Around 22% of all workers in the UK have burnout to some degree and while this isn’t a new thing, it wasn’t actually defined by the World Health Organisation until 2019 when the org clarified that burnout is a syndrome that stems from an occupational phenomenon.
If you’ve worked a particularly gruelling job or even just haven’t had the time off that you need from work, you’ll be familiar with the sensation and are likely still in the throes of it as burnout takes anywhere from three months to a year to recover from.
But, how do you know when you’re falling into burnout?
According to occupational therapist Mira Rollins, there are five stages of burnout.
It starts with the honeymoon period
If you’ve ever started a job that you were very excited about and desperately hoped to get, you’ll be familiar with this period. Everything about the job is exciting, all of your creative wheels are turning and you want to give as much as you can to the job.
It’s a euphoric feeling but also means you can very quickly get caught in the habit of doing too much, because you just can’t get enough of your work and that is when burnout can start to creep in.
Rollins states that you can expect to feel optimism, productivity, enthusiasm and creativity during this period.
Then, there’s an onset of stress
This is when symptoms really creep in but as we associate the feelings involved — such as anxiety and irritability — with standard workplace frustrations, we’re more likely to miss them.
During this time, it’s a little more difficult to get started on a task, getting things accomplished is a little harder and you’re making mistakes that you usually wouldn’t. If you’re usually a team player, you might find that you’re a little more disagreeable during this period.
It then hits full swing with chronic stress and frustration
At this point, the stress has embedded so deep that paradoxically, you can end up feeling apathetic. You may also feel persistent fatigue, find yourself procrastinating more often and find that you’re overall feeling cynical.
During stage 3, many people that were once overly enthusiastic about the work suddenly feel drained and uninterested in even good progression within the workplace. Doubt can creep in and resentment towards colleagues is highly likely.
Finally, full burnout occurs
Instead of simply being doubtful and cynical, people in full burnout are just pessimistic. They’re not open to new ideas, don’t believe change is possible with individuals or the workplace as a whole.
If you’ve found yourself obsessing over others and how they’re treated, it’s likely that you were or are even still in burnout. You may find yourself constantly noticing faults in others while still being overly-critical of yourself.
Physically, you’ll feel constant exhaustion and likely experience headaches.
If you’re very unlucky, you’ll fall into habitual burnout
This is everything outlined in the last stage but exacerbated. You’ll feel mental fatigue, chronic sadness, physical fatigue and even depression.
How to avoid burnout
Of course, it’s all too easy to say, “take care of yourself!” or “find a new job!” but neither of these are simple and when you’re deep in the trenches of depression and fatigue, they’re near-impossible tasks.
What you should do now is reach out and ask for help. Speak to your GP about your symptoms and how you’re feeling day-to-day. They can provide the tools that you need to get through, including medication or even a sickline to give you time to recuperate.
Additionally, mental health charity Mind recommends that anybody suffering from burnout should:
- Make sure that you’re taking breaks throughout the workday when possible
- Schedule time away from your phone and laptop
- Learn when to say no
- Move your body, even just for a short walk
- Make sure you’re doing things that you enjoy outside of work such as hobbies or socialising
- Have a bedtime routine that involves switching off electronic devices 45-60 minutes before bed
Help and support:
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393.
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill).
- CALM (the Campaign Against Living Miserably) offer a helpline open 5pm-midnight, 365 days a year, on 0800 58 58 58, and a webchat service.
- The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email email@example.com
- Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0808 801 0525 (Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on rethink.org.