Burnout continues to rise
After 18 months of pandemic endurance, and all the different implications that have come with it, it’s no wonder that burnout is on the rise. But don’t be fooled into thinking that the problem will go away with the pandemic. Burnout was already a big problem beforehand.
A UK survey by Indeed reported more than half of respondents were feeling burned out, and more than two-thirds of those believed it was worsened by the pandemic. In Jan 2020, the same survey still showed high levels of burnout across the working population age groups – an issue just exacerbated by the pandemic.
Other surveys provide similar observations. I don’t think it’s a trend any of us are challenging.
But as someone who has experienced the full force of burnout, and now works on a daily basis with people who are hurtling towards burnout or are already there, I’m constantly searching for the risk factors. Are there individual traits that make someone more susceptible to burnout than their counterparts?
My observations from my coaching practice would say yes, there are.
Overachievers and their secret struggle
Overachievers, on the surface, will present just the same as high achievers. They accomplish many things to high standards, tend to deliver over and above expectations, enjoy pushing the boundaries, take great pride in their work, and will always be reliable and dependable. The kind of person we all want in our corner – the person we will ask more of and push that bit harder – because they can handle it.
But can they?
You see, overachievers have a lot more going on that’s not visible to others. Things that come at a great personal cost to them, by consuming enormous amounts of time and energy. They can deliver the goods and be the picture of proficiency to any observer. But the secret struggle is often raging – something they feel unable to articulate to colleagues for a whole variety of reasons.
The overachiever is also dealing with all of this
In addition to all they are expertly managing and delivering, they are simultaneously navigating the inner dialogue and impacts of the following (and probably more).
#1 Low confidence
Whilst they may appear confident in the way they present themselves, often they are dealing with low or fluctuating confidence levels. They can’t appreciate what everyone else seems to value in them.
#2 High self-doubt
With that low confidence comes high levels of self-doubt. They are likely to be frequently questioning and second-guessing themselves, and finding it difficult to stand up to challenge and alternate views as a result.
#3 Harsh Inner Critic
They can be their own harshest critic, always seeing the flaws, errors and mistakes in their work rather than the overall brilliance. They often find it hard to accept compliments about their work, and respond with an observation of what they would have liked to be better.
#4 People pleasing
They often have a strong desire to please others, willing to put the needs of others before their own. Their worth and validation can be heavily influenced by what others think of them, and criticism can fuel their harsh inner critic to go nuclear.
They will have high standards and do everything required to ensure those standards are achieved. Whatever it takes. Anything less feels like failure and runs the risk of not meeting the needs of others.
They are likely to overthink situations/conversations that have already happened, decisions that are needed, or events that are coming up. Their mind will be very busy processing all of this and it will be more difficult to switch off as a result.
#7 Ineffective Boundaries
Whilst they know boundaries are important, they will frequently compromise them. This might be saying yes to something they don’t want to do, working those extra hours to get something to the right standard, etc. Their own needs will be compromised along the way.
In isolation, or for a temporary period, some of these factors can actually be beneficial and contribute towards learning and personal growth. In my experience, an overachiever would experience many of these, most of the time, and it take its toll.
Over-working becomes inevitable for the overachiever
When you read through this list, it becomes instantly clear why this person is over-working, over-delivering, and finding it difficult to prioritise their own needs. It can easily become exhausting and overwhelming for that person – something they find difficult to share because they are seen as a high achiever and don’t want to disappoint. And therein lies the vicious cycle.
It’s become really clear to me that these collective traits, left misunderstood and unmanaged, can provide a melting pot of ingredients needed for burnout to take hold. Throw in some situational stressors at home or work, and it doesn’t take much to push them too far.
But others around them still might not know of the struggle – they are also masters of disguise.
Overachievers become more likely to burnout
It then comes as no surprise that this can lead to an increased propensity for the overachiever to experience burnout. The constant mental and physiological load associated with the internal stress this causes is significant. Without the right measures and support in place to balance this out, ill-health of some sort sadly becomes inevitable, and for many this will present as burnout.
Is this also called ‘high functioning anxiety’?
Good question. I’m writing this from my position as a coach, nutritional therapist, and burnout survivor. I’m not a psychologist or psychotherapist, but in my view, whilst high functioning anxiety does have many correlations, it feels subtly different.
Importantly, I can say with certainty that none of my clients would identify with the title of high functioning anxiety, but they could easily call themselves an overachiever as I have defined here. Semantics can be important when you need an in-road to helping people – and that’s where my focus lies.
Helping the overachiever
This is what I do, day in and day out, and I truly love my work. To get underneath the skin of this requires a great degree of trust. I am able to truly see these people and understand them. After all, I am a recovering overachiever!
If I could offer tips to anyone wanting to support a suspected overachiever it would start with these:
Get to know them well
A simple statement, but requires time, patience and effort – the more you know what drives and motivates them, what their fears are, and how they function, the better chance you have of supporting them in a way that’s meaningful to them.
Focus on the positive
What are they great at, what are their strengths, what do they appreciate, what do they enjoy? And helping them to really understand, see and believe what you see. This doesn’t mean ignoring any feedback that’s required to help them, but a heavy focus on the positive will serve to improve confidence and self-belief.
Ask them what support is helpful
Don’t assume what’s going on for them and what is best for them – ask. They often know the answer, but were previously too afraid to ask.
Resources to help
Here are a few resources I can offer in support of the wonderful overachiever.
- If you are struggling with low confidence then my Confidence Confessions book is an ideal starting point. I’ve experienced and observed simple but effective strategies for building lost-lasting confidence. And I share them all in this book.
- 1:1 Coaching: I appreciate that 1:1 coaching & mentoring is an investment of your time, energy and finances, and you want to get it right. So why not make the most of my Coaching & Mentoring Taster Experience offer? It’s essentially a coaching session at a very special price to allow you to try it on for size, get a sense of me, and experience some great support in the process.