The 5 stages of burnout and how to get out of them
Are you tired? Feeling unmotivated? Getting angry and snapping at your partner, kids or farm hand? Generally not feeling a sense of
purpose or accomplishment on the farm?
If you answered “yes” to one or more of these, you may be in burnout.
In the farming community, we value hard work. Maybe you were told that you needed to work 7 days a week, 12+ hours per day, so that’s what you’ve always done. Maybe you think you have no choice if you want to be successful, that you simply have to work yourself to the bone to get ahead. And maybe, the exhaustion and stress has become so normal that you don’t even know anything different.
That’s why it’s so important to talk about burnout today. Because the truth is:
It’s not healthy to work this way
- It’s costing you productivity and results, and
- You can be successful without being constantly tired, stressed, and irritable (in fact, you’ll probably be much MORE successful when you get yourself out of burnout)
The 5 stages of burnout
Stage 1 - The Honeymoon Phase
You know when you start a new diet, exercise regime, or project and you feel excited for the challenge and committed to getting results? That’s the Honeymoon Phase.
This stage occurs before the real symptoms of burnout start.
Stage 1 is marked by high job satisfaction and commitment to the job at hand. You’ll also have high energy levels, good productivity, creativity, and optimism.
You may start to experience some light stress. But generally, you’re working from a high-energy, good-mood place.
The good news: Even if you’ve been running your farm 10, 20, or 30+ years, you can still get back into the Honeymoon Phase!
Doing things like developing a positive mindset, creating a strategic business plan, and growing a team to help you manage the farm will help you focus your energy on the tasks and projects you like best and produce great results.
Stage 2 - Onset of Stress
As time goes on, some days feel more difficult than others.
Some days are still exciting but others aren’t. You may start to lose enthusiasm and momentum as tasks and projects don’t go as smoothly as you expect. And you may find your optimism waning and notice stress affecting you physically, mentally, or emotionally.
The symptoms of Stage 2 of burnout appear at three levels:
- Physical symptoms: fatigue, grinding your teeth at night, headaches, high blood pressure, lack of quality sleep, unusual heart rhythms or palpitations
- Emotional symptoms: anxiety, forgetfulness, inability to focus, irritability, job dissatisfaction
- Behavioural symptoms: avoidance of decision-making, change in appetite/diet, general neglect of personal needs (eating well, exercising, taking care of yourself), lack of social interaction, lower productivity
Stage 3 - Chronic Stress
If you’ve been putting up with Stage 2 for a while, it often progresses to Stage 3: Chronic Stress.
You’ll notice a marked change in stress levels and may experience more intense symptoms than Stage 2.
Stage 3 symptoms include everything in Stage 2, PLUS:
- Physical symptoms: deep exhaustion, persistent tiredness (more than just low energy), physical illness, odd ailments
- Emotional symptoms: anger, aggressive behavior, apathy (“I don’t even care”), cynical attitude, resentfulness, feeling threatened, panicked, or out of control
- Behavioural symptoms: decreased sexual desire, denial of problems at work or home, increased alcohol/drug use, increased caffeine consumption, lack of hobbies, missed work deadlines/targets, procrastination, social withdrawal, uptake of escapist activities (watching TV, scrolling social media, anything to “switch off” and avoid reality).
If you feel like that is you, there are things you can do to turn this around.
Cut yourself some slack. Accept that you’re feeling overwhelmed, and that’s okay. Almost all farmers and business owners have felt this way. All you can do is your best, so try to have realistic expectations…and not feel pressured to achieve superhuman results overnight.
Take care of yourself. You know the drill! Drink enough water. Eat quality foods. Get enough sleep. Exercise. Spend time doing things you love, with people you love.
Focus on the lessons, not the losses. You’re always growing and changing as a business owner. There’s no such thing as failure, remember. Every so-called “loss” is a lesson that will help you do better next time. Embracing “failure” as a natural part of the road to success can help you feel less stressed when things don’t go perfectly.
Do what you can to reduce your stress levels. Maybe it’s hiring a farmhand. Re-organising your business to take some things off your plate or working with a coach. Think of what will help YOU (because everyone’s different) take your stress levels down a notch or two so they feel more manageable.
Stage 4 - Burnout
Burnout is the result of chronic, long-term stress. And it’s much more than feeling overwhelmed.
It’s a constant state of exhaustion and it becomes increasingly difficult to cope. Continuing as normal is often not possible and many people have some sort of breakdown when they’re in burnout.
Here are the symptoms of Burnout:
- Physical symptoms: chronic headaches, chronic stomach or bowel problems, physical symptoms/illnesses that have intensified or increased
- Emotional symptoms: desire to “drop out” of society, desire to move away from work or family/friends, feeling empty inside, pessimistic outlook on work and life, extreme self-doubt
- Behavioural symptoms: complete neglect of personal needs, increase in escapist activities, obsession over problems at work or in life, social isolation, working all the time and have no balance in your life
- Sleep - This sounds so simple but is absolutely vital to recover from burnout! Prioritise your sleep.
- Calm your mind - Meditation and deep breathing exercises might feel fluffy to you. But don’t knock it until you try it! They’re powerful, proven strategies to overcome burnout.
- Exercise - You can release so much stress and anxiety through moving your body. So don’t overlook the importance of exercise not just for your physical health, but for your mental and emotional health as well.
- Eat and drink well - Poor hydration is linked to exhaustion. When it comes to food, start by eating when you’re hungry. You’re better off following your own hunger cues than sticking to a regimented breakfast-lunch-dinner schedule.
- Spend time with hobbies and passions - The farming community is so work-focused. But life’s too short not to do things just for you, too. That’s why spending some time doing things you love is a great treatment for burnout.
- Prioritise your to-do list - A lot of the time, the reason we’re burning out is we’re saying “yes” to too many things, rather than being really clear about what our priorities are.
- Burnout syndrome
- Chronic mental fatigue
- Chronic physical fatigue
- Chronic sadness
If you recognise that you’re in Stage 4, it’s important to take steps to recover.
Stage 5 - Habitual Burnout
If you don’t address the symptoms of burnout at Stage 4, it can progress to Stage 5.
This is when burnout becomes so normal in your life that you experience significant ongoing mental, physical or emotional problems.
Stage 5 happens in farming all too often because our community has such a strong work ethic. It often crosses over into unhealthy territory and pushes farm owners to the brink.
Habitual Burnout is when burnout has become very severe, and includes additional symptoms of:
It’s critical you reach out for professional help if you’re in Stage 5. You can’t do it on your own.
In an industry as challenging and difficult as farming, burnout is a common problem. If you find yourself in burnout, don’t beat yourself up. So many of us have been there! But equally, don’t downplay it or let it slide. It’s really important you take steps to address your stress levels.
As always, if you need to talk, The Money Edge is here for you.
The Money Edge | Bundaberg