January 30, 2024

Is Your Drive Driving You Into The Burnout Wall?



I love my job, but there’s one element that upsets me.

I speak with far too many women who say, “I just didn’t realise this was burnout.”

They only realised they’d hit the burnout wall after they’d collided with it.
The wall appeared invisible until they hit it.

It’s just a busy time of year… right?

“I just….need a few days off; I’ll be fine.”

“I just…..need a good night’s sleep, and I’ll be fine.”

“I just….need to get through these next few weeks, and it will get better.”

Do you find yourself saying these things?

And I get it; that’s exactly what happened to me, too, over a decade ago.
It’s only in hindsight that you can see the wall approaching.

Hindsight is a great thing, isn’t it?!

Turns out there’s a lot of wisdom in hindsight.

After my burnout experience, I got fiercely curious about how it happened.

When did it begin?

When did I go from just being tired to becoming a burnout casualty?

In this blog, I’m exploring the twelve stages of burnout and how you can distinguish between situational tiredness and burnout.

Most burnout victims don’t realise they are in burnout until it hits crisis point.

But many symptoms start to appear way before they escalate to those extremes.

As a higher achiever, it’s common to have a high tolerance for stress. As a result, you can place unrealistic burdens on your body’s capacity to function.

You can ignore and deny the symptoms for a prolonged period.

It sets you up as a perfect candidate for burnout.
Your drive, literally drives you into the ground.

Any strength can ultimately become a weakness if it’s overdone.

So, how would you know if your drive is driving you into the burnout wall?

The 12-stage burnout symptom cycle, by Dr Herbert Freudenberger, shares the progression of burnout. Let’s explore the stages, so you have a better understanding of the journey into burnout… because awareness is prevention!

Stage 1: The compulsion to prove
Feeling like you’ve got to prove your worth.
A drive to succeed begins to take over.
Overdoing, overworking and overextending.

Stage 2: Intensity
Feeling like you’ve just got to work harder.
Feeling like you can’t switch off.
The intensity is legitimised by telling yourself you’re conscientious, dedicated and committed.

Stage 3: Subtle deprivations
A slow disconnection from yourself and your subtler needs.
The pleasures of everyday life begin to be viewed as interference and unnecessary intrusions.
Your drive and focus start to eclipse the lighter moments in your life.

Stage 4: Dismissal of conflict and needs
At this stage, you become more aware that your feelings and behaviour are out of sync.
You notice that your sleep, nutrition, exercise and energy are lacking… but you dismiss them.
You dig deep and carry on regardless.

Stage 5: Distortion of values
At this stage, you’re in survival mode, and to cope, you slowly shift your values.
You begin to lose sight of who and what is essential.
Priorities become confused and distorted.

Stage 6: Heightened denial
At this stage, denial becomes a mechanism that allows you to avoid looking at reality and continue the status quo. Because if you don’t, it becomes a threat to your achievement and ambition.
Your sense of self is subtly lost.
You start to become estranged from yourself.
You can learn more about the nine common habits of denial that mask burnout here.

Stage 7: Disengagement
To cope with being stretched too far and denying your authentic experience, you become detached and disengaged.
You may use unhelpful strategies to distract yourself – overeating, drinking and compulsively shopping.
You may perform well in public but crash and close down when you shut the door at home.

Stage 8: Observable behaviour changes
One of the most common observable behaviour changes is the inability to distinguish between what you fear most (failure) and what you need most (support, rest, closeness).
At this stage, you may withdraw – you become difficult to reach by phone or email.
Or you overperform – you overtalk and become unable to settle.

Stage 9: Depersonalisation
This is a more severe form of disengagement
You almost disown your body and yourself.
You lose contact with yourself and your priorities.

Stage 10: Emptiness
At this stage, you feel cleaned out, drained and useless.
You’re at severe depletion after continuing to deprive yourself and your needs.

Stage 11: Depression
At this stage, life starts to feel futile and hopeless.
Despair, self-loathing and exhaustion are the primary, if not the only, feelings you can connect with.
This stage is the most serious and needs urgent attention.

Stage 12: Total burnout exhaustion
This stage is the culmination of the previous eleven stages in the burnout cycle.
While not every woman will arrive at this final stage, those that do have totally depleted themselves.
The fuse has blown, and life seems without texture or tone.

The stages aren’t clearly separated, and they often blend and overlap with each other. The degree of intensity and length of time at any stage depends on each person.

But awareness is so powerful.

Once you identify that your symptoms could be a sign of a burnout cycle, you can start to address them.

Do any of these sound familiar to you? Maybe you can spot these signs in someone you know.

Here’s to being more aware of burnout so we can prevent it from impacting us and those we care about.

Let’s harness our drive but not allow it to be in the driving seat!


P.S. Want to learn more about how to avoid burnout so you can sustainably thrive as a working mum? Book a discovery call here.

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