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Identifying and Preventing Burnout: Learn the 12 Stages of Burnout and How To Take Action

Updated: Aug 23, 2020

How To Tell You Have Reached The Point Of Burnout & 6 Ways To Prevent It

Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. Burnout is not only a work-related stress disorder - it occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands.

From fighting for change to maintaining work-life boundaries, it is important that we pay attention to the emotional, physical, and interpersonal signs of burnout and learn how to address the symptoms head-on.

Know The Signs

Burnout doesn’t hit all at once and can be hard to identify in its early stages. To help understand how exactly burned out we are, Psychologists Herbert Freudenberger and Gail North developed the chronological development of burnout syndrome.

Take a look at the 12 phases of burnout syndrome below.

  1. Excessive Ambition: compulsion to prove oneself

  2. Working Harder: working longer hours. an inability to switch off or step away from your to-do-list.

  3. Neglecting Needs: neglecting self-care like eating, exercising, and sleeping.

  4. Displacement of conflicts and needs: displacing your own problems; we may feel threatened, panicky, and jittery.

  5. No longer any time for non-work-related needs: work is the only focus; values are skewed, friends and family dismissed, hobbies seen as irrelevant.

  6. Denial: denial of emerging problems and blame others.

  7. Withdrawal: withdrawing from social life and interaction with loved ones.

  8. Behavioral changes/psychological reactions: memory loss, heightened sensitivity, inability to concentrate.

  9. Depersonalization: loss of contact with self and own needs - seeing neither self nor others as valuable.

  10. Inner emptiness, anxiety, addictive behavior - feeling empty inside and to overcome this, look for activity such as overeating, sex, alcohol, or drugs.

  11. Depression: Increasing feeling of meaninglessness and lack of interest.

  12. Complete burnout: Mental or physical exhaustion - symptoms may require medical attention.

Overcome Burnout

Taking action to address burnout is essential, since it can only gets worse. The next six tips can help you get started on overcoming your burnout and being more proactive to prevent future burnout.

1. Check In With Yourself

Make an effort to check in with yourself each day to be mindful of your stress levels and avoid burnout

Check in with yourself at the end of the day or each week by asking yourself:

  • How am I feeling? What is causing this feeling?

  • Have there been changes in my sleep pattern?

  • Was there a reaction/behavior I was not proud of this week?

  • What consumed my thoughts the most this week?

Slowing down and coming back to yourself will help you spot symptoms of burnout and make informed and emotionally grounded decisions on readjusting.

2. Ask For Help

Maybe you can do it all on your own, but you should not have to and ultimately it will take a physical and emotional toll on your life.

Declining to ask for help will ultimately deplete your energy and put you at risk of burnout.

If asking for assistance can make you feel uneasy, try developing “check-ins” with close friends, family members, and your boss to freely and easily discuss how and where you are feeling overwhelmed and take care of each other during trying times.

3. Define Your Own Limits

Define your own parameters to help you manage priorities and avoid burnout. Setting personal boundaries, adjusting working hours, or scheduling breaks from social media, define limits that are sustainable for you to manage priorities and avoid burnout.

Figure out what is not working and define new parameters to help you manage priorities and avoid burnout.

4. Schedule Out Your Week - Create Fulfilling Routines

Create an outline of what you are going to each day. This plan should not be super detailed, like your daily to-do lists. But should clearly outline your personal and professional priorities to help you feel prepared for the entire week.

Be sure to schedule moments that will help you live a more fulfilling and rewarding life. For example, date night, working out, or time working on a hobby. These moments should be used for both your personal care and maintaining your social relationships and can easily be built into your morning or evening ritual.

Sometimes your priorities for each day will change even after you’ve planned them. That’s just life. As much as you possibly can, try to stick to the plan you’ve set for yourself. Just don’t be hard on yourself if other things suddenly have to become priorities.

5. Commit to Doing Something For Yourself Everyday

Working out, meditating, or simply reciting a morning affirmation to begin your day remember to do something for yourself every day. The action does not have to be an extravagant indulgence, and this will look different for each person and likely change based on your schedule.

With such busy professional and personal schedules, we can forget to make time for ourselves. Left unchecked, this can have a negative impact on one's physical and mental state. To help get ahead of this, commit to completing one thing for yourself every day.

It's crucial to take the time you need for yourself, even if it's just 30 minutes a day. You'll get back to work feeling recharged and inspired, and chances are, you'll accomplish a lot more than you would if you worked straight through the day.

6. Take A Day (Or Two) To Reset

When you have reached complete burnout or your stress levels have reached their max, it is time to take a break to reset. Oftentimes taking a day off focused on relieving stress and preventing burnout is the best way to regenerate your energy levels and reset your perspective.

One day may not solve your burnout problems completely, but taking a day to reset can provide an opportunity to pause and evaluate your needs.

If you can, try to plan ahead of time to ensure you have coverage or backup in place while you are out of this office. This will help you feel less stressed about taking time off. Of course, if you wake up in the morning and think that you are defeated before getting started on your to-do-list, this may be a good sign you need an impromptu mental health day. If you are unsure how to spend your day off, check out 7 therapist tips on how to take a mental health day while working remotely.


If you are having difficulty finding your way out, or you suspect that you may also have a mental health condition such as depression, talking to a mental health professional may help you discover the strategies you need to feel your best.


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