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What Are the 5 Stages of Burnout?

Uncover the 5 stages of burnout, from enthusiasm to intervention. Identify warning signs, implement prevention strategies, and promote effective recovery.

Burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion caused by chronic stress. It is a common problem among people working in high-pressure environments, but it can also affect anyone under constant stress. Burnout can lead to a range of physical and mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, headaches, fatigue, and sleep disturbances.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has recognized burnout as a syndrome caused by chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. According to WHO, burnout is characterized by three dimensions: feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance from one’s job, feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job, and reduced professional efficacy. Burnout can affect the individual and the organization they work for, as it can lead to reduced productivity, higher absenteeism, and higher staff turnover.

There are five stages of burnout that are commonly observed. These stages are not necessarily linear and can overlap, and the severity of each stage can vary from person to person. The first stage is the honeymoon phase, where a person experiences high job satisfaction, commitment, energy, and creativity. The second stage is the onset of stress, where a person begins to feel overwhelmed and anxious. The third stage is chronic stress, where a person experiences a range of physical and emotional symptoms. The fourth stage is burnout, when a person feels exhausted, irritable, and detached from work. The fifth and final stage is habitual burnout, where a person’s physical and emotional symptoms become embedded and impact their quality of life.

What is Burnout?


Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion resulting from prolonged stress exposure. It is a syndrome characterized by feelings of cynicism, detachment, and a sense of ineffectiveness or lack of accomplishment. Burnout can affect anyone, but it is most commonly seen in people who work in high-stress jobs, such as healthcare providers, teachers, and first responders.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), burnout is not classified as a medical condition but rather as a syndrome. The WHO defines burnout as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”


The symptoms of burnout can vary from person to person, but they generally involve a combination of emotional, physical, and cognitive factors. Some common symptoms of burnout include:

  • Persistent tiredness
  • Physical illness
  • Procrastination at work and at home
  • Repeated lateness for work
  • Resentfulness
  • Social withdrawal from friends and/or family
  • Uptake of escapist activities
  • Anger or aggressive behavior
  • Apathy
  • Chronic exhaustion
  • Cynical attitude
  • Decreased sexual desire
  • Denial of problems at work or at home

In addition to these symptoms, people experiencing burnout may also experience other mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, and irritability. Physical symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, and sleep disturbances can also be present. Chronic stress, alcohol use, and an overwhelming workload can contribute to the development of burnout.

It is important to note that burnout is not the same as stress. While stress is a normal response to challenging situations, burnout is a chronic condition that can have serious consequences for an individual’s health and well-being. If left untreated, burnout can lead to long-term physical and mental health problems and a decrease in work performance and quality of life.

The Five Stages of Burnout

As we have already discussed, burnout progresses through five stages, each with its own set of symptoms and characteristics.

Stage 1: Honeymoon Phase

The first stage of burnout is the honeymoon phase. Individuals experience high job satisfaction, commitment, energy, and creativity in this stage. They are excited about their work and feel that they can accomplish anything. However, this short-lived phase eventually leads to the next stage.

Stage 2: Onset of Stress

The onset of stress is the second stage of burnout. In this stage, individuals begin to experience the signs of burnout, such as excessive stress, sadness, and depersonalization. They may also experience physical fatigue, reduced accomplishment, and loss of personal identity. The symptoms of burnout can be mild at first, but they gradually become more severe over time.

Stage 3: Chronic Stress

Chronic stress is the third stage of burnout. In this stage, individuals experience constant stress that can lead to emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and reduced productivity. They may also develop physical symptoms like high blood pressure, bowel problems, and sleep disturbances. Chronic stress can significantly impact an individual’s physical and mental health.

Stage 4: Burnout Syndrome

The fourth stage of burnout is burnout syndrome. In this stage, individuals experience a medical diagnosis of burnout. They may have difficulty concentrating, feel irritable, and have a negative outlook on life. Burnout syndrome can significantly impact an individual’s ability to perform their job duties and can lead to long-term health problems.

Stage 5: Habitual Burnout

The final stage of burnout is habitual burnout. In this stage, individuals experience a complete loss of interest in their work and may feel they have no control over their lives. They may use food, drugs, or other unhealthy behaviors to cope with stress. Habitual burnout can be difficult to recover from and may require significant lifestyle changes.

Overall, burnout is a serious issue that can have a significant impact on an individual’s physical and mental health. It is important to recognize the signs of burnout and take steps to prevent it from progressing to more severe stages. This may include practicing mindfulness, seeking support from a therapist or counselor, and making changes to one’s work schedule or environment. Individuals can maintain their physical and mental health and lead fulfilling lives by taking proactive steps to manage stress and prevent burnout.

Burnout Denial

It is common for individuals to deny that they are experiencing burnout. They may become impatient or irritable and refuse to acknowledge the symptoms of burnout. They may even blame others for their problems.

During the denial stage, individuals may feel that they are simply overworked or stressed and that they will be able to overcome their challenges with time. They may also feel that they are simply going through a difficult period and that things will eventually improve.

However, it is important to recognize that denial is a common symptom of burnout and that it can prevent individuals from seeking the help and support they need. Without addressing the underlying causes of burnout, individuals may find themselves moving further into the stages of withdrawal, hopelessness, and collapse.

It is important for individuals to acknowledge their symptoms and seek help from a therapist, counselor, or other mental health professional. By taking proactive steps to address burnout, individuals can prevent it from becoming a more serious and debilitating condition.


In conclusion, burnout is a serious condition that affects many individuals in various professions. It is a gradual process that progresses through five stages: the honeymoon phase, onset of stress, chronic stress, burnout, and habitual burnout. The symptoms of burnout may vary from person to person, but they can include physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion, as well as reduced performance and motivation.

It is important to recognize the signs of burnout and take action to prevent it from progressing to the later stages. This can include practicing mindfulness, seeking support from friends and family, and making lifestyle changes such as getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, and engaging in regular exercise.

Employers also have a role to play in preventing burnout by creating a work environment that promotes work-life balance, provides adequate resources and support, and recognizes and rewards employees for their contributions.

By being aware of the stages of burnout and taking proactive steps to prevent it, individuals can maintain their physical and mental health and achieve greater success in their personal and professional lives.

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Burnout recovery is the process of regaining balance and well-being after experiencing chronic stress and burnout. It involves recognizing the symptoms of burnout, seeking support, and making positive changes in one’s life. Self-care, such as getting enough sleep, eating well, and exercising, is crucial for recovery. Additionally, reducing workload and setting boundaries at work and in personal life can help prevent burnout from recurring. The goal of burnout recovery is to restore energy, motivation, and a sense of purpose, and lead a more fulfilling and sustainable lifestyle.

About the Author

Emily Mitchell
Marketing Manager + Yoga & Nutrition Author
Emily is one of our long-standing wellness experts at Browse Wellness. With over a decade of experience in the wellness industry, Emily is passionate about sharing her knowledge and expertise with others. Through Browse Wellness, she provides a wealth of resources, including articles, guides and product recommendations, to help you live a healthier and happier life. Emily is a certified yoga instructor and holistic nutritionist, and her approach to wellness is grounded in a holistic, whole-body perspective.



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