Is success anxiety burning us out?
It used to be that 'burning out' was the preserve of the workplace. But what if it’s the pressure to live your best life that’s draining your energy and depleting your passion? In a world where our self-worth is entangled with our performance, more of us are burning out from trying to do and be it all. Burnout coach Letesia Gibson helps us to spot the signs and stop it spiralling out of control.
What is success anxiety?
When you pause and tune into how you are really feeling, you might notice a familiar presence of anxiety in the background. It’s become a regular companion for many of us, yet on an average day, we tend not to see it. Because we are too busy ‘doing’ in our over-full, over-active, over-productive lives.
Yet the current mantra of ‘everything is possible’ gives us plenty to be anxious about. It has created a culture where we believe that we can have and do it all; it’s just a question of how much we want it. We’re in a self-optimising boom where working on ourselves in every department of life has become the norm.
Trying to reach new ‘success’ standards has always been tough, but it’s starting to feel more challenging. The world is uncertain and ‘winning at life’ can feel like a much steeper hill to climb. The Instagram way of life presenting the best bits all of the time is wearing us out.
Increasingly, we don’t want to have it all. We’re tired of the constant questioning of ‘am I enough?’ and exhausted from burying the pangs of negativity we feel when we see others doing more or better. More of us are dreaming of having a simpler life. Spending more time in the comfort zone rather than constantly stretching out of it feels rather appealing.
But still, we soldier on. We’ve normalised anxiety and our bodies are paying the price. We are spending too much time in our parasympathetic nervous system which keeps us stressed and feeling on edge. Because it is on-guard, ready to jump into a panic when balls are dropped, it’s using up a lot of energy. No wonder we’re feeling so exhausted.
How do I know when I’m burning myself out?
Burnout sets in when our expectations of life or work are misaligned to the lived experience of it and we are trying to manage the gap. Those of us with tendencies to over-value how others see us can quickly exhaust ourselves by trying to hide how we are really feeling, or in trying to appear like someone we’re not.
Here are the top five signs that success anxiety is starting to burn you out:
- Overwhelm - you are struggling to cope with how much there is to do. No matter what you do there is never enough time and it feels impossible to fit it all in or to be successful at it.
- Inadequacy - you feel like a fraud who is on the verge of being found out. You don’t feel you are good enough in areas of your life and become overly obsessive or defensive about it.
- Over-efficiency - you have no time for small talk or anything that isn’t related to getting things done. It’s wasted time and energy that you can’t afford to give away unnecessarily.
- Emotionally drained - you zig-zag between frenetic energy and dog-tired moments which is running your battery low. It’s getting harder to muster up the energy to care as much.
- Secrecy - you are being selective about how much you share about your real thoughts and feelings, even with those who are closest to you.
How to relieve the pressure?
Success anxiety can feel all-consuming, but there are in fact some very simple things that we can do to bring instant relief and much-needed perspective.
- Check your state - just noticing and naming what you are really feeling can help bring immediate relief. In any moment, close your eyes and spend one-minute noticing how you are feeling and what you are sensing in your body. This is completely without judgment and letting all feelings be valid. Say it out loud or write it down.
- Keep perspective - when we have strong reactions, they tend to completely define us. We say, ‘I’m completely overwhelmed’ and it becomes our whole experience. Now try saying ‘A part of me feels completely overwhelmed’. Energetically this gives you just enough space to see what the other non-overwhelmed part of you can do to support you.
- Have fun failing - when was the last time you did something for pure pleasure without caring how good you were at it? Having moments with no expectations is really important. Creative tools like the Zentangle method of drawing shapes and patterns let us play and express without asking anything of us.
- Truthful journaling - writing about how we are really feeling can bring many benefits when life is feeling too much. It makes our experience valid and important, and at the same time helps us process it and make space for something new. Doing it regularly can in itself start to shift how we feel and think about aspects of life.
- No such word as have - our lives are often guided by what we ‘have’ do to that we forget that we always have a choice. Write a list of the things you have to do by starting with ‘I have to….’ Now replace have with ‘I want’. Doing this exercise reveals our real motivation behind actions so we can be more intentional with what we are fitting into life and why.
- Be amazed - when we see and experience awe and wonder in life, it regulates our nervous system and helps bring us back to a place of calm and safety. Whether that’s art, music or the natural world, those moments are important to bring us back to ourselves.
- Let go in the moment - activities like singing and dancing are great stress relievers that reduce cortisol, connect us to this present moment and bring release through freedom. They remind us how good it feels to really let go and just be with what we have right here.
- Go on a walk - the benefits of being out in nature cannot be over-stated for helping anxious or burning out bodies. The calming effects on our minds and our bodies can really shift the way we look at challenges in life. It offers a great way to practise mindfulness. Try mindful walking where you are intentionally trying to slow down and notice as many things as you can in your surroundings.
- Find time to laugh - lightness is important when life feels full-on and laughter is great medicine. Whether laughter classes, time with friends or your favourite comedy film. But do it, even when you don’t feel like it because that is when you need it most.
- Switch off - whether it’s a weekend of a digital detox or a float spa, sensory deprivation is good for the soul and doing it more often will introduce moments when you can give your brain a break and reconnect to yourself.