The 12 Stages of Burnout

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We often don’t realize that we’re suffering from burnout until it’s too late. Here at 99u, we write a lot about burnout, a serious subject concerning many creative professionals. Recently, we discussed the 3 Kinds of Burnout as well as 11 Ways to Avoid Burnout. We also explored How Overachievers Stay Sane and briefly touched on How to Spot Burnout (and Recover).

The burnout process has been divided into 12 phases by psychologists Herbert Freudenberger and Gail North. In a Scientific American Mind article, the stages are outlined as such:

  1. The Compulsion to Prove Oneself; demonstrating worth obsessively; tends to hit the best employees, those with enthusiasm who accept responsibility readily.
  2. Working Harder; an inability to switch off.
  3. Neglecting Their Needs; erratic sleeping, eating disrupted, lack of social interaction.
  4. Displacement of Conflicts; problems are dismissed, we may feel threatened, panicky and jittery.
  5. Revision of Values; values are skewed, friends and family dismissed, hobbies seen as irrelevant, work is only focus.
  6. Denial of Emerging Problems; intolerance, perceiving collaborators as stupid, lazy, demanding, or undisciplined, social contacts harder; cynicism, aggression; problems are viewed as caused by time pressure and work, not because of life changes.
  7. Withdrawal; social life small or non-existent, need to feel relief from stress, alcohol/drugs.
  8. Odd Behavioural Changes; changes in behaviour obvious, friends and family concerned.
  9. Depersonalization; seeing neither self nor others as valuable, and no longer perceive own needs.
  10. Inner Emptiness; feeling empty inside and to overcome this, look for activity such as overeating, sex, alcohol, or drugs; activities are often exaggerated.
  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.

When we push our creativity and productivity to its limits, we can easily find ourselves teetering on brink of burnout. And there’s a fine line between being in the zone and falling down the slippery slope of mental, emotional and physical exhaustion. Therefore it’s worth occasionally referring back to this list to self-diagnose.

If you find yourself burned out, Andew Ayres-Deets, a writer at Crew, wrote insightful and practical blog post on how to bounce back after burning out that’s worth a read.


This post was originally published on 99U.

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