Three Stages of Burnout

Three Stages of Burnout

Just like a car needs friction on the road in order to move, we all need some stress in our lives in order to be able to function.  However, just like a car that is poorly maintained and overdriven, we can suffer from stress overload and end up in trouble if we are not careful.  You probably have heard the term burnout, but you probably have not been taught what the three stages of burnout look like.  The more you know, the more likely you are to be able to avoid trouble in the future.

Similar to the way the “fight or flight” response works in an emergency, the first stage of burnout is stress arousal, which is when your body begins to fight against the stress overload.  This stage is characterized by symptoms such as persistent irritability, persistent anxiety, high blood pressure, heart palpitations, headaches, forgetfulness, and inability to concentrate.  Any two – just two – of these symptoms can indicate this first stage of stress overload which may lead to burnout if left unchecked.

The next stage of burnout is called the energy conservation stage.  This is when your body is starting to try to flee from the stress overload.  You know you are somewhere in this stage when signs like these begin to show up: procrastination, being late for work or turning work in late, cynical attitudes and resentfulness, decreased sexual desire, increased consumption of caffeine and/or alcohol, and just plain starting to feel like you don’t care.  Like the first stage, any two of these symptoms is an indicator that you are at a much greater risk of experiencing burnout.

Finally, there is the exhaustion stage.  You can’t fight any more.  You can’t flee any more.  You’re done.  You experience chronic sadness or depression.  You are always mentally and physically fatigued.  You have constant headaches.  You would just like to disappear, move away from everything, including family and friends, in hopes of finding relief.  It is at this stage when you are also likely to have recurring thoughts of suicide as a means of escape.  Just two of these symptoms may indicate that you have reached the point of burnout.

All that is the bad news.  What’s the good news?  That with proper attention and effort, you can turn around and start heading back in the other direction, no matter where you are today.  Did you hear that?  No matter where you are today.

If you are struggling and needs to get help understanding how to manage your stress levels, feel free to reach out to us at and one of our peer support specialists will be glad to chat with you.  If you are having suicidal thoughts that won't go away, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-TALK (8255) or text the keyword BADGE to 741741 to reach a trained crisis counselor for free, confidential help available 24/7.

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