Everyone complains, at one point, ‘I’m stressed!’ or ‘I’ve got the Monday blues.’ It’s so common that we think it’s actually normal, brushing off what are actually symptoms of the four stages of burnout.
Burnout doesn’t happen in one big blow. It may happen over months or years, from steady exposure to physical, mental and emotional pressure and stress. ‘I feel I’ve lost my passion,’ we say. Or, others notice it before we do: ‘What’s wrong with her? She’s been such a beyotch lately.’ Here are the four stages of burnout.
Stage 1: You zone out all the time
At the end of the day, you just head straight to the refrigerator, grab a huge tub of ice cream, and slump into your sofa to watch television. Sometimes you aren’t even watching, just blankly staring at the images at the screen, waiting till you get sleepy. This isn’t recreation or relaxation, because you’re not really enjoying yourself: you’re just so physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted that you can’t move.
Then, you reach the point that you’re zoning out in the middle of work. You try your best to shake it off, but you catch yourself freezing in the middle of a big project : unable to concentrate, or just going through the motions. Bad for your career, but also your self-esteem. You may feel guilty, incompetent, frustrated at yourself. So you’re physically and mentally exhausted, and now you’re emotionally agitated, too. Not a good thing.
Stage 2: You start doubting yourself
Ironically when stage one happens, your first instinct is to push yourself harder. ‘I’ll do better tomorrow!’ or ‘Nah, it’s just a bad mood, I’ll make up for it!’ But naturally you can’t, because you’re just too tired. And then, as your performance starts to dip, you wonder if something’s wrong with you. You feel shame, doubt, and lose your confidence: ‘Am I going to screw up again?’ Pretty soon you forget your past accomplishments and abilities and think, ‘I’m not as good as I thought I was!’ or ‘I was never cut out for this job.’
Stage 3: You grow cynical
Stage two makes you feel very vulnerable, and your defense mechanisms will kick in, as an act of self preservation. You can start pointing fingers at other people, or develop a ‘cover your ass’ kind of mentality at work. You become jaded: ‘Welcome to the rat race.’ Or you teach yourself to settle: ‘Well, at least I have a job. That’s pretty much all you can expect from life, right?’ You can also become resentful. ‘Why aren’t other people helping me? Why do I have to do everything?’ This hurts your relationships.
stage 4: Crisis mode
Man, this is when it all falls apart. You get depressed, you start fighting with your spouse, you blow up at your boss. Basically every coping mechanism you ever had doesn’t work anymore. You can have weeping fits, or think, ‘I just can’t get out of bed.’
Don’t let this happen to you. Listen to your body. Find stress management techniques, and do what you can to take care of yourself. Find a hobby, rest, invest in “me time.” Use stress in a positive way, to find out what works in your life and what doesn’t.
Don’t ignore the stages of burn out — listen to it, learn from it, and do what you can for yourself.
photo from drubafamily.blogspot.com