• Kelly Brennan

Understanding Burn-Out & How To Avoid It

Until recently, I took the term “burn-out” at face value. You work too much, you get tired.

Simple as that (or so I thought). But when I couldn’t shake my burnt-out feelings for weeks, my friend explained to me that burn-out was so much more than just “being tired”. I did some digging and learned the first stage of burn-out occurs long before the drowsiness kicks in, it actually begins when you’re feeling great.


So, what is burn-out and what are the 12 (that’s right, 12) stages?


The International Classification of Diseases 11th Revision (ICD-11) defines burn-out as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions: feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and reduced professional efficacy.”


Psychologists Herbert Freudenberger and Gail North describe the 12 stages to be:

  1. Excessive Ambition: You may be starting a new job or project, that hunger for success that drives you can be consuming.

  2. Pushing Yourself To Work Harder: Your drive spills over into working longer hours and weekends.

  3. Neglecting Personal Needs: Important self-care like sleep, exercise, and healthy eating become less of a priority.

  4. Displacement of Conflict: You become resentful of your coworkers, boss, the job, rather than acknowledging that you’re overextending yourself.

  5. Ignoring Nonwork-related Needs: You do not believe you have time to focus on anything outside of work.

  6. Denial: Similar to stage 4, you instead blame outside circumstances or people instead of taking responsibility for your behaviors.

  7. Withdrawal: You begin to withdraw from friends and family. You may decline invites to social outings.

  8. Behavioral Changes: This can manifest in several different ways, one of the most common being aggression.

  9. Depersonalization: You feel detached from your life, no longer finding joy in things you once did.

  10. Anxiety & Emptiness: Feelings of constant anxiety or feeling nothing at all.

  11. Depression: A severe condition where you feel life has lost all meaning.

  12. Mental and/or Physical Collapse: This can impact your ability to cope. Mental health or medical attention may be necessary.


Of course, not everyone who goes through burn-out will hit the final stages. But recognizing and understanding the stages can prevent burn-out before it happens. Here are some helpful tips and tricks to maintain work/life balance:

  1. Take Breaks. Sounds simple right? A recent poll found that nearly half of American workers don’t feel like they can take a “real” lunch break during their day. Taking breaks has been found vital for workers to stay focused. So whether you stop to eat lunch, take a walk around the block, or do a 10-minute workout; find something to pull yourself away from the screen. You’ll come back feeling more energized.

  2. Ask for help. Analyze both your work load and your personal life to see where you can bring someone in to assist. A lot of people feel too guilty to reach out in times of need, but once you jump the hurtle of actually asking, you’ll feel much better.

  3. Eat a well-balanced diet & exercise. Not only is exercise good for our physical health, but it can also give us an emotional boost. Give your body the fuel and energy it needs to keep you going during those long days.

  4. Find a therapist. I firmly believe seeing a therapist should be mainstreamed into modern medicine and should be as common as it is to go to the dentist. Not only does it help to talk through some of the issues you’re having, but you end up learning a lot about your emotional responses along the way! There's even some great virtual/digital options for those who aren't privy to office visits (we've tried and enjoyed betterhelp.com!)

If you or someone you know is struggling with burn-out, we highly recommend betterhelp.com to get matched with a professional licensed therapist today from the comfort of your home.