Burnout is the term used to describe the state of mind that comes with long-term, unresolved stress, and it can negatively affect your work and your life. While stress can be both a positive and negative state of mind, too much pressure can change our body’s chemical response system. The best way to avoid burnout is to take regular steps to prevent it.

Burnout is the loss of meaning in one’s work, coupled with mental, emotional, or physical exhaustion as the result of long-term, unresolved stress. It can affect anyone, however, a growing number of entrepreneurs, business owners, and freelancers are reporting symptoms of burnout, in the UK it is up to 60%.

General symptoms of burnout include:

  • Depleted energy levels
  • Time away from work
  • Lower resistance to illness
  • A pessimistic outlook on work or life
  • Physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion
  • Demotivation and detachment from your work
  • Lower productivity
  • Detachment in personal relationships

Burnout is most common in people between the ages of 25 and 44, and as with any illness, symptoms of burnout vary from person to person. The following five stages are commonly observed:

Honeymoon Phase

Often when we start a new project or job, we experiencing high job satisfaction, feeling committed, energetic, and creative. It is normal to begin to experiencing predictable stresses of the job, so it’s important to start implementing positive coping strategies, such as taking regular breaks, exercising and sleeping well.

In theory, we create good coping strategies at this stage, we can continue in the honeymoon phase indefinitely.

Common symptoms:

  • Sustained energy levels
  • High productivity levels
  • Free-flowing creativity
  • Job satisfaction
  • Readily accepting responsibility
  • Unbridled optimism
  • Commitment to the job at hand
  • A compulsion to prove oneself

Onset of Stress

The second stage of burnout begins with an awareness of some days being more difficult than others. Your optimism may begin to wane, and common stress symptoms might start affecting you physically, mentally, or emotionally.

Common symptoms:

  • Job dissatisfaction
  • High blood pressure
  • Headaches
  • Inability to focus
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Lack of social interaction
  • Lack of sleep or reduced sleep quality
  • Heart palpitations
  • Grinding your teeth at night
  • Lower productivity
  • Unusual heart rhythms
  • Avoidance of decisionmaking
  • Change in appetite or diet
  • Fatigue
  • Forgetfulness
  • The general neglect of personal needs

Chronic stress

The third stage of burnout is chronic stress. This is a marked change in your stress levels, going from motivation to experiencing stress on a very frequent basis. The symptoms of stage two are typically intensified.

Common symptoms of Chronic Stress:

  • Missed work deadlines and/or targets
  • Persistent tiredness in the mornings
  • Lack of hobbies
  • Procrastination at work and at home
  • Physical illness
  • Social withdrawal from friends and/or family
  • Repeated lateness for work
  • Resentfulness
  • Anger or aggressive behaviour
  • Apathy
  • Increased alcohol/drug consumption
  • Increased caffeine consumption
  • Uptake of escapist activities
  • Chronic exhaustion
  • Cynical attitude
  • Decreased sexual desire
  • Denial of problems at work or at home
  • Feeling threatened or panicked
  • Feeling pressured or out of control


In stage four of burnout, symptoms become critical. This is the stage people mean when they talk about burnout. Continuing normal routines is often not possible, and seeking professional advice is highly important.

Common symptoms of Critical Stress:

  • Self-doubt
  • Behavioural changes
  • Desire to “drop out” of society
  • Obsession over problems at work or in life
  • Development of an escapist mentality
  • Continuation or increase in escapist activities
  • Feeling empty inside
  • A pessimistic outlook on work and life
  • Physical symptoms intensify and/or increase
  • Social isolation
  • Chronic headaches
  • Chronic stomach or bowel problems
  • Complete neglect of personal needs
  • Desire to move away from work or friends/family

Habitual Burnout

The final stage of burnout is habitual burnout. At this stage, the symptoms of burnout are so embedded in your life that you are likely to experience significant physical or emotional problems, as opposed to occasionally experiencing stress or burnout.

Symptoms include:

  • Chronic mental fatigue
  • Chronic physical fatigue
  • Chronic sadness
  • Depression
  • Burnout syndrome

Prevent burnout 

Taking care of yourself and recognising symptoms before they become a problem is the best way to ensure that you remain engaged in your work and your life. Taking time to take care of your physical and mental health is vital. Asking a healthcare professional for advice in the early stages of burnout is important to your long-term health and wellbeing.

If you or one of your employees is showing signs of burnout, it is important that the issue is addressed before it takes a toll on your life, work or business.