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The 12 Stages of Burnout You Need To Know

Have you ever felt physically, mentally, and emotionally spent? Maybe you are operating on autopilot, or maybe not even functioning at all?  This feeling is all too common for professionals, college students, and new parents, to name a few. What is this feeling exactly? If you have experienced anything that I just mentioned then you have experienced burnout

You can find out more about burnout in this previous article. Today we are diving deeper and discussing the stages of burnout that someone can experience. According to experts, there are twelve different stages of burnout. This model was created by two psychologists, Herbert Freudenberger and Gail North and can be pivotal in helping you understand the root of your burnout problem. 

So what are the 12 stages of burnout? Let’s dive deeper and find out.

The 12 Stages of Burnout

1. The Compulsion to Prove Oneself

This is when the burnout first starts to appear, although you may not label it burnout at the time.

In this stage you experience the pressure to constantly prove yourself. You aim for perfection and worthiness in everything you do. While it is healthy to want to do your best and continue to improve, when it turns to this kind of behavior it becomes toxic. If not tackled head on it can send you down a spiraling path of burnout.

2. Working Harder

If you are continuing the unhealthy behaviors from the first stage, working becomes your main focus all of the time.

There will always be some project to finish, research to be done, and meetings to attend. The best way to prevent this is to not bring work home. Staying late at work and bringing home work tasks can be normal when done occasionally. It is when it becomes a regular occurrence that it can be labeled burnout. 

It’s imperative that we make sure we have a separate version of ourselves that exists outside of work. Our work does not define us and we shouldn’t be working 24/7. Find how self-care works into your life and go from there.

3. Neglecting Needs

If work continues to become your main focus, eventually your needs are going to fall to the wayside. This can mean unhealthy amounts of sleep, not eating (or sometimes even overeating), poor hygiene, etc. In my opinion this is where burnout first becomes apparent to both you and the people around you. 

4. Displacement of Conflicts

At this point your stress level is at a high and you have no idea how it got this bad and how/when you will get back to normal.

What usually happens is that you take all the stress and frustration out on those around you. Everything you are experiencing suddenly becomes their fault. Not only will this potentially ruin the relationships you have, it is also not helping you address the true problem you are having.

5. Revision of Values

This is where your relationships truly start to suffer.

You suddenly find yourself missing important events in your friends and family’s lives. You’ll justify your decision by saying things like “I’ll make the next one.” In reality your presence not being there can be hurtful to those you love no matter how small or big of a deal it is. 

6. Denial of Emerging Problems

In this stage instead of identifying your burnout, and putting space between you and your work, it continues to take over your life.

Your coworkers suddenly become useless to you. Everyone is lazy and unqualified, which skews your thinking even more to believing that you have to do it all.

You might become more aggressive towards others or actively push away other people’s attempts to help you.

7. Withdrawal

The stress now becomes too much to handle, if it hasn’t already. This stage is exactly what you would think by reading the name. You start avoiding people and other responsibilities. You start looking for help coping with all the stress you are experiencing. The coping you seek usually comes from a bad source, like alcohol, drugs, and overeating to name a few, that will further drive you deeper into bad habits

8. Odd Behavioral Changes

Now your burnout is definitely apparent to others. When you start acting differently, like being uncharacteristically more irritable and snapping on family, your actions can begin to concern your family. Listen to their concerns, don’t shake them off. This is an important action that can help you turn your burnout around before it gets any worse.

9. Depersonalization

Your burnout has now become more of an internal struggle than ever before. In this stage no one is valuable and everything is pointless. When you have that perspective on life it is easy for negative self-talk to become a constant presence. We don’t want this. 

10. Inner Emptiness

This is exactly as it sounds. You feel empty, like you are just going through the motions in life. This is a dangerous space to be in because it can lead you down a dark path of depression and unhealthy activities.

11. Depression

At this point the burnout has completely taken over your mental health. You now see no hope in getting out of the burnout trap and getting back to the life you enjoyed. Common signs that depression is occurring are the feeling of being lost, exhaustion, and hopelessness about the future. 

To be clear, depression can be caused by & a symptom of many different things, not just burnout. If you have found yourself in this state, or know someone that has, it is time to seek help.

12. Burnout Syndrome

We have arrived at the last, and most dangerous, stage of burnout. While we hope you have never, and will never, reach this point, you should be educated on what it is so you know what it looks like.

If you are at this stage you are completely depleted. All aspects of your health are suffering, physical, mental, social, etc.. If you haven’t sought medical help yet, it is imperative that you do so. 

You might not want to leave the house or have any motivation to do anything. You’re missing work, not returning calls, absorbed in Netflix… these signs you are turning completely inward should start ringing alarm bells in your self-aware brain.

As you can see burnout is about much more than stress, but stress is a major factor. Have you been experiencing any of these stages of burnout? If so it’s not too late to turn that around.  It is best to get ahead of burnout before it gets serious and hard to come back from. If you need tips on how to accomplish this, you’ll want to read this article and put it into practice.

Stay well friends and remember, you are more than your work! Don’t let work stress and the pressure to be perfect, take over your life.

About the Author

Kelly Clark

Kelly graduated from Liberty University with a degree in Advertising and Public Relations and a minor in Journalism. Even though it took her a little while to find her career path, she was always meant to be in Communications. She remembers writing poems and songs when she was a little girl and pitching to my parents the reasons why I should have a cell phone when I was a teenager. She currently has a blog ( where she talks about her weight-loss journey, mental health and personal development. Her hope is to encourage and inspire readers and let them know they are not alone. Reading blog posts like that are what helped her in tough times and she wants to pay it forward. She loves dance fitness, listening to music, and creating layouts in her bullet journal. She's a big fan of planning, especially when cute notebooks and pens are involved. Her dream job has changed so much over the years; right now she'd love to co-own a dance studio.