The final stage of living the life at the full speed and chronic stress is burnout. In 1974 the psychologist Herbert Fredenberger listed and described the 12 stages of burnout.
Below, I present all of them based on an example of Jackie. She is a 34 years old, corporate employee, wife, and mother, who recently got promoted to a well paid and important position she dreamed of for a long time. This is her story.
1: THE COMPULSION TO PROVE YOURSELF
Finally! It’s Jackie’s time! Such a jump up in her career! She must get as much as possible of the opportunity she was finally given. She promised herself that she would work very hard not to let herself down, her family, the team and the management.
2: WORKING HARDER AND HARDER
Jackie lives her plan perfectly. She works very hard, always giving her 200% to which her leadership team gets slowly used to. For Jackie, who is regularly praised, the career is picking up momentum. In her opinion she is irreplaceable. So she takes on more and more responsibilities.
3: NEGLECTING YOUR OWN NEEDS
‘No pain, no gain. If one wants to achieve something in life, one must be ready to sacrifice ” – says Jackie. Slowly, the time for herself and family, and even for sleep or food becomes a waste of time. Because so many things can be done instead.
4: DISPLACEMENT OF CONFLICTS
Jackie feels that something is wrong but subconsciously she’s afraid of acknowledging the real source of the problem because it could trigger the internal crisis: ”Jackie, you let us all down! ”. The first physical symptoms of chronic stress start to appear.
5: REVISION OF VALUES
Jackie consistently avoids facing the problem. She gets angry when her family tells that she works too much and too hard. She begins to isolate and stays even longer at work. Only there she feels peace, is appreciated and understood. Work sets a new value system for Jackie
6: DENIAL OF EMERGING PROBLEMS
Jackie regards her employees to be rebellious, stupid and lazy. Because she is cynical and aggressive, they turn away from her. She pins the blame for the situation not on herself but on shortage of time and excess of work
The situation becomes hopeless, problems at home, problems at work. Jackie puts a wall around herself and becomes detached. She focuses only on the job, unfortunately, things aren’t going as well as they used to. She finds relief in alcohol and other drugs.
8: ODD BEHAVIOURAL CHANGES
It’s impossible not to notice that Jackie from a bold, self-confident, involved person changed into a fearful, lethargic and timid victim of overwork. Poor Jackie, every day she feels more and more worthless.
For Jackie everything lost its meaning so her life comes down only to here and now. Her life is a series of automatically performed actions without involvement and excitement. Jackie feels uncomfortable with herself.
10: INNER EMPTINESS
Jackie feels so empty and worthless, that tries to fill in this emptiness in some other way. She becomes sexoholic (luckily my her own husband) and drinks way too much alcohol. Her family, especially her daughter suffer more and more.
For Jackie, her life lost its meaning. Despite attempts to combat the feelings of hopelessness, Jackie feels worse. She doesn’t go to work, pays no attention to her daughter, does not care of the house, practically stays in bed all day long.
12: BURNOUT SYNDROME
Jackie is rushing to the ER. She needs immediate help. She overdosed sleeping pills. She will survive but will have to stay in the hospital for longer, because her body and soul are in total disarray.
This is the story of Jackie, 34 years old. And what will be yours if you do nothing with your stress?
PS: Certainly burnout can also be experienced by people who do not necessarily go through all the stages of burnout. The above is the worst-case scenario.