HSP burnout can feel like your emotions are bubbling up inside, like a volcano, about to erupt. Here’s how to recognize it — and what to do about it.
Sometimes, a highly sensitive person’s (HSP’s) life is filled with stressful events that wear them down and leave them feeling depleted. This is because their heightened sensitivity makes them feel drained even by relatively mild stimuli. So when things get to be too much, they really get to be too much. This is why HSPs burn out so quickly.
The World Health Organization (WHO) states that burnout “is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” It can be characterized by the person feeling depleted (energy-wise) or exhausted; having more mental distance from their job, or feelings of negativity or cynicism; and having less professional efficacy than they had before.
Before I get into signs that you may be experiencing HSP burnout, let’s talk about what it means to be a highly sensitive person in the first place.
What Does It Mean to Be ‘Sensitive’?
Being highly sensitive is a healthy personality trait, and scientists define it as taking in more information from your environment, processing it more deeply, and doing more with that information, according to Andre Sólo, coauthor of Sensitive and one of the founders of Sensitive Refuge. Because the sensitive brain is actually wired to process all information more deeply, Sólo says — effectively spending more time and mental resources on doing so — this means that sensitive people tend to notice subtleties others miss.
Sensitive people also tend to have certain traits in common. They are often creative deep thinkers, have high levels of empathy, and are highly in tune with their physical environment. These are all advantages, of course, yet it’s also why the sensitive brain can easily get overstimulated.
While everyone is sensitive to some extent, Sólo says that researchers now see sensitivity as a continuum. Most people are in the middle, while a few are at the low end and about 30 percent score high for sensitivity. And, yes, these highly sensitive people, or HSPs, are what we mean when we say “sensitive people.”
Now, let’s look at how sensitivity and burnout are linked.
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The Correlation Between Sensitivity and Burnout
Because HSPs are naturally more sensitive, external factors can affect them more so than others, such as chaotic environments, time anxiety, and people’s insensitive words and actions.
For instance, HSPs react strongly to criticism, and the more this happens, the more likely a feeling of burnout will occur, for they may feel they can never do anything right.
Of course, you may also be an HSP who may be experiencing burnout — and not even realize it. You may be having trouble sleeping, for instance, but you brush it off as insomnia, no big deal, you think. You don’t even realize that your job stress is causing your sleepless and anxiety-ridden nights. (And highly sensitive people need more sleep than less-sensitive people, so not getting enough sleep is a real issue.)
So let’s look at some signs you may be experiencing HSP burnout.
9 Signs You’re Experiencing HSP Burnout
1. When you wake up, you don’t feel refreshed.
If your energy is worn down, even sleep won’t help you heal — you’ll feel exhausted no matter how much sleep you’ve had. Conversely, many sensitive people have trouble getting (and staying) asleep, because they are mentally and spiritually drained. They have restless nights of tossing and turning, and don’t get much sleep at all. The worst part is, their sleep is disrupted because they can’t stop thinking about their failures or other negative past experiences, making them irritable and sleepy all day.
2. Your gut tells you something is off, but you have no idea what it is.
Intuition is one of a highly sensitive person’s biggest superpowers, so you have to trust your gut.
As an HSP, you spend a lot of time helping, and empathizing with, those in need. You can sense what they’re feeling… but what about what you’re feeling?
For instance, maybe you used to get a lot of joy from helping others or engaging in certain hobbies. But lately, you don’t. And when people ask you what’s wrong, you’re at a loss for words since you don’t know the true root of the problem.
3. You tend to zone out a lot.
HSPS are excellent listeners — they’re attentive and truly listen. But when you’re burnt out, you just can’t focus: not on work, others, or even yourself.
Suddenly, you feel like time is moving too slowly or too quickly. You can’t get your mind off of your predicament — being burned out and not realizing it — so you frequently become sidetracked. And if you lose concentration while working, your output may suffer.
So one way to assess if you’re burnt out is to see if your work still excites you. Or do you dread it? Tune in and really listen to what your mind is telling you.
4. People around you are either draining or irritating you.
One way to motivate ourselves to improve is by being in the company of upbeat, encouraging people. However, we can’t pick and choose our work colleagues or bosses. As a result, some of them may irritate you with their poor demeanor and attitude. For instance, instead of praising all you do right, they only focus on what you do wrong.
Furthermore, due to that HSP intuition I talked about above, you can always tell if your coworkers or bosses are being authentic or not, since you can so easily pick up on others’ feelings. And if you have to meet with them about something, you dread it — you’re already emotionally spent, so it’s a recipe for (more) burnout. The reason is, dealing with such people requires emotional effort from you. Plus, the last thing you want to deal with is their unappreciative attitude or criticism.
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5. Your thoughts are full of negativity, no matter how hard you try to see the positive side of things.
The part of you that usually cares about other people — and makes you feel good when you’re around them — has now gone missing. For some reason, no matter how hard you try, you just cannot be happy — and you also have trouble being happy for others who are happy.
You don’t recognize this negative version of yourself and don’t realize it’s due to your being stressed and burned out.
6. Every feeling is heightened.
However intense your emotions are ordinarily, they will increase tenfold when your soul is exhausted — your emotions become overwhelming.
You are also easily moved to tears, and you shed them regularly — more than usual for your HSP self! For example, you may sneak off to the bathroom, or for a walk outside, often, so you can get some alone time to decompress.
So the more you try to focus on work tasks, the more it adds to your anxiety. You just cannot feel in control since everything feels so out of control.
7. You feel terribly isolated and misunderstood.
The fact that you are surrounded by people who know you — but do not truly understand what you are going through — only adds to your sadness, anxiety, and isolation. You begin to shut them out, and even resent them.
Perhaps some of them may mean well, but they can’t help you since they have no idea what’s going on behind the scenes of your emotional state.
8. You are physically worn out.
It’s tough to muster the energy to carry on when you feel so “blah” about everything. You spend the day in bed instead of going to work. Your body may be healthy, but you feel awful. And even on the days you do get out of bed, it’s as though your energy has already been completely used up. So why not just lie back down…
9. You feel like your emotions are bubbling up inside a volcano, about to erupt.
You’re continuously at your lowest point, you’ve run out of options, and you don’t believe that you can ever quit and leave your job. Feelings of wanting to cry or scream at the top of your lungs are recurrent.
By this point, you have such heightened sensitivity — and your HSP soul is in overdrive — that even the smallest things might reduce you to tears or anger. And then one day, when you reach your breaking point, you feel your emotions will suddenly erupt like a volcano (without warning — even though the warning signs have been there all along).
This is the last straw: You’re officially burned out and must take action. This could mean getting rid of the thing that’s not serving you and your mental health — like leaving your toxic job or boss — and seeking out help from a therapist. This way, you can aim to be happy again and reevaluate what can get you there. (It’s possible, I swear!)
You might like:
- How to Combat Burnout When You’re a Highly Sensitive Person
- The Truth About Overwhelming Emotions, According to a Highly Sensitive Therapist
- How Sensitive Is Each Myers-Briggs Personality Type?
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