Burnout and depression. If you’re a Highly Sensitive Person, I bet that you, unfortunately, can relate to those words. If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably had one or both of these things cross your path at some point in your life.
After all, the anxiety, stress, and existential dilemmas that Highly Sensitive and Gifted people often experience can be a little bit intense, for sure.
Now, don’t get me wrong. High Sensitivity is not a curse. It’s actually a gift. When you’re Highly Sensitive, your experience of the world is rich, colorful, and deep.
But sometimes it also means heightened overwhelm, stress, and melancholy. It’s a two-edged sword, right?
So what exactly makes us Highly Sensitives more prone to feeling either overwhelmed and lost or underwhelmed and uninspired? And for that matter, what can you as an HSP do to keep the joy of your intense connection with the world while keeping the unpleasant side effects from taking over your life?
That’s what I’m going to share with you right now!
I probably don’t have to tell you this, but there’s a LOT coming at you in today’s society. It’s constant stimulation everywhere, all the time. Even if you’re not a Highly Sensitive Person, all of the constant stimuli just might get to you.
Another factor is that as a Highly Sensitive Person, you might let other people push your boundaries. Trying too hard to make other people happy, for example. Or giving up your own space keep the peace. Letting your own needs fall by the wayside, opening the door to overwhelm.
Also, Highly Sensitive People often have rich inner worlds. And with intense experiences comes deep processing. Which can lead to over thinking. And if it goes on from there, it can lead to rumination, going over the same thing repeatedly and exhaustively. And eventually finding yourself stuck in the jibber jabber of your mind.
Trust me, I’ve seen all of these situations repeatedly, both in clients and in my own experience. So if any of these examples sound at all familiar, rest assured you’re not alone. And any of them can lead to bouts of burnout or depression.
How does burnout and depression show up for HSPs? For Highly Sensitive People, a lot of burnout comes from the workplace. Consider this: about 20% of the population identifies as Highly Sensitive. And that leaves a whopping 80% of the world that does not. This means that workplace standards are set by the non-sensitive majority. That makes adjustment for us sensitive types a lot more challenging.
Big and bustling offices, constant music playing, high pressure atmospheres. Sound at all familiar? It’s a common scene in the corporate and professional world. And everyone is expected to conform to one standard in a “one size fits all” kind of way.
Then there’s the fact perfectionism runs rampant among Highly Sensitive People. Ever find yourself saying things like “I have to” or “I must” and putting every fiber of your being into the statement? And when perfection is the only acceptable option, burnout and stress are that much more likely to follow.
This happens to HSP’s not only in the workplace but also at home. And why burnout is now showing up in a lot of Highly Sensitive Parents as well. You feel like you have to not only be the perfect worker but also the perfect parent, child, sibling, or spouse.
When my children were small, I got myself so wound up in perfectionism that it lead to total exhaustion. It turned into a sleeping disorder and I started having symptoms of fibromyalgia. So I know from personal experience where burnout leads to if you let it go too far.
With burnout, you’re saturated, overstimulated, and exhausted. There’s been just too much stimuli for too long and you feel like you’re just done. You’re overwhelmed and “over it”. And you can’t take on one more thing. The burnout personality is usually sensation seeking and multipassionate.
The disappointment is on “I tried so hard and it’s still never enough!’. Because exhaustion is the main issue, we, then say, time heals...And if you get the right type of help, you will be just fine next time.
In depression though, you’re also exhausted and overstimulated, but there’s a difference. You feel hollow. As though there’s an inner void. And that’s usually accompanied by a feeling of emptiness. The disappointment is “I wanted so badly for this to be it...and it’s just not…” There is a misalignment in values...and because of this...you feel empty.
If you have an intense and rich inner world, it often makes you yearn for self-expression and deep meaning. Being aligned with your purpose and living it every day is a top priority. But if you’re feeling a strong sense of underwhelm and misalignment with what you do and how you live your life every day, you might find yourself leaning more towards depression than burnout. And that can leave you feeling not only overstimulated but also overwhelmed by existential dilemmas.
