Burnout – Causes, Symptoms and Prevention

Posted On February 28, 2021

Having been confronted with burnout and, more particularly, brown-out, I wanted to talk about this subject to help you better understand what this scourge is.

In psychology, it was in 1974 that the term burnout was used for the first time. We owe it to the American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger who published his first research concerning observations made on a clinic’s staff. He defined burnout as exhaustion resulting from excessive work.

Christina Maslach, an American social psychologist and professor emerita of psychology at the University of Berkeley, explained burnout as emotional exhaustion.

Burnout is the result of prolonged long-term stress. Although it was originally found mainly in the workplace, it is increasingly present in parents. Read my full article about Stress.

According to a recent study the average age of burnout workers is only 32 years old. Unfortunately, the health crisis of 2020 has increased the population’s overall stress level, which could have significant repercussions in the coming years. 

5 stages of burnout


Stage 1: Honeymoon Phase

This is the first phase; there is a very high level of satisfaction about his work. This phase is mainly found in new jobs or recent job changes. Newness is present, as well as new responsibilities. This is when there is a high level of commitment, energy, and creativity.

In theory, this is the ideal phase in which every individual should stay. It is the perfect time to establish good habits.

With regular stress management work and an excellent personal strategy, and positive involvement of the company, one can stay in this very favorable situation. This is sadly rarely the case.


Stage 2: Awareness: not everything is perfect

The beautiful days are behind you, the pleasure and energy you had in Phase 1 become more contrasted. You begin to notice that there are bad times, you see the first dissatisfactions of your job appear, and you gradually face stress.


Stage 3: Chronic Stress

To summarize, stage 3 is the arrival of chronic stress. I.e., all the indicators previously mentioned in phase 2 are present, but the level of stress is higher and more frequent.
Consequently, the symptoms are increasingly harmful to work and private life, including depression and specific pathologies.


Stage 4: Burnout

The situation is getting critical. It is becoming more and more challenging to deal with the difficulties. The symptoms are increasingly intense and more and more numerous. Individuals are obsessed by the frustrations of their jobs; pessimism and doubt are dominant. Your relationships may be suffering greatly at this level.

It is crucial at this stage to call upon a professional who can help you recover.


Stage 5: Habitual Burnout

Burnout has taken an important place in your life, and it is deeply rooted. Burnout has become your daily routine. Symptoms often present themselves as chronic physical and mental fatigue or symptoms very similar to depression.

It is more than urgent to contact your doctor and act as soon as possible.


Differences Between Burn-out/Bore-out/Brown-out

As seen previously, burnout has its roots in chronic stress. It is the most well-known of the three pathologies.

Boreout is triggered mainly by boredom and lack of work to do. This theory appeared in 2007 in the book Diagnose Boreout by Peter Werder and Philippe Rothlin, two Swiss business consultants.
The stress here is replaced by a feeling of uselessness, either a lack of work to do or boring and uninteresting tasks.
It is estimated that 15 to 30% of employees are affected by this syndrome during their careers.
Victims of boreout experience symptoms similar to burnout and nervous depression.

Less well known than burnout and boreout, brown-out is nevertheless becoming a major source of danger in companies.
Theorized by two British and Swedish researchers, Andre Spicer and Mats Alvesson, in their book The Stupidity Paradox, brown-out stigmatizes the lack of interest in one’s work.
They were inspired by the research of the American anthropologist David Graeber, who talks about bullshit jobs.
For an employee, it is the feeling of uselessness, lack of meaning, or absurdity of work that will gradually lead to disinterest and, in the worst case, to a form of depression.


Burn-out: Signs that should alert you

Although stress is the primary source of burn-out, it is essential to know how to recognize the potential symptoms of this disease as early as possible to be able to cure it quickly.

Exhaustion and fatigue
You are tired continuously even if you sleep a long time, lack daily energy, and no longer recover.

Sleep disorders
You regularly suffer from insomnia, night-time awakenings.

Physical symptoms
Stress can be the source of migraines, back pain, and even stomach problems.

Mood disorders
You are easily affected and become very irritable with those around you, leading to angry outbursts. Sometimes it is the appearance of hypersensitivity, you cry a lot more than before, and your mood can change very quickly.

Concentration problems
You find it difficult to stay focused on your task, and you tend to make more mistakes.

Drugs, Alcohol, Tobacco
To keep up, to get away from it all, you are using more and more substances to be harmful to your health.

You feel anxiety regularly, especially in your professional field.

Often experienced as an admission of failure, denial is one of the deepest sources of burnout because the individual refuses to accept reality. Consequently, he continues on a self-destructive path.

There is no real medical diagnosis of burnout, but Mayo Clinic offers a series of questions to help you.


How to prevent burn-out

While stress is part of our lives, there are simple and effective ways that can help us cope.

Practice regular physical activity

We have known for a long time that physical activity is a way to take care of your body and your brain, and your emotions.
Whether it’s a yoga session, a walk in the middle of the forest, or a session of HIIT, find an activity that really suits you to feel better and evacuate your stress.

Eating healthy and balanced

Avoid as much as possible bad food, too heavy, too loaded, too sweet. This will weaken your body and consequently increase the difficulty for the body to manage stress.
However, eating healthy, such as foods rich in omega-3, have a naturally relaxing effect.

Have a good quality sleep

We all need rest, and sleep should be part of a wellness routine to ensure optimal sleep quality.


Numerous researches have demonstrated the effects of meditation. For my part, after participating in an MBSR (Mindfulness-based stress reduction) cycle for eight weeks, I have noticed very positive effects on my health.
Set up a meditation routine every morning to get your day off to a good start.

Ask for help

First of all, discuss your problems with those you trust.
Afterward, if you feel no improvement that you can no longer manage, do not hesitate to call upon a health professional who can help you and accompany you in your approach.


Final Thoughts

Although this scourge is more and more present in our society, I would like to end on a positive note. Burnout is not inevitable, neither for employees nor for companies.
It is appropriate for us to be aware of the problems and disastrous consequences of poor stress management or bad management.

It is time for each of us to change our vision of work to not fall into the traps it represents.

We can get out of burnout; we can also cure it and prevent it effectively when we set up powerful habits.

Happy changing, my friends.








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Written by Cédric Potard

I'm Cédric Potard, founder and author of this website and former 3D artist in the videogame industry. You can connect with me on my Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

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