Tips for Overcoming Burnout (Plus Definition and Stages)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated September 19, 2022

Published February 15, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Burnout is something that many professionals experience at least once in their careers. This phenomenon relates to losing interest and motivation in work, experiencing job-related stress and losing confidence in your ability to perform in the workplace. There are several stages of burnout, and understanding these stages can help you identify if you're experiencing this type of stress and what you can do to overcome it.

In this article, we discuss what burnout is, list the five stages of burnout and offer tips to help you combat this type of work-related stress.

What is burnout?

Burnout refers to a feeling of or response to prolonged work-related stress that causes exhaustion, loss of confidence in one's ability to perform, motivation and interest in work. There are a few primary causes of burnout, including:

  • Lack of communication in the workplace

  • Lack of support from management

  • An unmanageable workload

  • Unfair treatment in the workplace

  • Lack of clarity in relation to what's expected in a particular role

  • Excessive time pressure

Some people may experience one or many of these things when burnout occurs. The longer a person goes without resolving the stress they are feeling in relation to work, the more severe their burnout is likely to be. Burnout can last for a short period or for an extended period of time and can impact every aspect of your life, even outside of work. Understanding burnout and its causes is important when working to overcome this stress and reclaim your motivation and enjoyment of work.

Related: Burnout: What It Is and How To Cope

The stages of burnout

There are five primary stages of burnout. These stages include:

1. Initial excitement and a high level of commitment

While it may seem contradictory, burnout often begins with experiencing a lot of excitement and energy when taking on a new job or a new role at work. Although work might be stressful, many people don't experience this stress as negative during this stage. The excitement felt during this stage often overshadows the excess demands of a stressful workload or work environment and makes it easier to perform tasks that would otherwise be taxing or challenging.

Common symptoms experienced during this stage of burnout include:

  • Job commitment

  • Creativity

  • High levels of productivity

  • Optimism for the job

  • Job satisfaction

  • High energy

Related: 6 Ways To Avoid Burnout Effectively (With Common Causes)

2. The beginnings of stress

Once the initial excitement of a new job or role wears off, you may be more aware of the stressful nature of your job or role. This is especially true in positions that require long work hours or excess workloads. Many people can overlook this for a certain period, but eventually, this stress might begin to make itself evident and be more difficult to ignore.

Common symptoms experienced in the second stage of burnout include:

  • Changes in appetite

  • Fatigue

  • Increased blood pressure

  • Reduced productivity

  • Anxiety

  • Headaches

  • Teeth grinding

  • Dissatisfaction at work

  • Irritability

  • Trouble focusing

  • Poor sleep or trouble sleeping

Related: 18 Tips for Handling and Avoiding Deadline Stress at Work

3. Prolonged stress

The third stage of burnout is chronic or prolonged stress. This is different than the second stage because stress now becomes more prominent and is something the person experiences on a regular and even daily basis. Symptoms experienced in the second stage of burnout often worsen during this stage. Additionally, other symptoms may appear, including:

  • Persistent exhaustion

  • Trouble getting up in the morning

  • Illness

  • Procrastination

  • Social withdrawal

  • Increased stimulant consumption, such as caffeine and energy pills

  • Anger

  • Feelings of being out of control

  • Feelings of extreme pressure

  • Trouble meeting deadlines

  • Participating in escapist activities such as drug or alcohol use

Related: 26 Quick Ways To De-Stress at Work and Why It Matters

4. Burnout

The fourth stage of burnout is the actual burnout itself. This stage is chronic and sometimes debilitating stress that affects every area of your life. When a person is in the fourth stage, they often have a challenging time coping with their stress and have a low tolerance for additional stress. This can cause physical and mental illness and conditions and a decline in satisfaction in work and other areas of your life.

  • Common symptoms in this stage of burnout include:

  • Changes in behavior

  • Chronic headaches and stomachaches

  • Health issues, including high blood pressure, anxiety, allergies, indigestion and depression

  • Escapist mentality

  • Cynical outlook on life and work

  • Social isolation

  • Distancing from family and friends

Related: How To Take Time off Work for Stress (Plus Tips)

5. Complete burnout

The final stage of burnout is habitual or complete burnout. This stage involves feeling burnt out on a regular, almost 24/7 basis and experiencing significant issues associated with the stress caused by burnout. Many people in this stage notice chronic emotional, mental and/or physical issues that are displayed both inside and outside of work.

Symptoms associated with this phase include:

  • A sustained decrease in workplace performance

  • Loss of enthusiasm

  • Physical and mental discomfort

  • Complete loss of energy

  • No interest in work

  • Depression

  • Burnout syndrome

Related: Signs of Job Burnout and How To Cope

Tips to overcome burnout in the workplace

Burnout can be a challenging experience, but there are several things you can do to combat this type of stress. Here are a few tips that can help you overcome workplace burnout and get back to feeling your best:

Reach out to others

Many people tend to turn inward rather than outward when they experience burnout. This can lead to isolation and prevent the person from being able to talk to someone about what they're going through. Rather than isolating yourself from others, choose one or two people who you feel close to and can confide in about what you're feeling.

Talk to them about your situation and ask them to support you as you regain your workplace vitality. Try to speak with them at least once a week about how you're feeling. Talking to others is a great way to relieve stress and reduce strain on the nervous system.

Related: 9 Ways To Help and Support Colleagues at Work

Socialize with colleagues

Another way to reduce feelings of burnout is to get more social in the workplace. For example, having someone to talk to at work offers a nice break from your tasks and allows you to relieve some stress and build a relationship with another person. This can be much more helpful in overcoming burnout than simply taking breaks to look at your phone or browse the internet.

Related: The Top 25 Qualities of a Good Coworker

Look for value in your work

Many people who experience burnout lose sight of the value in their work. This can lead to feeling like everything you do at work is meaningless and result in reduced motivation to do your job. Focus on how your position helps others or supports your company as a whole. You can also focus on parts of your job that you enjoy doing, even if it's just something small. The more value you can find in your work, the more enjoyable it might be.

Related: How To Find Purpose in Your Work (Benefits, Steps and Tips)

Prioritize work-life balance

When you're burnt out, it can be easy to feel as if you have a never-ending pile of work to do and that you can never catch up. This often leads people to overwork, which only exacerbates their burnout. Focus on implementing a good work-life balance that leaves you ample time to enjoy yourself and activities outside of work. For example, you could establish a clear workday that ends at 5 pm. After this time, you disconnect from work, including from email and other work notifications, and don't resume work-related activities until the following day.

Related: Ultimate Guide to Work-Life Balance

Consider your options

Not everyone can recover from burnout in their current position. This might be especially true if their managers continue to give them too much work or the work environment doesn't change. It's important to consider your options when coping with burnout and making the best choice that supports your mental and physical well-being. Examples of options to consider include:

  • Asking your manager for a reduced workload

  • Taking time off to recuperate

  • Requesting help from co-workers

  • Asking for a deadline extension

  • Finding a new job

Related: Inspirational Work-Life Balance Quotes for Motivation

Practice self-care

Set aside time regularly to take care of yourself. Self-care can take on a range of forms and strategies, so it's important to discover and prioritize the ones that work best for you. For many individuals, self-care involves time spent with family, friends, pets or other loved ones. It might also include time for:

  • Taking part in hobbies

  • Exercising

  • Cooking or enjoying healthy meals 

  • Going on vacations

  • Keeping your space clean

Explore more articles