5 minutes

Part 4: The Phases of Burnout

Are there different phases of burnout?

According to doctors and therapists, there are three main phases of burnout:

Phase 1

In the first phase, we feel excessive enthusiasm and have high, idealistic goals. We tend to overestimate our potential and are willing to work tirelessly.

Phase 2

As problems arise, they slow us down. To compensate, we work even more. As we exert ourselves more and more, we come to feel that our problems are insurmountable. If fears didn’t begin to surface during phase 1, they begin to do so now. Yet we ignore these fears. Instead, we blame others, criticize the system, lose interest in our work, and start to question our own expertise. We consider quitting altogether. Our first physical symptoms become evident and we feel increasingly irritable.

Phase 3

We are totally disappointed and unmotivated. Depression is part of everyday life and life itself seems pointless. We feel that we are at the end of our ropes and want to give up entirely.

The German psychologist Matthias Burisch provides a different and more detailed description in his 2005 book Das Burnout-Syndrom (Burnout Syndrome):

1. Warning symptoms in the early stages of burnout

  • Expending excessive amounts of energy (e.g. hyperactivity, voluntary unpaid overtime, denial of personal needs)
  • Exhaustion (e.g. lack of energy, lack of sleep)

2. Reduced dedication

  • To clients and patients (e.g. loss of positive emotions, greater distance towards clients)
  • To others in general (e.g. loss of empathy, occurrence of cynicism)
  • To work (e.g. disillusionment, disgust, weariness, absences)
  • Increased sense of entitlement (e.g. feeling you deserve more, feeling that you’re undervalued or exploited, resentment)

3. Emotional reactions

  • Depression (e.g. feelings of guilt, failure and self-pity)
  • Aggression (e.g. making accusations, blaming others, acting moody and/or irritable in your interactions with others)

4. Deterioration of:

  • Cognitive function (e.g. disorganization, indecisiveness, lack of concentration)
  • Motivation (e.g. minimal effort, decreased initiative)
  • Creativity (e.g. decreased flexibility and imagination)
  • The capability to differentiate (e.g. rigid black and white thinking, resistance to change of any kind)

5. The flattening of:

  • Emotional life (e.g. indifference)
  • Social life (e.g. avoidance of informal contacts, loneliness)
  • Spiritual life (e.g. general lack of interest, no desire to take the time to engage in uplifting activities you once enjoyed such as gardening, hiking, reading)

6. Psychosomatic reactions

  • These take many forms. For example: insomnia, headaches, difficulty breathing, high blood pressure.

7. Despair, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness to the point of suicidal tendencies.

Test: Do I have burnout?

The team at “Psychology Today” developed a “ burnout self-test.” If you aren’t sure whether you should be concerned, try this test for a summary readout free of charge, a more comprehensive test is then available to purchase if so wished. The test will take about 10-15 minutes. Click here for the burnout test.

Next: Part 5: How can I prevent Burnout?


We use cookies and scripts on our website. Some of them are essential, while others help us to improve this website and your user experience with it.
You have the option to withdraw your consent at any time via the privacy policy.  Customize.
Accept All