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5 Stages of Burnout & Tips for Breaking the Cycle


an exhausted women working on her laptop computer

Awareness is the First Step

In our fast-paced lives, the risk of burnout looms large for many of us, and for some, we're already entrenched in its cycle. The good news is, it's a cycle we can break. It all starts with understanding what burnout actually means and how its cycle unfolds.


Burnout is more than just feeling tired or stressed. It's a psychological response to prolonged stress in our daily lives. The key aspects of burnout are detachment, cynicism, and overwhelming exhaustion related to our primary responsibilities.


There are five stages of burnout, beginning with the honeymoon phase, where we take on new, potentially stressful responsibilities, and ending with habitual burnout, where burnout becomes a way of life.


By understanding the definition of burnout and familiarizing ourselves with each of the five stages, we can pinpoint which stage we are in and take measures to break the cycle.


Here's a breakdown of each stage along with tips to break free from its grip:


HONEYMOON

The honeymoon phase of burnout begins when we take on a new responsibility that could reshape the course of our future. Initially, we are thrilled about the chance to learn and grow. We feel optimistic, creative, and energized, driven by the desire to demonstrate our value through our work.


However, the critical issue at this stage, which can lead to stress and burnout, is unintentionally taking on more responsibility than we can handle or underestimating the true magnitude of the commitment.


Tips for breaking the cycle at this stage:

● take time to think before saying “yes”

● check in with yourself

● ask your loved ones for their honest opinion

● allow yourself to be excited

● plan ahead: make a schedule, delegate tasks, ensure good time management


STRESS ONSET

As the initial excitement fades, we may begin to feel stagnant, experiencing reduced energy and motivation for our work and hobbies. Increased time spent on commitments can lead to mounting stress. At this point, we might even notice early physical signs of stress, such as changes in sleep patterns or appetite.


Tips for breaking the cycle at this stage:

● assess your priorities and make adjustments as possible

● evaluate your time management skills and try new methods

● find a healthy way to re-energize; hobbies, relaxation, connect with nature

● spend quality time with your loved ones

● prioritize self-care every day; making time for adequate sleep and nourishing meals


CHRONIC STRESS

As stress persists, we may find ourselves growing more frustrated, resentful, and apathetic. This can lead to expressions of aggression, such as slamming doors, yelling, or making hurtful comments to loved ones. Our energy levels decrease as our once-healthy habits and routines deteriorate. We may turn to coping mechanisms like social media, mindless TV, junk food, alcohol, nicotine, or other drugs to unwind most days. Persistent fatigue and exhaustion, coupled with rising anxiety and depression, can lead us to lose hope for improvement.


Tips for breaking the cycle at this stage:

● audit your life to determine the greatest stressors and work on resolving them

● find a healthy outlet for frustrations

● pause and breathe before responding to others

● ask co-workers and family for help with your daily tasks

● take a walk, read a book, laugh with loved ones to wind down


BURNOUT

It becomes evident that we've hit burnout when detachment, cynicism, and profound exhaustion become our everyday experience. We gradually detach from our stressors, sometimes even distancing ourselves from things we once cherished. Skepticism creeps in, leading us to question the motives of employers, colleagues, and even loved ones, suspecting they intentionally burden us with stress. Despite this detachment and cynicism, we may paradoxically become fixated on work, hoping to bolster our self-esteem and gain recognition for our efforts.


This relentless cycle leads to overwhelming exhaustion which causes us to neglect self-care including basic personal hygiene. Our diminishing self-care further erodes our self-esteem. It feels as though we're trapped with little hope for escape.


Tips for breaking the cycle at this stage:

● reconnect with yourself to remember your values and envision a bright future

● find a way out of the stress if at all possible

● make basic level personal hygiene your top priority

● take a break every single day

● work on resolving what got you into this position in the first place


HABITUAL BURNOUT

As burnout persists, it becomes our norm. We lose sight of any alternative way of living, and hope for the future continues to dwindle. Physical manifestations of stress become more pronounced while other mental and physical health issues are worsening. Dependence on negative coping mechanisms may develop into a form of addiction. Despite feeling hopeless, a breaking point eventually emerges, prompting us to seek help and acknowledge that life cannot continue in this manner.


Tips for breaking the cycle at this stage:

● seek help from a health professional for any mental or physical health conditions

● recognize addiction if present and seek professional and familial support

● challenge your thoughts and beliefs that are keeping you stuck and work on resolving them

● take a significant break and allow yourself to let go; breathe, relax, and revitalize

● prioritize basic level personal hygiene every day


Refusing to let burnout dictate your life is a powerful choice. Take the first step towards reclaiming your well-being by daring to speak out against burnout. Remember, you're not alone in this journey. Seek support, prioritize self-care, and embrace the possibility of a brighter, more balanced future ahead.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Katie Laska is a compassionate Registered Nurse, Health & Wellness Coach, and the founder of Health Transformed LLC. Katie empowers busy individuals to prioritize self-care without compromising their dedication to others. Her expertise lies in assisting her clients to overcome burnout and establish bulletproof boundaries to experience the beauty of balance in all aspects of life.


Katie Laska, RN | Health Transformed LLC | myhealthtransformed.com

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I have been coaching with Katie for several months now and each time I learn something new about myself and how resilient I truly am! Her coaching has definitely played a pivotal role in my healing journey! Without her assistance and guidance to explore the capabilities that already reside in me, I felt lost and overwhelmed. I feel so much better about how I can continue to overcome burnout and still accomplish my goals and dreams without sacrificing myself in the process! THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!!

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