Burnout in empaths: What is it and how do we prevent it?

Discover the Silent Pandemic: Burnout - Factors, Symptoms & Prevention. Learn how to recognize and overcome burnout in the helping professions.

Cynthia Fox
July 27, 2023

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, how do we recognize it and better yet, can we prevent it?  

Through the everchanging landscape of 2020, another pandemic reveals itself in the aftermath of isolation and uncertainty of our collective future: BURNOUT.

And those in the helping professions are even at a greater risk. Empaths have to be available in a way that can be more demanding than the average professional. 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 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, relationships?

~ How to recognize burnout ~

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

For example, you decided to open a 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 were 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 if tomorrow never happened. You just want to crawl up in fetal position and wished it would all just go away. A ‘DO NOT DISTURB’ sign posted on the door and email inbox.

The second and third phases are irritability / loss of self-confidence and depersonalization.

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

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

~ Factors that contribute to burnout ~

One of the most surprising attributes that contribute to burnout is certain personality traits. Including perfectionism, people-pleasing, highly ambitious, need to be in control, and perceived success at work as a major factor of self-value and self-worth.

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, lack of social support, lack of control over your tasks and expectations, and work-life balance.

~ A burnout test ~

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 like you can’t face the day and can’t even pretend to be present?

They say that the body never lies, 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 insights may appear.

~ How to avoid and prevent burnout ~

Making yourself and your needs a priority is the only way to avoid and prevent burnout.

A balanced flow of work play and rest.

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

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 is simple.

  • Maybe you cook dinner twice a week instead of take-out again.
  • Taking a 10-15-minute walk in the fresh air or sunshine.
  • Calling 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
  • Talking to a professional about how things are going for you
  • Watching one of your favorite tv shows
  • Listen to an album you love
  • Journal
  • Leisure reading

It’s the little things…

~ How to overcome burnout ~

When you’re under the throes of burnout, getting out of it or dealing with it becomes another thing to do under the mountain of impossibility.

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 excited thinking about the call. Maybe next you could schedule a coffee date that way you can see each other in person. And 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 any more responsibilities, and taking a look at your priorities and your commitments and see 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.

Creativity has also proved to be a powerful antidote to burnout.

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

The key is to pay attention. Pay attention to our bodies, our heart, and our breath. What does it look and feel 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?

If you feel like you are experiencing burn out and are not able to see improvement using these of 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. Despite the growing acknowledgement and conversation around burnout, the psychological/medical field has not come to a consensus on what encompasses burnout. Also, how it differs from anxiety, depression, exhaustion, and work – related stress.

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





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