Black background with the word Burnout in neon letters and flames. This is to signify that Burnout and Imposter Syndrome are often linked.

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How are Burnout and Imposter Syndrome linked?

Burnout has been classed as a worldwide epidemic; specifically an “occupational phenomenon” according to the World Health Organisation.

Plus the pandemic conditions have put extra pressure on our mental health. This is a once-in-a-century global crisis, in which frontline medical workers are overworked to exhaustion, parents are juggling full time work with crisis-schooling children at home (a responsibility that mostly falls to women), and many of us have experienced the loneliness and isolation of being separated from loved ones.

Throw in lockdown fatigue, and the rise of a new feeling of ‘languishing‘, and as a society many of us are thoroughly exhausted. 

People who experience Imposter Syndrome are incredibly prone to Burnout

Even without pandemic conditions, burnout and Imposter Syndrome are strongly linked. So in a crisis, Imposter Syndrome-induced burnout spreads its flames even further.

People who experience Imposter Syndrome by nature are high performers who have a track record of success or talent and ability. They are out of their comfort zones, usually with demanding careers, big goals or desires and responsibilities. They are driven and pushing thresholds and themselves often.

Burnout is particularly common in certain Imposter personas such as The Perfectionist, Superwoman/man and Expert. These persona types first coined by Dr Valerie Young refer to the cluster of behaviours demonstrated by the individuals when their Imposter Syndrome is triggered

All 3 of these personas are prone to overworking as they’re driven by the ‘feeling of being exposed as an intellectual fake, phony or fraud’ (the hallmark of Imposter Syndrome) and they demonstrate their excessive and overworking tendencies through the following:

The Perfectionist fixates on every detail on the tasks that mean most to them and sets unrealistic expectations on themselves. They procrastinate due to fear of failure, then move to action under tight deadlines, experience extreme stress, get some form of result then discount it anyway. 

The Superwoman/man juggles multiple tasks and wears many hats all the time. They are often excessive people-pleasers and find it difficult to switch off or say no out of fear of being ‘exposed’. Any missed task or need to delegate is considered a weakness.

The Expert is driven by the need to know every detail, tick every box, be able to answer every question and seeks endless qualifications, certifications or experiences, not because they’re simply committed to being better or learning more but because they feel if they pursue ‘expert status’ no one will know they’re a fraud. 

And when we are stuck in these types of Imposter Syndrome induced behaviour cycles the impact on our brains and bodies is more severe than we realise.  We (those who experience Imposter Syndrome) are so used to being high performers that many of us simply ignore all the warning signs and ‘push on’. 

Sometimes we even create a ‘new normal’ in the way that we feel because we are so used to ignoring the body signals, that we think ‘this is how hard work is meant to feel’ and then BAM, burnout hits us like a tonne of bricks. 

What is burnout and what are the symptoms?

Burnout, or ‘autonomic dysfunction’, is a condition in which the body’s nervous system has been ‘switched on’ by stressors. 

If you’re experiencing burnout, your body thinks it’s under threat, and it’s constantly primed and ready to defend an attack. In many people, your heart races, your breathing rate also increases, and your body slows down processes like digestion.

Signs you may be experiencing burnout:

  • At the end of the day you’ve got nothing left in the tank
  • Mentally and physically exhausted
  • Irritability and anger
  • Stuck in a stress cycle where your body is in hyper-arousal
  • Losing joy in life or an activity you previously enjoyed
  • Parental depletion and finding it hard to engage with your kids
  • Sleep disturbances
  • A sense of dread about tomorrow’s load
  • Feeling emotionally fragile
  • Lack of concentration, or brain fog

If you’re experiencing these symptoms, and don’t know what to do than please talk to your healthcare provider.
Here are some further resources that may help:
Burnout: Psychology Today
Burnout and Chronic Stress: Reach Out
Burnout diagnosis clinic checklist: Black Dog Institute

Who is at most risk of experiencing burnout?

Burnout can affect anyone, if presented with the right situation. 

And burnout is especially common for people in caregiving roles: nurses, doctors, teachers and parents. 

Arianna Huffington, co-Founder of the Huffington Post and founder of Thrive Global, is one of the most prominent voices in the discussion about burnout. 

Arianna has shared her personal experience with burnout and co-wrote a book called Your Time to Thrive: End Burnout, Increase Well-being, and Unlock Your Full Potential with the New Science of Microsteps.

What you can do about burnout right now?

Don’t ignore the symptoms. Do something about it starting today. 

  • Talk to your healthcare professional or do research about your symptoms immediately – I have provided links above to help you. 
  • Get more sleep – sleep is critical for brain / cognitive function and if you’re burnt out the facts are you’re not sleeping or resting enough. 
  • Put yourself first; your needs are important – and it’s the old adage you can’t pour from an empty cup. This can be as simple as 10 mins of silence in the morning to have your tea/coffee, a lunchtime walk, 20min workout, reading, or anything else that brings both joy and peace to you.
  • Find one thing each day you can say no to or delegate – start small if it’s easier.
  • Ask for help – none of us are designed to ‘do it all’. Share the load, develop a new schedule, and look at what can be changed, moved around or stopped for now (maybe forever).

Arianna Huffington also shared her “microsteps to beat burnout” in this podcast episode.

If you’re experiencing burnout due to Imposter Syndrome then recovering from burnout needs to take top priority. 

We must take on Imposter Syndrome from a position of strength and burnout weakens your body and mind. 

Beyond Arianna (who I am a huge fan of) below are two other incredible women who share wonderful and evidence-based content on burnout.

Sophie’s burnout and recovery story

Recently I spoke to Sophie Scott about burnout for my IGTV series Conquer Your Imposter. Sophie is an award winning Journalist, Author, Speaker and is the National Medical Reporter for the ABC and has herself experienced burnout.

Sophie recognised her symptoms and made small, manageable changes to her life – just 8 minutes, 3 times a day – to gradually overcome burnout. Her solution was a combination of gentle tai chi, a walk at lunch time, and mindfulness practice before bed. Sophie shares wonderful and evidence based content via her website and Instagram to help you improve your mental health and well-being.

You can read Sophie’s story about burnout and recovery and follow Sophie on Instagram @sophiescott2

Kirsty’s use of meditation for burnout

In April I spoke to Kirsty O’Brien about Imposter Syndrome, mindfulness and treating burnout on Conquer Your Imposter.

Kirsty is a Burnout and Workplace Wellbeing Coach and host of The Mindfulness Habit Podcast. Kirsty shared that controlling your breath during meditation helps regain control of your nervous system. The practice of mindfulness pulls you out of your stress response, and helps restore your energy.

You can listen to Kirsty’s podcast THE MINDFULNESS HABIT on Apple Podcasts, on Spotify and other apps, and you can follow Kirsty on Instagram @meditatewithkirsty 

For help with Imposter Syndrome that’s contributing to burnout

One of the best ways to prevent burnout for the long term is to conquer your Imposter Syndrome. Starting from a solid base helps you deal with triggers more quickly, and equips you to deal with stressors. 

For help with your Imposter Syndrome, check out my coaching information and book a complimentary chat.

Stay safe and look after yourself.

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