The 12 Stages of Burnout

Premise:

As leaders and entrepreneurs, we are people with a lot of drive and motivation to do stuff. In our hustle to make progress, we often don’t realise if we start suffering from burnout until it’s too late.  So, when I looked up for a reliable way for us to find out if we are suffering from burn out, I came across this white paper written by Herbert Freudenberger and Gail North.

12 Phases of Burn out

They have divided burning out  into 12 phases. You can read their entire paper here.  The 12 phases are as below. The important thing is that they need or may  not occur sequentially. So, if we are showing multiple symptoms from this list, we need to take care of ourselves.

The Compulsion to Prove Oneself;

This compulsion is often found at the beginning as excessive ambition. This is one’s desire to prove themselves while at the workplace. This desire turns into determination and later into compulsion. While determination is good and is a positive indication, compulsion is not.

Working Harder;

When we enter a phase of our life when we find ourselves unable to switch off and are driven to prove to others and start believing that we are indispensable, we are in dangerous territory. This generally means that we take on too much work. This is also characterised by inability or unwillingness to seek help or delegate.

Neglecting Own Needs;

This phase kicks in when we start experiencing erratic sleeping patterns. Lack of sleep or signs of tiredness when we wake up is a clear indication that we should take seriously. Similarly, our eating pattern is also disrupted. This phase is also accompanied by a lack of any kind of social interactions.

Displacement of Conflicts;

We are in this phase when we become aware that what we are doing is not right, but we are unable to see the source of the problem. This could lead to a crisis. This is when the first physical symptoms are expressed and we may start to feel threatened, panicky and jittery.

Revision of Values; 

In this phase, our values get skewed. We are no longer spending time with our family and friends. We lose track of our hobbies and think of them as irrelevant and consider them to be a waste of our time and attention. The only remaining focus of our lives that remains is our work.

Denial of Emerging Problems;

We become intolerant towards everyone around us. We start perceiving collaborators as stupid, lazy, demanding, or undisciplined. All social contacts become difficult and social conflict becomes extremely difficult to handle. We turn into permanent cynics and become aggressive. We start blaming every problem to be caused by time pressure and demands of our work. It becomes difficult for us to see that we are responsible for this state of affairs.

Withdrawal;

We are in this phase when our social life is extremely small or even non-existent. We want to feel relief from stress and turn to stimulants like alcohol or drugs or something similar.

Odd Behavioural Changes;

We are in this phase when our changes in behaviour becomes extremely obvious to our friends and family. They start showing their concern and we seem to be totally oblivious of these changes in our behaviour. They start getting very concerned for us. This is also when friends and family might start asking us to seek professional help.

De-personalization;

We are in this phase when we stop seeing neither ourself nor others as valuable. We are no longer able to perceive own needs. We lose touch with ourselves and what we want. This is the phase when we are not sure why we are doing whatever it is that we are doing.

Inner Emptiness;

We are in this phase when we start feeling empty inside and to overcome this, look for activity such as overeating, sex, alcohol, or drugs. In this phased all our activities are often exaggerated. We tend to move towards extreme forms of expressions and behaviour.

Depression;

We are in this phase, when we start feeling lost and unsure. We start feeling exhausted – mentally, physically and emotionally. The future feels bleak and dark. We dont see any reason to get up and go do what we were doing all this time. We stop seeing the value in everything that we have done so far.

Burnout Syndrome;

When we are in this phase, we can have total mental and physical collapse. This is also the time when we might have panic attacks and might even start contemplating leaving everything behind and moving on. This is time for full medical attention.

In Conclusion:

When we push our creativity and productivity to its limits, we can easily find ourselves teetering on brink of burnout. And there’s a fine line between being in the zone and falling down the slippery slope of mental, emotional and physical exhaustion.

Therefore, we would do ourselves a favour by occasionally referring back to this list to self-diagnose. And when we see multiple symptoms, to start seeking help. It would also be a great idea to share this list with someone close to ourselves – spouse, business partner, friend or a mentor and ask them to let you know if you wander close to any of these phases so you can take corrective action.

In the same white paper, both the authors also share some coping mechanisms that are worth exploring.

If we find ourselves burnt out, Andew Ayres-Deets, wrote insightful and practical blog post on how to bounce back after burning out, that’s worth a read.

Some other very interesting posts on this topics are as below. Do take some time to read through them.

3 Kinds of Burnout

 11 Ways to Avoid Burnout.

How Overachievers Stay Sane

How to Spot Burnout (and Recover).

Nik Shuliahin

Do share your thoughts and continue the discussion