Hey, Psych2Goers! Let’s talk about burnout. Yep, it’s a rough one today.
Are you a high-achiever? Do you work really, really hard during the week? Are detailed plans and complicated to-do lists, the very fibre of your being? Even if you manage to accomplish everything you wanted, do you still find yourself totally exhausted? Maybe not even satisfied? You may be achieving all of your goals, which is great! And yet, you may also be working too hard to achieve those very same goals. Does this sound familiar?
It’s very likely that you may be experiencing burnout. According to HelpGuide.org, burnout is classified as “a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands.”
Here are the ‘7 Stages of Burnout – Which One Are You?’
The information in this post is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. All content is for general information purposes only and does not replace a consultation with your own doctor/health professional.
#1. A Desired Level of High Achievement
The first level isn’t necessarily connected to burnout itself. You can be a high-achiever who’s still able to balance all of your work during the week. There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to do your best in any situation. If you’re known for being a hard-worker, chances are others will appreciate all the time and effort you put into your daily tasks. Well, hopefully.
Your desire to be a high-achiever can be the basis for potential burnout later on though. If you’re the kind of person who desires a constant high level of success, this may be because you also feel a strong need to prove yourself. Proving yourself is a key thing that people often need when they’re around others.
The key thing to remember when wanting to prove yourself, is that it’s not just for one particular project. You most likely want to be successful with all sorts of different work. If others appreciate the hard work you put into something, this will potentially create an unspoken expectation on yourself. It can be created by others, or even yourself. You’ll likely desire to keep working harder and harder to maintain this initial success. It’s important to keep track of why you’re working so hard. Is it because you want to? Or do you think it’s to be expected by others?
If you find yourself forgetting little details about your work, you may be becoming neglectful. When you have a lot of work to get done, sometimes you might become overwhelmed by a sense of trying to get just too much done. There are only so many hours in the day. It’s possible that you may be forgetting to accomplish certain tasks within the cracks.
Being neglectful isn’t just about your homework or job tasks, per se. If you’ve reached the neglectful stage, this can also be applied to your physical appearance and overall wellbeing. Do you find yourself forgetting to change your clothes from the day before? Did you forget to apply deodorant, brush your teeth or even have a shower? Oops!
The burnout at this stage can be due to the fact that you may be too tired. If you’re lacking in energy, you may be eating less than your body needs to properly function. Having less than three square meals a day not only affects your diet, but also how you generally feel about yourself. If you’re avoiding meals, then you may become tired. This neglect can be so aggressive at times, that you might be too tired to eat. Why? Because you’re not eating in the first place. Does that make sense? Think of a snake eating its own tail. Also known as an “ouroboros.”
A lack of proper eating can also lead to a lack of proper sleeping. When you don’t get the requisite number of sleep hours, you’re more likely to become quickly irritable. Do you find yourself easily frustrated by even the most minor of inconveniences? Or the simplest of conversations? Is your first instinct at that very question to shout ‘No, I don’t!’ If you’re at the third level of burnout, you’re probably feeling denial. Even if you claim you’re not.
Here, you’ll likely take issue with accepting responsibility for problems that you might have caused. Say you have an aggressive outburst at a friend during your morning coffee, for example. This moment might shock your friend, because it seemed like such an out-of-character moment for you. When you’re in denial, you’re more likely not to apologize for your behaviour. If your friend knows about your need for a higher level of achievement, they may call you out for this apparent burnout-based attitude.
The denial may kick in, where you insist that you’re fine and not overworking yourself. Whether your friend believes you or not, is a different matter. If your friend doesn’t press the subject, it’s probably because they know not to push you. Even if they want to.
If you find yourself denying the amount of stress you’re under, your response may be to withdraw. The pain you could be ignoring can sometimes become so sharp and so great. The only response you can think of, may be removal entirely. Removing yourself from the situation, and to a greater extent your emotions, is an important defence mechanism to recognize in yourself.
At this stage you’re likely ignoring friends, family and social functions. Are you withdrawing from your phone? Do you find yourself ignoring text messages? It’s normal not to respond to one or two texts here and there. Most people do this. If you’re feeling burnout, those one or two texts can become five or six. Maybe ten or twelve. Burnout can cause you to ignore almost all of your messages. To the point that you feel overwhelmed by not texting even one person back.
