The 5 Stages of Burnout in Coaches: What They Look Like and How to Avoid Them


We’ve heard the term casually thrown out in various parts of our lives. 

But what does it actually mean? 

What are the factors that contribute to burnout, what are the stages of burnout, how do we recognize them, and better yet, can we prevent them?  

Through the ever-changing landscape of 2020, another pandemic revealed itself in the aftermath of isolation and the uncertainty of our collective future: BURNOUT.

And those in the helping professions are at an even greater risk. 

Coaches have to be available in a way that can be more demanding than what the average professional needs to handle. Dealing with people’s lives, hopes, and dreams can be very emotional and taxing. In a way, it can be amazing because we are totally connected to our clients, and we understand them and their needs. But, if at the end of the day, we don’t know where we end and they begin, or we find it hard to ground and get back to ourselves after a long day of work, we may be experiencing burnout

Some questions might come to mind, such as, 

‘What does work/life balance look like for me?”

How long can I sustain this schedule?

Am I content with my life, work, and relationships?

In this post, we’ll look at how you can recognize the 5 stages of burnout and how to take care of your own needs to avoid chronic stress and emotional exhaustion.

What is Burnout?

A burnout is a complete state of mental, physical, and emotional stress and exhaustion. Burnout can lead to feelings of complete overwhelm, exhaustion, and inability to complete even the simplest of tasks. It can often be caused by chronic workplace stress and a lack of balance between work and life.

5 Stages of Burnout

5 stages of burnout

According to the theory by psychologist Herbert Freudenberger, there are 5 burnout stages.

These are, but aren’t limited to the following:

1. The Honeymoon Phase

The first stage that leads to burnout is when people are highly motivated and want to prove themselves and excel in their work. This desire to achieve results in the honeymoon phase makes people extremely enthusiastic and want to put in long hours to make sure they get the results they desire.

You may notice this, when you take on a new coaching client, you want to show them how great you are as a coach and want to prove that you can help your client get results.

In the honeymoon phase, the motivation and positivity about how things are going may cause you to take on more work than you can handle.

2. Onset of Stress

As people start to spend too much time on work, they start to feel pressure as they struggle to manage their workload and never-ending to-do list. This pressure may start to make them feel anxious and tired, which can cause a decline in productivity and cause irritability.

In the early stages of burnout, it’s hard to notice anything is wrong; you may just feel a little more tired than normal.

3. Chronic Energy Depletion

By the third stage, the feeling of overwork and exhaustion has started to intensify, and you feel even more stress. Mental and physical fatigue can start to take over as the burnout symptoms intensify, and you start to feel drained and incapable of taking on a new task.

This stage of burnout can start to have an adverse effect on overall well-being, cause chronic headaches, and negatively impact sleep patterns and the immune system. Erratic sleeping is linked to stress and burnout.

4. Crisis Phase

By this stage, it’s no longer possible to ignore the signs of stress and the trajectory toward burnout. Problems with mental and physical health are difficult to ignore, and your physical symptoms will start to intensify so much that your performance is negatively impacted.

The crisis phase can lead to drastic decisions or significant lifestyle changes as the person wants to stop the current situation from getting worse.

5. Burnout Syndrome

The final stage of burnout is a complete state of burnout where people may feel a complete sense of disillusion, detachment, and loss of personal identity.

A whole range of physical symptoms become apparent at the stage of complete burnout. These could include chronic fatigue, anxiety, bowel problems, weight gain, insomnia, or depression. In the worst situation, you could even experience physical collapse as you’re both mentally and physically exhausted.

At this stage of burnout, the person will most likely need intervention, professional support, or medical attention.

How to Recognize Burnout

It’s important to remember that there is no linear process that leads to chronic stress and burnout.

The above 5 stages are considered the generic stages that lead to burnout, but everyone’s experience is different. Burnout could creep up slowly over time, or it could all happen in a very short window.

