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The 12 Stages of Burnout: Recognise the Signs and Take Control

Picture of a stressed middle aged man sat in an armchair whilst a fire is burning

Have you ever been part of a parent's WhatsApp group? It's like a microcosm of modern life, where parents come together to navigate the chaos of school events and responsibilities. It seems like most days, parents jump into the group in a panic, "Ahhhh, I forgot it's Christmas jumpers today, and I haven't been shopping - can anyone help?" or "I am confused. Is it the school production tomorrow or next week?"

At my boy's school, there's a two-page newsletter sent out every Friday with about four weeks' worth of activities to take note of and with tasks and reminders to add to our ever-busy and probably overfull 'to-do' list! Some parents, the organised superheroes of the group, diligently send out snippets from it to those mere mortals who have asked for help.

It's a familiar scenario. But you might not realise that this school WhatsApp group reflects how many people struggle with burnout in their daily lives. Burnout isn't just about work; it seeps into our personal lives, leaving us overwhelmed and disconnected. So, let's break down the 12 stages of burnout, drawing parallels with our WhatsApp adventures, and learn how to recognise the signs and take control.

  • Stage 1: The Spark of Excessive Ambition That initial burst of enthusiasm for a new project or job is like downing a double espresso, and it's fantastic! But it can become a slippery slope when it morphs into an obsession to prove your worth.

Suddenly, you're taking on more tasks than you can handle. It's like signing up for three marathons in a row when you've only just started jogging. You're running but need to figure out where you're running to! That's the early stage of burnout. It's all about overcommitting and feeling like you need to be better.

  • Stage 2: The Grind of Working Harder Now, picture this: you're working late into the night, and your laptop has become your new best friend. The lines between your work and personal life blur, and before you know it, you're answering work emails on a Sunday afternoon while your favourite Netflix show plays in the background.

At first, it feels like you're on top of the world. Your dedication is getting noticed, and those 'Wow, you're so committed!' comments give you a jolt of satisfaction. But here's the catch: work starts to feel like an addiction. You can't switch off, and that 'work-life balance' everyone discusses seems like a distant dream. Welcome to stage two of burnout, where you're on the fast track to exhaustion.

  • Stage 3: Neglecting Your Needs Have you Ever had a day where you forgot to eat lunch because you were too engrossed in work? Or you've skipped your workout routine for weeks, and your treadmill doubles as a coat rack. That's the neglect of your needs creeping in.

At this stage, self-care takes a backseat. You're so focused on meeting deadlines and ticking off tasks that you forget to refuel your own tank. Your health starts taking hits, and it shows—maybe in the form of weight gain, restless nights, or a constant sense of distraction.

  • Stage 4: Displacing Problems Imagine you're in a room with a giant elephant in the corner. Everyone can see it, but no one talks about it. That's what happens when you reach stage four of burnout.

You've become so fixated on work that you dismiss conflicts and issues around you.

Deep down, you know something isn't right, but finding a solution or making a change feels as daunting as climbing Mount Everest in flip-flops. Instead, you push those concerns aside and dive back into your professional obligations. But here's the kicker: suppressing your feelings only makes you more jittery, and minor setbacks feel like monumental disasters.

  • Stage 5: The Revision of Values. Have you ever had that moment when suddenly realised you've drifted away from what truly matters to you? It's like you used to be all about spending quality time with family, enjoying hobbies, and caring for yourself. But now, it's all about work, work, and more work.

In stage five of burnout, you start to revise your values. Friends, family, and hobbies take a backseat. Self-care? That's beginning to get dismissed as trivial. Your entire self-worth becomes tied solely to your productivity and accomplishments. You're like a professional hamster on a never-ending wheel, and your well-being is barely a blip on your radar.

  • Stage 6: Denial of New Problems Picture this: you've changed, your values have shifted, and suddenly, you're at odds with others. Your colleagues seem lazy, your clients appear too demanding, and you become increasingly intolerant and unempathetic.

