Gatherings with our families and at work are ongoing opportunities to deepen social connections throughout the year, extended by our Facebook feeds and online media. With the shift in Washington, D.C., conversations have swiftly centered on the questionable change among marginalized populations. And while festivities are intended to create camaraderie, some are finding these events are surfacing triggers for stress.
That’s why we’ve created Navigating Burnout, our series on coping with the current climate of uncertainty and how to handle fatigue associated with social gatherings, online content, workplace relationships and self.
But before we identify the stages of burnout in this post, let’s talk about how to prepare.
We are the best observers of our health, and the first step to dealing with burnout nonjudgmental observation. When you feel overwhelmed, stop and observe your activities, and how you react to stress.
So now that we’ve used the term a couple of times, let’s go over the definition of burnout.
Burnout is chronic stress that causes physical, emotional or mental exhaustion.
It can lower personal and professional performance and increase isolation, detachment from everyday activities, a feeling ineffectiveness, loneliness, and isolation. While in the stages of burnout, it becomes difficult to identify causes and navigate to mindful space to address the sources of stress.
Burnout happens in three stages.
Stage 1: Stress Arousal
Stress Arousal is the first stage. Here stress manifests through irritability, anxiety and the inability to concentrate. While not immediately recognized as burnout, those in this stage might notice small habits such as headaches, teeth grinding, heart palpitations and insomnia.
Stage 2: Energy Conservation
Those in the second stage may notice fluctuations in energy conservation. This includes procrastination or habitual lateness for work, lethargic mornings and decreased sexual desire. Observers might notice a shift in routines and incorporate new behaviors such as turning work in late, increase caffeine and alcohol consumption, social withdrawal from friends and family and apathy or cynical attitudes.
Stage 3: Exhaustion
In the final stage of exhaustion, symptoms include chronic sadness or depression, stomach or bowel problems, mental and physical fatigue and chronic headaches. Those in this stage can have a desire to “drop out” of society, move away from friends, work, and family, or even attempt suicide.
Stage 3 is where most people finally get a sense that something may be wrong, but the process begins much earlier.
We’ve created the Improving OUTcomes Three Stages of Burnout to help recognize the sequential progression through the stages and better understand prevention steps.
If you are in a hyper-state of exhaustion, need help or are unsure how to proceed, then contact your primary care provider or use one of the crisis lines on our health resource map.
Paul David Terry, MNA
Co-editor of the Improving OUTcomes website and blog.
Improving OUTcomes coordinator and co-editor of the Improving OUTcomes website and blog.
Edward J. Callahan, PhD
Professor Emeritus of Family and Community Medicine
Chair, Vice Chancellor’s LGBTQI Advisory Committee