Why do highly driven people get so burnt out? And is there a way out?

Every day I hear people talking about their deadlines, anxiety, stress and lack of sleep. Most of all, they talk about their lack of time and wish ‘there were two of them’ to keep up with all their commitments. And I am not talking about my own clients. I am talking about friends, colleagues, relatives.

As we talk, it becomes clear that most of the pressure and work overload is self-inflicted. Most of those stressed people make their own schedule decisions. And most of them even have a secretary to arrange and assist them with their daily tasks. And 24 hours in a day never seem long enough for everything.

So why are they so burnt out? Why do they choose to put themselves in such lifestyle?

Here are some reflections on what might be causing the symptoms:

1  Culture of achievement:

We live in a time that it is not enough to hold a job for more than a few months, but there is a constant pressure to achieve. To produce. To deliver. Our western society demands results, we measure productivity, put it in charts, spreadsheets. Numbers and statistics that show how brilliant our job has been, how much we have over worked and how worth it we are.

2  Identification: ‘I am my job’

This is a very disheartening reality. Many people identify themselves with what they do. The consequences are harsh and overwhelming. Happiness or unhappiness, success or failure will be determined by however well – or badly – their job is doing. Some people loose sight of the bigger picture in their lives and are consumed by what’s going on at work. This can directly affect their personal relationships and family life, since they are unable to ‘switch off’ and bring all the concerns and worries from work into their own home.

3  Unbalanced lifestyle: too much work and no play

Most of us hear this a lot, on a daily basis. But how many of us are actually able to include some kind of fun into our daily routine? And by fun I mean something that brings you joy, something that is unique to you and that makes you smile. However, time is limited and ‘fun’ can only be included if part of the work: networking, client dinners, company drinks etc. Although it looks like fun in appearance, these social corporate events are still work. They still require attention, being on guard, commitment and an agenda.

4  Body, mind & feelings

Easier said than done. But our bodies need our full attention. They are the ones who suffer when things collapse. Headaches, back pains, palpitations, indigestion, insomnia. Our bodies react to what is not going well in our minds. Body, mind and feelings are interconnected and are constantly trying to find harmony. If one of them is overworking, the others suffer. A busy work life might not allow time for physical activities or slowing down and resting, relaxing.

5  Fear of failure

That nagging feeling that we need to prove something to someone. Prove what? To whom? Since childhood, trying to prove that we can do well, we can succeed. At first to please our parents, our teachers. Later on, our friends, family, partners, bosses. And the list goes on and on. And you are not alone. We live in a world full of the same people, all of us trying not to fail, not to disappoint. Ourselves and each other.

And the questions are:

  • What do I have to prove? To whom?
  • What do I really want to achieve?
  • Who would I be disappointing?
  • What would be real failure in my life?
  • If I decide my schedule, why do I overload?

To answer them, we would need more than an article. We would need some personal exploration, self-awareness and deep reflective work.

Meanwhile, there are some steps you can take towards a better quality of life.

Is there a way out?

It is important and reassuring to know that you are not alone. It’s a sad fact that, if you look around, there are many people in the exact same situation. That same race to nowhere and all the same self-inflicted pain.

If you recognise some signs of burnout, exhaustion and excessive stress in your life, the first step is to pause. Trying to push through the exhaustion will only cause further emotional and physical damage.

Although sometimes you might feel helpless when too stressed, there are ways to change direction.

Things that can help you:

1  Reach out for help

Talking to someone you trust can have a surprisingly healing effect. Of course I would say that, I am a counsellor. I experience daily the effects and transformation that come with trust and connection. Opening up brings other perspectives to the same story, it calms your nervous system and relieves stress. A good listener won’t judge you or try to ‘fix’ your problems. But will offer a safe and welcoming space for you to open up.

2  Focus on your closest relationships

Your lifestyle might have taken you away from the people you value the most. If you want to change direction, starting with those important relationships can bring you joy and lightness. Those people will also feel delighted to have you back, value your presence and support you through your change.

3  Disidentify from your Job

‘You are not your job’. It sounds so obvious, doesn’t it? But not easy to get out of it. You are more than what you do for a living. Your sense of happiness, or any other emotion, doesn’t need to be defined by what happens at work. Reframe the way you look at your job: your career might be a major part of your life, but it is not the whole picture.

4  Rest, relax and sleep

Slow down, take time off, truly ‘off’. Give technology a break and go for a walk. Breath deeply. If you are a very organised person, try to set specific times during the day for proper breaks. Set a bedtime every night and stick to it. Sleeping well is one of the best remedies against irritation and anxiety. Turn your mobile off for a while. You really don't need to answer all your 800 daily emails as soon as you receive them. You really don't.

5  Exercise and eat well

It’s all about maintenance and nourishment. What you put in your body can have a huge impact on your mood and energy levels throughout the day. Exercise not only lifts your spirits but brings clarity to your mind and a general sense of well-being. You don’t need to become an athlete or do something challenging. Find an activity – anything – that you find fun and pleasant.

6  Remember what makes your heart sing

Reevaluate your priorities. Take time to reflect on what is really important to you. What are your goals, hopes and dreams? Not the insane fast daily race. But the deep wishes you have. Include things that bring joy into your daily life. Nourish your creative side, try something new, resume a favourite hobby. Do things you love. Even if one at a time, one small change will make a huge difference in the long term.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London, EC3R 8EE
Written by Adriana Gordon, London Private Counselling (PGDip, Reg MBACP)
London, EC3R 8EE

Adriana is an experienced Counsellor offering one-to-one sessions to adults, in Covent Garden, London.

She has a post-graduation qualification from The Psychosynthesis Trust, validated by Middlesex University.

Adriana is also a group facilitator in Systemic/Family Constellations, offering workshops in English and Portuguese.

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