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  • Writer's pictureHayley Whitehorn

What Is Burnout and Are You Experiencing This Level of Exhaustion?

Updated: Feb 3, 2022

What is burnout? Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by prolonged and excessive stress. This level of extreme exhaustion and weariness stems from being overwhelmed and unable to meet life’s demands on an everyday basis. Being emotionally drained, and thus becoming burnt out, can be linked to various life events but is most commonly linked to job stress.

Causes of burnout can be linked to intrinsic (internal) or extrinsic (external) factors. This means that intrinsic factors such as a person’s beliefs, attitude, expectations of themselves, and coping mechanisms, if unhealthy, can contribute to burnout. Additionally, extrinsic factors such as a person’s work demands, workload, work hours, and supervisors expectations can also contribute to burnout.

There are 5 Stages of Burnout which show the progression of a person from healthy coping to being completely overwhelmed.

Stage 1: Honeymoon Phase

This is the first stage when you are just starting out at a new job or in a new role. When starting something new we are excited and ready to work hard. This commitment and energy creates high productivity levels and increased job satisfaction. The theory is that if you can create good coping mechanisms in this stage to prevent burnout then you will be able to sustain your energy and positivity.

Stage 2: Onset of Stress

The second stage begins when you start to realise some days of work are more difficult than others and keeping up high productivity levels is becoming more and more difficult as you lose energy. You will start to notice common everyday stress signs such as fatigue, anxiety, headaches, irritability, lack of concentration, etc.

Stage 3: Chronic Stress

This stage begins when there is a significant change in your stress levels and you notice you are stressed 90% of the time. Your motivation and energy levels will show a marked change. Some more distressing stress signs include anger, exhaustion, feeling out of control, missed work deadlines, persistent denial of any issues, withdrawal, etc.

Stage 4: Burnout

The burnout stage is when you have reached critical stress levels and continuing as normal is not possible. Your stress will be noticeable by others and you will be unable to productively maintain your job expectations. Common signs of burnout include cynicism, emotional numbness, absenteeism, detachment, low or no commitment to your responsibilities, chronic physical pain/illness, isolation, etc.

Stage 5: Habitual Burnout

This stage is when the signs and symptoms of burnout are so embedded in your life that you are probably experiencing significant physical health problems and mental health problems. At this stage chronic mental and physical fatigue, chronic sadness and depression are commonly seen. Your workplace may even be speaking to you about possible termination of your contract due to unmet deadlines and expectations.

Have a look at the image below for a better understanding on the difference between stress and burnout!

Burnout can significantly affect your mental health by increasing diagnoses of disorders such as anxiety and depression. It is so vital to put in steps of prevention from as early on as possible to avoid habitual burnout. Some tips for preventing burnout are listed below:

1. Approach your supervisor or HR department to discuss how to make your work environment healthier (for example: adjusting work deadlines, discussing work hours, etc.)

2. Practice self-care activities such as meditation, yoga, journaling, reading, exercising, having a healthy diet, or anything else you enjoy. Part of self-care also involves taking a break from social media and negative people!

3. Be more sociable and reach out to those closest to you for connection – friends, family and co-workers can be people you can confide in and people who can create some fun distraction.

4. Reframe the way you look at work. Rediscover your passion for the work you do, set appropriate boundaries, and adjust your mindset and attitude.

5. Speak to a professional to uncover what is the root cause of your burnout and unhappiness within your work environment to discuss a way forward.

Do you think you are experiencing burnout?

Do you think your levels of exhaustion are becoming dangerous to your mental health?

Once you recognise your mental exhaustion and burnout symptoms (or hopefully even before this!) you can take preventative measures and begin to take steps forward to a healthier life. Have a look at this Burnout Test which can help give you and indication of what stage of burnout you may currently be in.


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