What Burnout and Under-Recovery Look Like for High Performers

You’re a superstar. You know you’re a superstar.

You work hard, you’re successful, and the accolades come in accordingly.

Usually, you find this motivating, but lately? Lately, all of it just blurs into one long slog through the mud. Something’s different.

Maybe you’re a C-suite executive, an athlete, a busy parent or a caretaker. You’re trying to juggle all of your competing obligations, but instead of getting easier, the balancing act is becoming more and more difficult to manage.

You’re snapping at your family, missing important deadlines, and you’re finding yourself wondering more often than normal why you just walked into that room or what you were planning to do.

Your body hurts, your stomach’s been upset, and you’re just not sleeping like you used to.

Sound familiar? You might be struggling with burnout.


Burnout is more than stress

Burnout is what happens when you’re under a lot of stress for a prolonged period of time. You can experience physical, mental and emotional exhaustion, and, eventually a near-total loss of interest and motivation.

Burnout can be related to several things:

  • Work: Maybe your role is unclear, you have too many responsibilities or demands on your time, or you’re working in a chaotic or toxic environment.
  • Lifestyle: You could be working too much and not taking enough time for fun or self-care; maybe you’re struggling under the weight of too many obligations or not enough sleep; or perhaps you just don’t have the numbers or types of supportive relationships that you need.
  • Personality: Traits like perfectionism, an inability to delegate, or having a high-performing or ”Type A” personality can lend themselves easily to burnout.

It’s possible you’ve been experiencing signs of burnout and simply chalking them up to “stress.” And while stress is certainly a cause of burnout, they aren’t the same – stress feels like there’s simply too much to handle, but burnout feels like you just can’t care.


Signs and symptoms of burnout

Here are some of the signs and symptoms of burnout:


Physical signs of burnout

You’ve got physical signs of burnout if you’re feeling tired and drained most of the time; you find yourself getting sick more often than usual; you’re experiencing muscle pain and frequent headaches; you’re noticing changes in your sleep patterns or appetite; you’re feeling blue, depressed, or irritable; you’re making more mistakes than you usually do, or you’re forgetting things left and right.


Emotional signs of burnout

Emotional signs of burnout can be strong indicators, as well: you’ve got feelings of failure or self-doubt, helplessness, or like you’re trapped or defeated; you feel detached or alone; you’ve lost motivation and find yourself taking an unusually cynical or negative view; you’re feeling satisfied less often and your sense of accomplishment has taken a hit.


Behavioral signs of burnout

Some of the behavioral signs of burnout include withdrawal and social isolation; procrastination or taking longer to finish things; using food, drugs or alcohol to cope with your feelings; taking out your frustration on others or simply shirking your responsibilities – coming into work late repeatedly, for example, leaving early or just not showing up at all.


High-performers are prone to burnout

Burnout can affect high-performing people at higher-than-average rates,1 and it’s not particularly hard to see how this happens.

High-performers are often relied upon to do more and more and more – on the job, at home and on the field.

They succeed with a difficult project, so they’re pulled into the next one. And the next. And the next, until they become the go-to for meeting those critical deadlines that pop up at the last minute.

They can inspire their teammates to perform better, and they make great mentors – so their boss or coach continues to surround them with low-performers who need their help.

It goes on and on. Quite simply, high-performers end up worn out.


Burnout and under-recovery for athletes

For athletes, there’s a common fear of “overtraining.” Gyms talk about it, fitness blogs talk about it and in popular culture, it’s become synonymous with feelings of exhaustion and poor performance.

But true Overtraining Syndrome is rare,2 and its causes are far more complex than simply working out or training a lot. In fact, what most athletes are likely experiencing instead is under-recovery.

Much like burnout, under-recovery can occur when you’ve pushed yourself hard for an extended period of time without the appropriate amount of rest. In this case, stress builds – both physical and mental stress, a combination that often goes hand-in-hand with high-level athletics.


How can you tell if it’s under-recovery?

Under-recovery might look like the following:

  1. You’re getting weaker, not stronger. If you’re finding that you’re struggling more and more with the same old routine, it’s a good idea to consider refreshing your regimen and making sure you’re getting enough rest in between workouts.
  2. Your muscle soreness is extreme or constant. Some soreness is to be expected, but if it’s lasting unusually long or feels more like pain, then it’s time to take note.
  3. An increase in stress and anxiety. When our body is physically taxed, we can notice a change in our moods, as well. An increase in stress, anxiety or feelings of depression could be a sign that you aren’t recovering fully from intense physical activity.
  4. Perhaps most importantly, you’ve stopped enjoying yourself. If you’ve been feeling like you have to psych yourself up just to get a workout in or practice out of the way, then you might just be experiencing burnout caused by under-recovery.


Help! That sounds like me. What do I do?

Whether you’re an athlete or CEO, the best way to combat either burnout or under-recovery is the same: strengthen your foundation and resilience to stress and injury by prioritizing appropriate nutrition, getting plenty of sleep, spending time with loved ones and cultivating hobbies that you genuinely enjoy.

We live in a fast-paced world that has high expectations of us all. We’ve gotten used to ignoring the basic messages that our bodies send. But if we can tune in, they’ll tell us quite a bit about what we need to live the happy, healthy and successful lives we’re after.




  1. https://www.forbes.com/sites/markmurphy/2018/07/01/3-reasons-why-high-performers-are-often-miserable
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3435910/
Back To Top