A photo of an exhausted stressed out woman, outstretched partially in a chair and on the ground, who could be experiencing burn out

Are Highly Sensitive People More Likely To Burn Out? (And What You Can Do About It)

Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) are more likely to burn out than the 80-85% of the population who aren’t Highly Sensitive. Some good news for all you Highly Sensitives out there: There are things you can do to prevent burn out.

Why are Highly Sensitive People more likely to burn out?

Highly Sensitive People are born with a nervous system that is highly attuned. If you’re an HSP, you know how responsive (i.e. sensitive) you can be to experiences. 

Whether it involves sight, sound, touch, scent, taste, or even body language, you sense it all. You uniquely tune into the emotions and vibe/energy of people around you.

Understanding the four pillars of the High Sensitivity trait will further help you appreciate why Highly Sensitive People are more susceptible to burnout. And it will help you know what to do about it.

The four pillars of High Sensitivity include:

Depth of Processing:

  • As a Highly Sensitive Person, you tend to spend a lot of time reflecting.
  • You take your time thinking through decisions.You naturally take in a lot of information from around and within you,without effort or intent.
  • You’re aware of subtlety and nuance that others simply are not aware of.
  • You process everything more by relating and comparing present-moment experiences  and observations to past experiences and observations.

Because of your deep and extensive thought process, you’re more likely to feel overwhelmed due to the pure enormity of what’s on your mind.

Overstimulation:

  • You notice a lot in all situations.
  • You’re aware of details that others aren’t aware of.
  • You may feel people’s feelings, even when they don’t feel their own.
  • Because of all the stimulation, you’re more prone to feeling overwhelmed.

Because of all you notice, hear, see, manage, remember, and process, it makes sense that you are prone to overwhelm…and sooner than non-HSPs.

Emotion Responsivity/Empathy:

  • Your positive and negative emotional reactions are strong.
  • You’re in tune with other people’s emotions.
  • Empathy is purely natural for you.
  • You may even feel people’s energy field.
  • Vantage sensitivity” is the fancy phrase referring to your tendency to benefit disproportionately from positive conditions and interventions.
  • Having more active mirror neurons than non-HSPs explains why you naturally read emotion and have automatic deep empathy.

Your inherent empathy, combined with your tendency to have strong emotions, makes you prone to feeling overwhelmed sooner. You also feel more intensely than people without the trait of High Sensitivity, which can also lead to feeling burned out.

Sensitivity to Subtleties:

  • Your senses are highly attuned because of how you process sensory information.
  • The attunement is because of the way you process input from your senses.
  • Brain areas are very active when you perceive things because of complex processing of sensory information.

Naturally, the fluorescent lighting in your office, the setup of offices as cubicles, the loud sounds of many people talking at once, and the smell of the fish from the microwave are super intense for you. This intensity puts you at higher risk of experiencing your environment as “too much” and therefore quickly burning out.

What can Highly Sensitive People do to reduce/eliminate burnout?

The High Sensitivity trait is innate — something you’re born with (or not). So, unless you alter your DNA, your High Sensitivity is not going to change. 

Learning how to navigate as an HSP is imperative. Otherwise, you will burn out. As in extra crispy.

Tips for Highly Sensitive People to Avoid Burnout:  

  1. Own it. 

Know your trait! When you’re aware of the implications, you’ll be able to anticipate what gives you energy and what depletes you of energy. And you’ll be able to plan accordingly.

  1. Know your people. 

Spend more time with people who give you energy and less with people who deplete it. Smaller groups or 1:1 are often more comfortable than larger groups for HSPs.

  1. Be aware of triggers

In general, what sensory experiences are unmanageable in the short term? Long term? See if you can find balance between triggers and taking breaks. 

  1. Uni-task. 

Giving full attention to one task at a time means you’ll work more effectively. Multi-tasking takes a lot of energy and can easily lead to overwhelm.

  1. Recharge often. 

This is essential and non-negotiable for HSPs. Go into nature, where there is more serenity. Be still or walk; listen to nature’s sounds and enjoy. Consider putting your phone away and just be.

  1. Move it. 

Regular exercise lowers the risk of burnout. 

  1. Say nope. 

Learn to say “no” more often. Saying “yes” to something you would rather not do is actually a “no” to yourself. Learn to set your boundaries.  

  1. Dare to be less than perfect. 

Most HSPs are also perfectionists. Learn how to reduce or even let go of your perfectionism. 

Perfection is an ideal to strive toward, but it doesn’t actually exist. 

You are good enough as you are!

  1. Create meaning. 

HSPs need to do meaningful work. When work lacks meaning, stress happens more easily and quickly. So find work that gives you satisfaction. 

  1. Structure and planning. 

Structure and routine are often important to monitor your impulses, and you do this through planning. 

Make a weekly schedule, starting with your non-negotiables (things you can’t avoid, like a dentist visit). Then schedule me-time and alone-time. 

When you have open time, you can plan other things. 

Good planning ensures that you take action and that you also take moments to relax. 

When your head is full, write down your thoughts. 

For example, keep a “worry” journal. Peace of mind is more likely when you remove the whirlwinds of thoughts looping in your head.

Understanding the way your nervous system is wired and why you roll the way you roll is helpful in offsetting burnout. If you do not understand your experience of the world, you will be overwhelmed and at major risk for more overwhelm, chronic stress, and burnout.

Fortunately, the more you understand about your HSP trait, the greater the likelihood your choices in life will facilitate your best, non-burned-out, self.

Dr Elayne Daniels, a private-practice psychologist and coach in MA, specializes in treating Highly Sensitive People and people with eating disorders and body image problems..

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