The Five Stages Of Burnout: Spot The Signs

five stages of burnout

In the veterinary profession, we talk a lot about burnout.

This is not surprising, given that 21% of vets report being unable to cope with stress, 63% feel like they work too hard, and 48% have burned out at some stage in their career1

But how does burnout happen exactly?

The Five Stages Of Burnout 

Burnout is caused by a multitude of factors. In the veterinary industry, it is primarily driven by long work hours and high levels of occupational stress

Other causes include:

-Workplace bullying 

-Financial stressors 

-Exposure to death/sickness 

Perfectionist tendencies2

Given the commonality of these factors in the veterinary field, it is imperative to be able to spot and identify burnout symptoms before they progress. Research from Winona State University has found five distinct stages of burnout, including: The honeymoon stage, the balancing act, chronic symptoms, the crisis stage, and enmeshment. 

These stages have distinct characteristics, which progressively worsen as burnout advances. Early intervention is key when dealing with each level- though later stages may be more tricky to overcome.  

The five stages of burnout

The Honeymoon Stage 

The Honeymoon stage is in the early days/weeks of your job. During this stage, employees are fresh in the game, brimming with excitement- ready to take on anything. The work may be demanding, but at this point, you have a lot of energy and ambition which can help push you through. Although this stage may be challenging (after all, starting a new job isn’t easy), driven employees may compensate by working even harder (hence setting the stage for burnout). 

The key here is to start instituting healthy coping strategies for when the job becomes more taxing. Theoretically, if you can intervene at this point, and your coping mechanisms are positive and adaptive, you can remain in this stage indefinitely.

The Balancing Act  

You have survived the early stages of your job, avoiding any hiccups. However, your energy is starting to wane, and you are beginning to notice some aspects of the job you dislike. Although you are more competent, some days are more stressful than others, and you cope variably. 

Signs of this stage include: 

-Job dissatisfaction

-Work Inefficiency 


-Fatigue (both mental and physical) 

-Sleep disturbances 

-Escapist activities (such as eating, drinking, smoking, zoning out, etc.)

You may be neglecting some of your personal needs to stay on top of things, further exacerbating existing problems. 

the five stages of burnout

Chronic Symptoms 

This stage is similar to the ‘Balancing Act’ stage, but you may find your symptoms have intensified. Any of the energy and enthusiasm for the job you originally had has gone, and you are running on an empty tank. 

During this stage, you may find yourself in a state of denial. Instead of acknowledging that you are overworked, you may blame others for your current predicament. Your social life may suffer as you become all consumed in your work, desperately trying to stay afloat. 

Some of the signs of this stage include: 

-Chronic Exhaustion 

-Physical Illness (stress is a factor in many diseases)



The Crisis Stage

Employees who run themselves into the ground tend to hit a breaking point. They emotionally cannot deal with the stress and start to break down. Physical symptoms of stress become especially apparent during this stage, as at this point, it is chronic. 

You may become detached from your life and lose a sense of control. Your jaded feelings towards work make you feel empty and anxious, potentially manifesting in anxiety and/or depressive disorder. During this stage, employees may be at risk of a mental breakdown or a major crisis. At this point, many vets either seek psychological help or bounce out of the profession entirely. 

Indicators of this stage include:

-Physical symptoms intensify and/or increase in number

-Obsessing about work frustrations

-Pessimistic thinking 

-An ‘escapist mentality’ 


At this point, burnout symptoms are so embedded in a person’s life that they may not even fully realize it. Although most people either drop out of their job or make a radical change during the ‘crisis’ stage, professionals who cease to do so are at risk of developing severe chronic long-term physical and mental illnesses. 

Although these individuals can be thought of as incredibly hard workers, perhaps even esteemed working professionals, in actuality, they are very unhappy. They may feel trapped in their job, stuck in a cycle of burnout345

Avoiding Burnout 

Being able to spot the signs of burnout in yourself and others before it progresses is crucial. The further you find yourself down the burnout spiral, the more challenging it will be to claw your way back out. 

If you are personally experiencing burnout, reach out to someone. Although feelings of burnout can be isolating, the reality is that it is a common condition amongst vets, and you are sure to find someone who understands. 

Though you cannot control the stressors in your life, you can control how you deal with them. This is why having some solid coping mechanisms in place is necessary. In the following article, we discuss the tangible ways you can manage feelings of burnout, preventing enmeshment from taking place. 

Click here to read the: 4 Ways to Avoid Burnout in Veterinary Medicine


1- ‘retention, motivation and satisfaction – British Veterinary Association.’ 1 Nov. 2018, Accessed 15 Jun. 2021.

2- ‘Moral distress, compassion fatigue and burn-out in veterinary practice.’ 2 Sept. 2020, Accessed 15 Jun. 2021.

3- ‘How to Identify and Prevent Burnout – Healthline.’ Accessed 15 Jun. 2021.

4- ‘bntstages.’ Accessed 15 Jun. 2021.

5-  ‘Burnout: a Fashionable Diagnosis – NCBI – NIH.’ 18 Nov. 2011, Accessed 15 Jun. 2021.

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