, health, and overall well-being, making a person more cynical, resentful, and helpless.


Many people confuse burnout with stress, however, those aren’t the same terms. Burnout makes people feel empty, without motivation, mentally and physically exhausted. 


Stress is very obvious, burnout isn’t. Many people fail to notice its signs and symptoms until it’s too late. Lastly, burnout doesn’t happen at once. It comes gradually, in five stages, and occupies every aspect of one’s life.


Since it’s an important topic to discuss, we decided to help you stay informed and recognize burnout early on, by providing you with an in-depth guide on the five stages of burnout.


Stage #1: Honeymoon phase.


The first among five stages of burnout is characterized by the unawareness that something is wrong. It usually starts as a “gut feeling” that something is wrong – we might feel dissatisfied or disturbed by something. However, those dissatisfactions are not yet palpable in an intensity that will raise suspicion.


The honeymoon phase often happens when we change jobs or accept new tasks within our current company. During these times, we still feel energetic and optimistic about the trusted work, and we feel the need to prove ourselves as good employees. The theory behind the honeymoon phase is that we create good coping mechanisms that prevent us from discovering that we’re actually in the process of burning out.


The most common early-stage symptoms of burnout include:


  • Readily accepting responsibility.
  • Sustained energy levels.
  • Feeling that something is off, but dismissing it.
  • Desire to prove yourself, and go beyond your limits.
  • The state of constant alertness.
  • Increased energy, as if you’re under an adrenaline rush.


Stage #2: Stress onset.


The second stage of burnout comes with more palpable symptoms. It usually starts with the realization that some days are more difficult than others. During those, harder days, employees usually have a hard time focusing, staying awake, and they feel lethargic and anxious about the job that’s waiting, unfinished. All those things start to take a toll on their emotional and physical well-being, which only become worse as time goes by.


Some of the most common symptoms of the second stage of burnout include:


  • Anxiety
  • Troubles with decision making
  • Change in appetite or diet
  • Fatigue
  • Forgetfulness 
  • Heart palpitations and headaches
  • Lack of sleep
  • Irritability
  • Problems focusing


Stage #3: Chronic stress


If you’re constantly under stress, you’ll slip into a stage of chronic stress. Chronic stress will make you unable to concentrate, severely decreasing your productivity and performance. In turn, you’ll start feeling powerless and unworthy, losing control of everything that you do. You’ll also feel the pressure of meeting daily tasks much harder, to the point you feel like you need to run away from your commitments. All of this can lead to feelings of failure and incompetence.


Chronic stress can take a huge toll on our mental and physical wellbeing, as it deepens and increases the symptoms we listed in the second stage. However, unlike in the second stage, you won’t be able to manage emotions as well as you did, which can lead to sadness, resentment, and aggressiveness.


Some of the symptoms of the chronic stress phase include:


  • Anger or aggressive behavior
  • Apathy
  • Exhaustion
  • Decreased sexual desire 
  • Increased alcohol/drug consumption 
  • Increased caffeine consumption 
  • Physical illness
  • Resentfulness
  • Social withdrawal 


Stage #4: Burnout


Each stage so far was just a step in the process to stage four: burnout. Burnout happens when all these symptoms become too common, they are considered a normal part of one’s life. However, these symptoms, when experienced over a prolonged period, lead to physical and mental problems that damage our quality of life.


Some of the most common symptoms include:


  • Feeling empty inside
  • A pessimistic outlook on work and life
  • Physical symptoms intensify and/or increase
  • Self-doubt
  • Complete neglect of personal needs
  • Desire to move away from work or friends/family


Stage #5: Habitual Burnout


Habitual burnout is the last among the five stages of burnout. It happens when burnout becomes an integral part of one’s life, and when all attempts to recover from the situation fail. Habitual burnout takes a toll on one’s career, relationships, health – on every aspect of life. Usually, habitual burnout requires medical assistance, as it is oftentimes hard to cope with it alone.


Some of the common symptoms of habitual burnout include:


  • Chronic sadness 
  • Depression
  • Chronic physical and mental fatigue 


Wrapping it up.


As we said, noticing the burnout symptoms isn’t always so obvious. However, by showing you the five stages of burnout, we hope to make it easier for you to pinpoint the symptoms when they happen and take proper steps to prevent their development.


Taking regular vacations is one of the ways to prevent burnout from happening. However, sometimes it’s hard to keep track of used and unused vacation days, especially if you track them by hand. Using an automated solution, such as Vacation Tracker is, can help you on your way, ensuring you get enough time off throughout the year. What’s best, you don’t have to spend a dime during the first 7 days to try it out


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