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Job burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion resulting from long-term exposure to excessively demanding, and continuous stressful work situations. Emotional burnout from job stress takes place in the final phase of the human stress response.

There are three stages to the human stress response as identified by Hans Selye, the "father" of stress: The “alarm" stage, "resistance" stage, and "exhaustion" stage. The first stage, the alarm stage, is a reflex survival stage that prepares you to fight or flee a stressful or threatening situation. The initial response in this phase is to brace yourself in preparation to fight or flee by holding your breath and tensing your muscles. Stress chemicals are also released to keep the preparation active.

Thus, In job and stressful work situations we are prepared for fight or flee, but not in the position to do so. We are trained and get paid to deal with the stress. So from an alarm state, we then move to a stress resistance phase that allow us to function in our state of stress. Here we have a limited tolerance to sustain the stress.  However, if we remain in that state for unreasonable amounts of time without sufficient rejuvenation, we wear down physically and mentally. Unless there is an outlet, over a period of time our resistance breaks down and we move into an exhaustion phase. This phase produces depression and susceptibility to illness.

Burnout, also known as emotional exhaustion, is the cumulative result of stress. You may be more likely to have job burnout if:
  • You identify so strongly with work that you lack a reasonable balance between work and your personal life
  • You try to be everything to everyone
  • Your job is monotonous
  • You feel you have little or no control over your work
  • You work in a helping profession, such as health care, counseling, teaching or law enforcement.

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