The more you let the messages build, the less likely you are to ever reply back. Withdrawal may even make you want to avoid going to parties. It takes a lot of energy to be in social settings, for sure. Especially if you identify as an introvert. If you find yourself ignoring contact with your loved ones, whether that’s digitally or in person, it may upset your social circle.
#5. Emptiness & Depersonalization
The fifth level of burnout is definitely a tough one. Once you’ve removed yourself from your social life, you may begin to feel an overwhelming sense of emptiness. You may be unhappy with your job for instance. If your work makes you feel entirely unfulfilled, it’s possible that you’ve lost your own identity and sense of self along the way. If the work you do feels utterly soul-crushing, you may feel like just another cog in the corporate machine.
As someone who’s a hard-worker, you may be more likely to become frustrated when all you do at your job goes seemingly unnappreciated. Does your boss almost never say thank you? Do they only talk to you whenever they have a problem that needs fixing? Being unappreciated at work is a key factor in why people often quit their job. There’s a common saying that goes “People don’t quit jobs. They quit bad bosses.” Do you feel that deep in your bones?
If your job is no longer satisfactory, you probably feel a lot less like an individual person, and more of a collective conglomerate. Lost in the corporate shuffle.
#6. Depression & Numbness
The irony of numbness is that there’s no physical sensation in your body. How do you actually feel when you’re numb? It may be hard to describe the exact sensation, but you certainly know it when it happens. The emptiness that can be experienced when you’re depressed, may be so great that you feel numb. Even on an emotional level. If you feel numb to this scale, you may be more inclined to partake in substance and/or drug abuse.
This can lead to an intense depression. Do the sails on your boat feel totally deflated? Do you find almost all of your motivation to be totally gone? When you’re depressed, it can make you feel entirely lost and adrift at sea. When you’re aimlessly drifting, it’s because you don’t have any wind to guide you. Depression can feel like all the wind is gone from your life.
#7. Exhaustion & Collapse
The seventh and final stage of burnout, is you guessed it, the hardest one to deal with. These feelings can manifest themselves in both physical and emotional forms. When you’re physically burnt-out, your legs can turn to jelly. Figuratively, not literally, thankfully. But the sensation of physical burnout may make you feel like all bone structure inside of your body has become entirely nonexistent.
Emotional burnout is a similar feeling to those pesky jelly-legs, but instead it’s your brain. If you’re emotionally exhausted, then activities you once used to enjoy like reading a book or watching a movie, may no longer be fun for you. They may become more of a chore than something you used to do to rest and relax.
If you’ve reached this last level, it’s important that you recognize the fact that you got here at all. The first step to solving a problem, is recognizing there is one. Eating some food, getting better sleep or listening to music you enjoy can all help lower the stress that has somatically built itself up inside your body.
Burnout is something that many of us experience on a daily, if not weekly basis. It’s not something healthy to experience by any metric. It can also go easily unnoticed. If untreated, burnout can get much, much worse. Did any of these symptoms ring a bell for you? Where do you rank on this scale? Are you luckily doing okay? Better than you thought? Or a lot worse off than you first realized?
Do you have a friend or family member who could use some encouragement? Is there someone out there who would benefit from this post? While we may not know it’s going on, others may be able to point it out to us.
If people you love reach out, it’s because they care and want the best for you. The hardest thing to do when you are indeed struggling, is to let them in.
‘The 12 Stages of Burnout’ by The Present Psychologist (May 2nd, 2022) https://www.instagram.com/p/CdD3pm9MSLI/?hl=en
‘Burnout Prevention and Treatment’ by Melinda Smith, M.A., Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., and Lawrence Robinson (November 2021) https://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/burnout-prevention-and-recovery.htm
‘Burnout Symptoms and Treatment’ by Elizabeth Scott, PhD (March 20th, 2020) https://www.verywellmind.com/stress-and-burnout-symptoms-and-causes-3144516
‘A Guide to Burnout’ by Juli Fraga (May 18th, 2019) https://www.healthline.com/health/tips-for-identifying-and-preventing-burnout#stages