The most important thing to avoid burnout is being able to recognize if you’re experiencing it and understand some of the more common symptoms of burnout.

Burnout can be viewed as falling into three major phases of development. The first is exhaustion; you just don’t have the energy, motivation, and stamina you once did for the things that you loved and cared for. 

For example, when you first started your coaching practice five years ago, you woke up every day at 9 am, excited to face the day with all the things you were going to do. Calls to make, worksheets to review, client appointments, and maybe even a walk with the dog and making dinner with the hubby. Even though there was lots to navigate, you still felt satisfied and content at the end of the day.

Now, five years later, with the same ‘go go go’ mentality and very little left for personal time, the story might look a little different. You set your alarm for 7 am the previous night because you have a big launch you need to review in the morning, but you feel avoidant, depleted, and would like it if tomorrow never happened. You just want to crawl up in the fetal position and wish it would all just go away. ‘DO NOT DISTURB’ sign posted on the door and email inbox. 

Other burnout symptoms are irritability, loss of self-confidence, and depersonalization. You may also become increasingly intolerant of other people.

Do you find yourself getting shorter with people and maybe even yourself? Compassion and patience are thrown out the window, replaced with less desirable states such as depleted, depressed, and detached with an inner emptiness.

You used to recognize yourself in the mirror. Yet, when you look now, a stranger is looking back at you. You don’t recognize them, and feel like a stranger in your own life. 

If you notice you have a more pessimistic outlook, you’re feeling anxious and struggling to keep everything under control in your business and life; these could be early signs of burnout.

Factors That Contribute to Burnout

One of the most surprising attributes that contribute to burnout is having certain personality traits. Including being a perfectionist, a people-pleaser, highly ambitious, needing to be in control, and perceiving success at work as a major factor of self-value and self-worth.

Now, show me a coach or entrepreneur who doesn’t have the majority of those personality qualities! 

Individuals with those characteristics also have a tendency to neglect themselves and their needs for others or what needs to get done. While it may be a helpful trait in the short term, when it’s left unchecked and you just work like a machine, burnout is inevitable. 

Other factors that lead to burnout are an intense work environment, taking on too many responsibilities, more hours, a lack of social support, a lack of control over your tasks and expectations, and a skewed work-life balance. 

How to Conduct A Burnout Test

If you think you may have some burnout symptoms, it can be a good idea to check in with yourself and spend time asking yourself some questions as a sort of “burnout test”. Regular check-ins and noticing any physical symptoms can help you stay on top of any full burnout situations.

How do you feel in the morning? When you think about beginning your day? Particularly your workday with clients?

Notice what comes up for you? 

Do you feel like you have room for another person?

Or do you feel you can’t face the day and can’t even pretend to be present?

They say that the body never lies, and the body keeps the score. 

Ask your body and check in with your physical self. 

Do you feel energized and satiated?

Or do you feel like you just want to crawl up in a ball and disappear?

Try and let your body have a voice, even if you might not like what it has to say. By developing a dialogue and conversation with your body, you might be able to give space to the wisdom it will provide.

 Journal your thoughts and see what comes up and what insights may appear. 

How to Prevent Burnout

Making yourself and your needs a priority is the only way to prevent and avoid burnoutSet boundaries and plan your work deadlines around your life; that way, you can prevent overwhelm and the feeling of having too many tasks and not enough time to do them.

A balanced flow of work, play, and rest. 

There’s no secret recipe, breathing technique, or time machine that will solve the problem of burnout syndrome. The subtle negotiations that we make with ourselves throughout the day are the steps that we need to make to avoid any burnout symptoms. 

If you only focus on work-related things, you will never be able to switch off and enjoy activities that fulfill you and make the most of life. Crafting self-care and pauses into our days, weeks, and lives will save us from becoming a machine and a ghost of ourselves.

Remember, self-care and looking after our own health is simple and can be easily incorporated into everyday life. A few behavioral changes can make a huge difference in managing chronic stress and the potential for burnout.