But here's the twist: instead of recognising that you've changed, you blame time and work pressure for your stress. It's like blaming the weather for being moody. Denial sets in, and you miss the memo that your perspective has taken a 180-degree turn.

  • Stage 7: The Retreat and Withdrawal Now, let's discuss going MIA in your social life. You're so immersed in work that your friends start thinking you've moved to a deserted island. Conversations that once revolved around hobbies, vacations, and weekend plans now sound more like board meetings.

Your social life feels more petite than a pea, and you might even catch yourself binge-watching guilty pleasure TV shows to escape the constant work-related chatter. You've reached the stage of withdrawal, and it's like you're living in a parallel universe where all that matters is the daily grind.

  • Stage 8: Impact Beyond Yourself – Letting Others Down As you navigate through the burnout journey, those closest to you may begin to express their concerns. They might gently, or sometimes not so gently, let you know that you're inadvertently letting them down.

The people who rely on you, whether it's your family, friends, or colleagues, start to feel the effects of your burnout. They notice that you've become more impatient and irritable, and they can't help but feel the weight of your emotional and physical exhaustion.

Maybe you've missed important gatherings or special moments, leaving your loved ones disappointed or hurt. Perhaps your colleagues have had to pick up the slack because you couldn't meet your work commitments, causing frustration and extra stress for them.

It's as if a chorus of voices is telling you that something has changed, and it's affecting not just you but those around you. The realisation that you're letting others down can be a powerful motivator to acknowledge the need for change and to take proactive steps towards healing and balance.

  • Stage 9: The Depersonalisation Phase Ever had that eerie feeling like you're watching your life from the outside as if you've become an observer rather than a participant? That's the depersonalisation phase of burnout.

It's like you're going through the motions, but that spark, that zest you once had for life and work, seems to have vanished. Tasks that used to excite you now feel mundane, and your enthusiasm is replaced by negativity or indifference. It's like being stuck in a never-ending cycle of 'meh.

  • Stage 10: Inner Emptiness At this point, you might find yourself staring at the mirror and wondering, "What's the point of all this?" Your self-worth takes a nosedive, and you start feeling like all your efforts are futile.

Once a source of fulfilment, work now feels like a bottomless pit of emptiness. You might even daydream about quitting, moving to an exotic island, or leaving your career altogether. And sometimes, you turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms, like overeating or leaning on the bottle a bit too heavily, to numb that inner void.

  • Stage 11: The Abyss of Depression Life, which used to be a vibrant, technicolour world, now feels grey and bleak. Emotionally and mentally, you're running on empty. You feel lost and uncertain, and work seems utterly devoid of meaning or purpose.

You're stuck in a never-ending fog where even the simplest tasks become overwhelming. Work deadlines feel like insurmountable mountains, and the world around you has lost its charm. It's a tough place to be, and reaching out for help and support at this stage is essential.

  • Stage 12: Full Burnout Syndrome This is the breaking point. Your body and mind scream, "Enough!" You may experience physical symptoms, like chronic fatigue, or even have a mental breakdown. At this stage, medical attention is not just necessary; it's urgent.

Many professionals find themselves needing extended leave from work to heal. Your body is saying, "I can't take it anymore." But here's the silver lining: recognising that you've reached this stage is a clear sign that change is not just an option; it's a necessity.


Now that we've explored the 12 stages of burnout and how they can impact our lives, it's time to put your newfound awareness into action. It's all about achieving that elusive work-life balance, and I'm here to help you on that journey.

Why not take our quick and insightful Work-Life Balance Assessment? It's a fun way to gauge where you currently stand and discover areas where you can make positive changes.

If you're eager to dive deeper and explore personalised solutions, why not book a free 30-minute consultation with one of our team? We'll discuss your unique challenges and tailor a plan to help you regain control and balance your career and personal life.

Remember, the path to a more fulfilling and balanced life begins with that first step. So, whether it's the assessment or a consultation, take that step today and work together towards a brighter, more balanced future. 🌟

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