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What Are The Stages Of Burnout?

Mira Rollins, OTR/L

August 4, 2022

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Question

What are the stages of burnout?

Answer

Stages of Burnout

There are several stages of burnout, and we are going to go through each one because each stage has some classic signs. 

Stage 1: Honeymoon/Enthusiasm 

  • Productivity
  • Creativity
  • Commitment
  • Energy
  • Optimism
  • Accept Responsibility 

The honeymoon stage is also known as enthusiasm. This is when you are productive, and your creative juices are flowing. You are committed to the work, people, and task with a good amount of energy. You are also optimistic and accept responsibility, oftentimes not just for your job, but also for the environment around you. It is possible for you to spend most of your days in this stage of professional honeymoon and enthusiasm by implementing many of the steps that we are going to talk about today.

  • It takes 10 times as long to put yourself back together as it does to fall apart.” — Suzanne Collins

I put that quote here because anytime you feel yourself even slightly moving from that honeymoon stage, you want to intentionally, consistently, and aggressively figure out what is moving you from that stage. The further you move through the steps (two, three, and four), the more energy it takes to move back to stage one.

  • Research shows that 30% of employees (across all industries) are in the following two stages:
    • 2. Onset of Stress
    • 3. Chronic Stress

Research shows that 30% of employees across all industries are in the following two stages. These stages are when things are starting to shift from that honeymoon stage as stress increases. 

Stage 2: Onset of Stress

  • Stagnation
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Decreased Focus
  • Lower Productivity
  • Periodic Headaches
  • Decreased Sleep Quality 

At stage two, the onset of stress, there will be stagnation, irritability, anxiety, decreased focus, lower productivity, periodic headaches, and decreased sleep quality. It is a little bit more difficult for you to initiate a task. It takes longer to get things accomplished. You are still checking things off your list, but it is taking you a little bit more time, or you are having to go back and correct things more than you would have in the past. Smaller irritations that you would have let roll off your back in the past are now starting to bother you. Typically you are a team player, but now you are a little more disagreeable.

Stage 3: Chronic Stress /Frustration  

  • Apathy
  • Persistent Fatigue
  • Procrastination
  • Cynicism
  • Chronic Exhaustion
  • Resentfulness 

Stage three is chronic stress or frustration. This is where you have moved from a little bit of irritability to being apathetic to what is going on. You do not care anymore. There may be persistent fatigue, procrastination, and cynicism. Cynicism is feeling that new things/procedures are not going to work. Or, if you do care, you do not believe that efforts are authentic. You are starting to doubt positive change or efforts. Chronic exhaustion is beyond having a day or two of being tired. This is waking up every day tired. You are resentful of the people with which you work. Where they used to be irritating, now you are resentful that certain behaviors are still occurring. 

  • Research shows that approx.15 % of employees (across all industries) are in the following 2 stages:
    • 4. Burnout
    • 5. Habitual Burnout 

Now, we are going to talk about stages four and five. Research has shown that 15% of employees live in either one of these two stages.

Stage 4: Burnout 

  • Pessimistic
  • Self Doubt
  • Social Isolation
  • Chronic Headaches
  • Neglect of Personal Needs
  • Obsession with Others  

Stage four is burnout. You are pessimistic, and this is beyond cynicism. When you were cynical, you may have thought, "It may work but probably not." When you are pessimistic, nothing is going to work. You also do not believe that a situation or person is going to change.

You start to doubt your self-efficiency and capability. There may also be social isolation. "Do you want to go to lunch with us?" "No, I'm going to go sit in my car." Sitting in your car is actually something that I am going to bring up later as a point of self-care. But at this stage, when you go sit in your car, it is not to decompress but rather to vent to yourself and stew in your thoughts. You do not want to be around anyone at any time.

Headaches that were occasional in the earlier stages are now chronic. There may be neglect of your personal needs, whether it be basic self-care or health maintenance routines.

You may also have an obsession with others. "I'm not sure why my boss is allowing her to do that. She doesn't do that for me." It is a constant obsession with what you believe are disparities and discrepancies among other people.

Stage 5: Habitual Burnout

  • Chronic Sadness
  • Chronic Mental Fatigue
  • Chronic Physical Fatigue
  • Depression 

The last one is habitual burnout. This is when everything in stage four is exacerbated, and longer lived. There is chronic sadness, mental fatigue, physical fatigue, and depression. 


mira rollins

Mira Rollins, OTR/L

Mira Rollins has been an occupational therapist for over 20 years. The majority of her career has been spent treating geriatrics in rehabilitation skilled nursing facilities. Her clinical experience also includes spinal cord injury and acute care hospital settings. Mira has also had the honor of leading successful rehab teams in her role as director of rehab and regional manager. She now uses her 20 years of experience as an adjunct professor for OTA programs and as the owner of Mira j. Rollins Engagement Programs, a training and consulting company.


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