If you no longer derive joy from your job, although it’s a role that you went to great lengths to secure and felt fortunate for it, then you might be experiencing burnout. It is a syndrome that results from prolonged stress in the workplace; a state of mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion.
Contrary to what you might believe, this didn’t just happen overnight. You’ve been free-falling, hurdling straight through an unbroken continuum until you finally hit rock bottom. You just didn’t take notice of the warning signs. Or maybe you did but ignored them, choosing instead to trade your well-being for the pursuit of certain perceived advantages at your job.
Burnout reveals itself in various stages (five in fact), subtly increasing in intensity. If you pay attention, you can arrest it before it grows into a full-fledged beast. By recognizing where you are on the continuum, you’ll be able to take prompt action and effectively remedy the situation. If you’ve gone too far, don’t expect immediate results.
Ideally, one should enjoy continuous satisfaction from their chosen line of work. This should remain so until you’ve undoubtedly outgrown the position (in which case you are due for a promotion) or turned your attention to something else that will grant you a greater sense of self-worth and accomplishment.
So, if you suddenly start feeling miserable and would rather stay in bed than get to work, that should tell you something.
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What are the 5 Stages of Burnout?
Each stage of burnout exhibits a unique set of symptoms. As the condition progresses, the symptoms grow increasingly unpleasant. At the very beginning, everything feels peachy and you have the sense that you are moving in the right direction. By the end, you feel nothing but fatigue, depression, and apathy.
1. The Honeymoon Phase
This is the stage where you’re standing on top of the world. You probably have just started in a new role or at a new company. The tasks are fresh, exciting, and engaging in every way. Your productivity is up there and you are eager to take on any and all responsibilities thrown your way. You are simply creative, optimistic, and full of energy.
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However, if you don’t learn to take things easy and adopt healthy habits and strategies that will enable you to sustain your energy levels you’ll soon slide into the next phase of burnout.
2. The Onset of Stress
At this stage, you might begin to realize that your job has taken precedence over other aspects of your life, although you probably won’t care. However, you could be noticing slight changes in your performance. You no longer feel as unstoppable as you used to. Every day doesn’t have the same level of productivity, some days being better than others. You might start feeling a little anxious over tasks, although you would overcome it with some effort.
3. The Chronic Stress Phase
As you keep subjecting yourself to continued pressure, your efforts begin to show diminishing returns and your performance dwindles. You start feeling overwhelmed, disempowered, and even incompetent. In an attempt to escape the weight of tasks, you find yourself procrastinating.
Soon, you turn irritable, having little control over your emotions and displaying exaggerated reactions to the slightest of provocations. You feel more comfortable distancing yourself from people. Your friends and family may even notice the changes in your behavior. Your mental and physical health deteriorates and you could get sick often.
You might start depending on various coping mechanisms to get by, including binging (food or alcohol), and substance use. You’ll often experience short bursts of hyperactivity followed by extreme lows.
4. The Burnout Phase
At this stage, things are now out of hand. Remember the extreme highs and subsequent lows mentioned in the previous phase? Well, the lows will now be greatly dominant. You are barely able to carry out your duties and your superiors can’t help but notice, which in turn adds to your breakdown as the pressure to perform increases. At a point, you simply stop caring. Your indifference soon grows and you develop a pessimistic view of your job and your life in general. Your health could worsen.
5. The Habitual Burnout Phase
If you happen to fall into this phase, you need nothing short of intervention. Hopelessness and cynicism have become a core part of your identity. You’ve been at this for so long that it seems to you that what you are feeling is normal. Life loses all color. Your career and relationships suffer. You’re constantly tired, have shallow sleep, and readily lose focus.
Burnout is a manifestation of “the misalignment of your work with the needs of your soul.”