Here are some ideas:

  • Maybe you cook dinner twice a week instead of having take-out again. 
  • Taking a 10-15-minute walk in the fresh air or sunshine.
  • If you don’t have time for a full social life, at least call a friend to check in (5-35 min)
  • Taking a bath with Epsom salt, baking soda, and essential oils 
  • Not looking at your phone during a scheduled 20 min break
  • Asking for help when you need it
  • Talking to a professional about how things are going for you
  • Watching one of your favorite tv shows 
  • Listening to an album you love 
  • Journaling 
  • A 5-minute meditation or breathwork practice
  • Going to bed half an hour earlier
  • Taking time to wind down and switching off your tech before sleep
  • Planning a trip that will distract you. One hour on boat tours Rotterdam and you will feel more energized.

It’s the little things…

How to Recover From Burnout

When you’re in the throes of burnout, getting out of it or dealing with it becomes another thing to do under the mountain of impossibility. But it is totally possible to recover from burnout.

The burnout recovery stages are slow, and it’s best to take things one step at a time. The trick is to start small, build confidence from the small wins, and gain the encouragement to stretch a little farther. Maybe you’ve been talking to a good friend every week, and you’ve really found the calls helpful, and you get excited thinking about the call. Maybe next, you could schedule a coffee date; that way, you can see each other in person.

Maybe after that, you realize that it’s time to take a step forward and reach out to a professional therapist to go deeper into your internal landscape. 

Also, delegating tasks to others, not taking on any more responsibilities, and taking a look at your priorities and your commitments and seeing where they align and where they don’t. See if you can resign from some of the activities that you feel are no longer aligned with you; feel how that would be for you. 

Making sure that you’re doing the things you know you need to be doing in order to be sustainable and healthy. Such as getting 7-9 hours of sleep, meal prepping and planning, and fun ways to move your body. It’s okay to outsource some of these tasks, too. For example, you could subscribe to a meal kit service that offers fully prepped high-protein meal delivery.

Creativity has also proved to be a powerful antidote to burnout

Mindfulness, meditation, and focusing on your breath are cheap, easy, and effective ways to overcome burnout

The key is to pay attention. Pay attention to our body, our heart, and our breath. What does it look and feel like when you’re trying to push yourself? How can you cultivate a practice and life where you validate and attend to these messages that are trying to signal you so you can recognize any symptoms of burnout?

If you feel you are experiencing burnout and are not able to see improvement using these or other self-care techniques, you might consider reaching out to a mental health professional for an evaluation.

Burnout can be elusive, as there are no specific diagnostic criteria with the stages of burnout and burnout symptoms varying from person to person.

Despite the growing recognition and discourse around burnout, the psychological/medical field has not come to a consensus on what encompasses burnout. Also how it differs from anxiety, depression, exhaustion, chronic stress, and other mental health issues.

However, if feelings of hopelessness, crippling anxiety, depersonalization, and/or suicide persist, please consider reaching out to a mental health professional for an intro call or evaluation. 

Remember and repeat after me:

I am enough. 

I am worthy.

I am success.

Prevention and Recovery From Burnout is Possible

It’s not all doom and gloom. It’s perfectly possible to manage the stages of burnout. If you can notice the burnout signs early on, it’s less likely you’ll have full-blown burnout and will be able to manage your stress and the situation holistically.

Awareness that it could happen is the first stage of preventing burnout.

You can also recover from burnout by taking things slow, managing your boundaries, and taking care of your personal needs. Hopefully, it will never come to it, but talking to a professional can also help you overcome the worst of it.

burnout pin
By Cynthia Fox
Cynthia Fox is an associate marriage and family therapist and a certified biddy tarot reader. Her client population focuses on those identifying as empaths, healers, and Highly Sensitive People (HSP.) Cynthia’s expertise includes helping her clients navigate such areas such as anxiety, spirituality, and coping skills. Her mission is to bring more love into the world and help her clients come back home to themselves.
May 30, 2023

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