The 12 Stages of Burnout | Identification, Prevention & Treatment

12 stages of burnout

Burnout is a term coined in the 1970s to describe an extreme state of exhaustion. Professionals are particularly susceptible to burnout, which usually results from prolonged periods of severe stress. Executives, pilots, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, lawyers, and members of the clergy have extremely stressful jobs as they are under constant pressure to meet deadlines and produce results, often with other people’s lives in their hands. Recognizing the 12 stages of burnout is vital for professionals to be able to identify, prevent, and treat it.

Understanding the 12 Stages of Burnout

Psychologists Herbert Freudenberger and Gail North developed the 12-stage model of burnout that affects so many professionals today:

  1. The Compulsion to Prove Oneself:feeling like you constantly have to demonstrate your worth
  2. Working Harder:becoming a work “addict”
  3. Neglecting Needs:not sleeping or eating well, lack of social interaction
  4. Displacement of Conflicts:blaming others or your situation for all of your problems, including your stress level
  5. Revision of Values: your friends and family are no longer as important as your work
  6. Denial of Emerging Problems: intolerance; perceiving others at work as stupid, lazy, demanding, or undisciplined
  7. Withdrawal: avoiding or dreading social interaction, using alcohol or drugs to try to feel relief from stress
  8. Odd Behavioral Changes: changes in behavior such as impatience, aggression, and snapping at friends and family
  9. Depersonalization:feeling detached – seeing neither yourself nor others as valuable
  10. Inner Emptiness: feeling empty inside and to overcome this, looking for activity such as overeating, sex, alcohol, or drugs
  11. Depression: feeling lost and unsure, exhausted, future feels bleak and dark
  12. Burnout Syndrome: can include total mental and physical collapse; time for full medical attention.

Identifying Burnout

Stress usually causes burnout, but burnout is not just stress. You may feel stressed because you have a lot to do and little time to do it. You may be stressed over a looming due date. If these things happen often enough and you see no positive end to the situation you are in or no satisfaction in the work that you do, you may be experiencing burnout. You may be able to recognize the overwhelming level of stress you are experiencing, but you may not be able to immediately identify your situation as being burnout.

Burnout can manifest itself in physical symptoms as well as emotional and behavioral symptoms, many of which are described in the 12 Stages of Burnout. Feeling physically tired and drained most of the time, experiencing headaches or other illnesses, and not being able to eat or sleep can be signs of burnout.

Exhaustion and loss of motivation are also major signs of burnout. If you feel extremely tired on a long-term basis and feel helpless or withdrawn, you may be experiencing burnout. If you start to feel as though you have no control or even no future, you should take a look at any other symptoms you have that may fit under the diagnosis of burnout.

Prevention Through Understanding

Even better than recognizing burnout when it happens is preventing it from happening at all. Self-care, on both a physical and mental level, can be the key to preventing burnout when you are in a high stress profession. You can potentially prevent burnout by getting more exercise, focusing on more positive sleep habits, and eating a healthier diet.

On a deeper level, try to identify potential causes of stress and burnout in your life. You can do this by keeping a journal of potentially stressful situations and your tendency toward negative moods in relation to these situations. By keeping a record of your experiences, you can begin to identify signs of burnout and take steps to prevent it before it actually happens to you.

Throughout the day, make focused attempts to adjust your mindset as well as your interactions with others. Even though you may feel you have no time for anything but your job, take a few minutes a day to breathe deeply and focus on the positive.

Take stock of what fulfills you most in your job. Are there areas of responsibility that might be best delegated to others so that you can feel more in control of the more satisfying tasks? Look for ways to add to the meaningful aspect of your work and to reduce or eliminate the areas where you may feel stuck.

Coping Mechanisms

Two of the 12 Stages of Burnout involve turning to drugs or alcohol as a way to deal with the feelings of stress, withdrawal, and emptiness. Using drugs or alcohol is sometimes seen as the only option for coping with the pressures as well as the sense of being stuck.

Addiction results from a professional turning to stimulants to keep going when there is no apparent drive left. Addiction stems from relying on alcohol, trying desperately to find a way to numb your feelings, when you are so stressed and anxious not only about your future, but about just getting through each day.

Of course, even after you turn to drugs or alcohol as a solution for numbness or motivation, the stress and the burnout are still there. These coping mechanisms will simply contribute further to other stages, including neglecting your own needs.

Treating Burnout Professionally

In stressful professional positions, burnout does happen often. Treating burnout means treating the symptoms, such as drug and alcohol addiction, as well as the underlying causes. It is not always easy to decide to treat your burnout on your own. You may need help getting back into a regular schedule of healthy eating and sleeping, for example. Since many professionals who experience burnout turn to drugs or alcohol to overcome feeling empty or exhausted, addiction treatment is usually necessary as well.

For professionals who are experiencing burnout, who have lost motivation, and who have turned to potentially harmful alternatives to try to combat their symptoms, a structured treatment program may be most effective.

Contact Providence Treatment to Learn More

At Providence Treatment, we help professionals find a positive way to deal with the symptoms of stress and burnout. Contact Providence Treatment today to speak to our staff about finding the right path for you.


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