So whether it shows up as burnout or as depression for you, being Highly Sensitive can make the experience a lot more intense all the way around. What can you do to prevent either one of them from overtaking your life and infringing upon your joy? Let’s get into that right here.
What is the best way to combat burnout?
- Start with awareness.Listen to your body. Tune in and be aware of its signals. Are you feeling tense in any particular area? Are you feeling tired, anxious, or stressed?
- Give yourself the gift of a check-in at least two to three times a day. Take a moment--even just a moment--and figure out what you need to keep yourself focused and in the present moment. Even if it’s literally one minute of deep breaths a few times a day. Consciously take deep breaths and feel into your body. It’s the best way to catch yourself before feelings of overwhelm become too big to stop.
- Another thing you can do is communicate your needs. Let people in your life, both at home and at work, what you need to ensure an environment that allows you to thrive. This means honoring yourself by setting boundaries in the workplace and in your own home.
Highly Sensitive People aren’t limited in the kinds of jobs they can do. It’s just important that you be allowed to do your job in your own way. This means in a way that allows you not only to work efficiently but also to incorporate adequate rest and rejuvenation time.
For example, when I had a private practice, I had many highly sensitive psychologists working for me. Knowing this, I gave them the space that they needed to do their jobs in a way that used their gifts in the best way possible. We worked together to ensure that they had the rest time that they needed while also performing their jobs with efficiency and effectiveness. And it worked like a charm.
When you’re highly rested, you can actually channel your high sensitivity into more ways to get your job done effectively. You can bring more of your natural talents to your work without losing them in a stream of overwhelm. You can do the same for your spouse, your family, and everyone in your life. And this ends up being a win for everyone involved.
If you’re feeling burnout, you can change a few things, bring more awareness, and meet your needs so that you can thrive in your environment.
With depression, however, it’s a little bit different. It’s not just about overwhelm or overstimulation. It’s also about a misalignment with your values, your purpose, and your meaning.
- Now, I won’t go too deeply into the therapeutic side of depression here (as it’s a pretty big topic!). But I will say that becoming more in tune with who you are and what you want can be a make a big difference. It’s about discovering yourself, your goals, and your values and bringing them into your everyday life. And a lot of the time, this involves some pretty deep inner work.
- Some people choose to include medication in the process, and it can be helpful in certain situations. Just be aware that medication alone is not a substitute for becoming aligned in your mind, body, and spirit. After all, that so often what really matters to a Highly sensitive Person really wants more than anything. It’s worth taking the time to get to the heart of the matter by doing the work.
- I suggest working with your personal provider to determine the best course of action for you. In the end, remember to include the inner work and take the pressure off of yourself to be perfect. That in itself goes a long way!
- And here as well, take some time to recover. The exhaustion part is real! But I can tell you that as soon as you find out what it is that you really want to be doing in this lifetime...your energy levels will spiral right up!
So in either case--burnout OR depression--the basics are the same. Get adequate rest. Set strong personal boundaries. Feel into your body and include both grounding, meditation, and movement. Allow yourself to notice your thoughts without judgment and redirect them in ways that support you rather than bring you down.
As Highly Sensitive People, you may be living in a world that wasn’t designed with your heightened sensitivity in mind. You might find yourself frequently overwhelmed and overstressed. But just because the world doesn’t inherently support your needs doesn’t mean that you have to let it bowl you over.
You can enjoy the riches and the joys of your exceptional experience of life while keeping the stressful side effects from bringing you down for too long.
Be sure that you listen to your body. Communicate your needs at work as well as at home. Give yourself the chance to function in an optimal way and channel your sensitivity into positive results, both for yourself and for society.
Remember that sensitivity is a gift! Use it to bring out the best in yourself and in those around you. If you allow yourself to recognize the signs of depression and burnout before they become too big to stop, everyone wins.