The 5 Stages of Burnout & How to Cope

burnout and how to cope

“Burnout is what happens when you try to avoid being human for too long.” - Michael Gungor

Burnout is one of those buzzwords that gets thrown in the title of self-help articles, but what does it really mean to reach the point of burnout? For many, this word has become synonymous with being stressed. However, if you truly reach the point of burnout, it should be a sign to you that you need to make some pretty serious changes to your lifestyle. Here are the five stages of burnout and some tips on how you can cope with it.

Stage One: Subtle Dissatisfaction

Burnout can be tricky to identify, if you aren’t looking for it. One of the main reasons for this is because it creeps in slowly. The first stage is identified as a lack of awareness of stressors. You may be making small sacrifices that, at the time, seem like small annoyances or even a normal part of everyday life. Examples can include things like staying late when work gets busy or being the one in your relationship that cleans the bathroom...every time, even though you aren't the one leaving beard hairs in the sink the last time you checked.

Stage Two: Subconscious Disregard

In this stage, you’re still swimming in the river of denial, but signs that you are stressed may become more apparent to you and those around you. You are increasingly irritable. Your coworkers’ quirks are causing you to snap at your loved ones, and the way your cat paws you in the morning for breakfast is enough to make you roll over in bed after covering your head with your pillow. You may write off your sensitivity to lack of sleep, but you probably don’t recognize that you need to make changes to help relieve the stress.

burnout and how to cope

Stage Three: Conscious Numbing

This is the point where you become aware of the stress in your life; it’s palpable. Whether it manifests itself as the Sunday scaries, or your responsibilities at home seem overwhelming, you recognize that you feel consumed by anxiety and you need to figure out ways to deal.

Unless you’ve already developed healthy coping habits to pull you out of this spiral, you will choose things that numb the pain, instead of dealing with the actual issue. If you’re someone who struggles with any kind of addiction, this will likely be what you turn to as a crutch. Addictions aren’t just limited to drugs and alcohol but can include seemingly more harmless activities like reaching for the sweets, binging excessive amounts of reality tv, or scrolling endlessly through social media feeds that end up making you feel worse.

Stage Four: Anxious Exhaustion

This stage is usually part of a cycle that coincides with stage three. After indulging in your poison of choice to power through your days, you reach a point of exhaustion. The stress starts creeping into moments when you’re trying to relax. Your mind races with responsibilities as you try to close your eyes at night and the lows begin feeling stronger and longer than the highs, which are becoming fewer and farther between. If you are pushing through this stage and are not taking steps to change your behavior at this point you will reach the final stage of burnout.

Stage Five: Trauma

Hopefully, you do not reach this stage of burnout, as it has serious mental and physical consequences. After your body endures extreme stress for a prolonged period, you can begin having chronic panic attacks or manifest physical ailments. You may experience chronic anxiety and struggle to let go of intrusive, irrational thoughts. At this stage, you should consider seeking help from a health professional, and at minimum need to make a conscious effort at making serious lifestyle changes.

burnout and how to cope

How to Remedy Burnout

Regardless of what stage of burnout you reach, the bottom line is you need to identify the cause. Burnout is defined by the Mayo Clinic as “a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.” This implies that there is a misalignment in your actions and what fulfills you.

You may be “checking the boxes” because you have a job, a partner, a roof over your head, food on the table, and a group of friends, but if those things aren’t in line with what you need to feel content and happy, then you may need to evaluate how you spend your time or the people and things you allow into your life.

A great way to identify the actions that bring you joy versus those that steal it, is to track them, along with how those actions make you feel. The Self-Care Planner helps you set self-care goals and gives you tools to track your habits while helping you identify trends on how they affect your mood. By identifying these behaviors, you can begin to set healthy boundaries against the things that do not serve you and you can prioritize the things in life that make you feel like your best self.

Looking for More? Check out our How to Plan a Morning Routine for Personal Success blog for more self-care tips and tricks.


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