top of page

Burn-out, a real risk for Highly Sensitive People

This is an important subject.

Even if fatigue is a problem that affects almost all highly sensitive people, burn-out is on a whole other level and must be avoided at all costs, because it can take months and often years. to regain your energy. The consequences are serious and it is unfortunately a problem that I encounter far too often in coaching with highly sensitive people.


Because, as we will see later, this is due to certain characteristics of our functioning. So of course, it’s not inevitable, but knowing the risks and preventing them can help you avoid getting to that point.

The purpose of this episode is therefore both to make you aware of the increased risk that highly sensitive people are to burnout, but also to give you some advice to avoid finding yourself in this situation.

Highly Sensitive People & burn-out

What exactly is burnout?

Burnout is traditionally defined as “physical, emotional and mental exhaustion that results from prolonged investment in emotionally demanding work situations”

The symptoms are both physical and mental:

It often starts with sleep disorders, chronic fatigue, difficulty concentrating, difficulty making decisions, minor but repeated errors.

We also observe a withdrawal into oneself, a tendency towards aggressiveness, irritability, addictive behaviors, a drop in motivation, feeling down, nervous and physical tensions.

But it can go much further with an inability to get up in the morning, dizziness, chest tightness, anxiety, panic attacks, professional disengagement, out of control emotional reactions, sadness, and even depression.

But physiologically what is happening? 

Burnout can be considered a consequence of chronic stress. I remind you that stress is a normal and desirable adaptation reaction of the body. It triggers the secretion of hormones (cortisol, adrenaline), which allow us to cope with a stressful situation by increasing heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and by mobilizing glucose energy to react to the stressful stimulus (by running for example, if a wild animal is chasing you). When stress is occasional, the body has time to regulate itself, hormones return to normal levels and there are no harmful effects for our body. The problem is therefore not stress per se, but chronic stress. When the stressful situation is repeated and continues, the body can no longer regulate itself and is saturated with cortisol, which has numerous harmful effects on health.

Burnout is therefore triggered by constant and prolonged exposure to stress.

This generally happens in 4 stages, so the earlier we intervene, the less chance we have of getting to the worst:

1. The alarm phase: When a physical or psychological threat is perceived by our brain, the body goes into alert phase in order to be able to cope or adapt to this situation, triggering the secretion of cortisol and adrenaline, while magnesium is consumed in quantity.

2. The resistance phase: when this threat is repeated, stressful events accumulate and we are unable to react or let go. The tension cannot go down. During this period, the metabolism adapts to the sensations of stress, the body becomes more resistant, it “gets used to/adapts” to stress in a way. In this phase, the cortisol level increases further, we observe a rapid decrease in the synthesis of dopamine (the hormone of momentum and motivation), and an increase in serotonin (which increases stress management abilities)

3. The breakdown phase (or burn-in): cortisol continues to increase and another hormone is secreted in greater quantities, DHEA, the rejuvenating hormone which compensates and opposes the harmful effects of chronic elevations or repeated cortisol. Serotonin drops, reducing stress management abilities. Melatonin also drops, creating sleep problems.

4. The exhaustion phase: cortisol drops, DHEA drops, melatonin drops. Serotonin and dopamine are at their lowest. The body can no longer adapt. We face an exhaustion of the adrenal cortex response. It is the most total psychological and physical exhaustion.

Burnout is more generally associated with jobs with high mental, emotional and emotional demands, positions of responsibility or even when objectives are difficult or even unachievable. People at risk are particularly those who invest a lot in their work. We can wrongly believe that these are fragile people, when on the contrary they are people who continue to overadapt where others would have simply set limits or changed jobs.

If you follow my content, you know, I am keen to show you that high sensitivity can be a real asset, but I also know to what extent our great adaptability is also a source of vulnerability in the face of burn-out.

Why are highly sensitive people more at risk of burning out?

Quite simply, because being highly sensitive already puts us at risk of being in chronic stress due to the permanent activation of our nervous system. We already start with a higher level of stress and even more so if we are not aware of it.

But other characteristics of high sensitivity can predispose us to burn out one day or another:

  • Curiosity, the constant need to learn, push us to say yes more often than no and to multiply projects, training, responsibilities... more easily creating an overload of work.

  • Flurrying ideas and creativity can prevent us from stopping, leaving the mind to continue to think and heat up, sometimes preventing us from disconnecting in the evening when it's time to sleep.

  • The search for meaning in everything we do, and particularly in our work and/or a feeling of inadequacy of the employer's values ​​with ours, in any case what we perceive of them, is for us very difficult to live with.

  • Putting the needs of others before our own is linked to our great empathy. We tend to be very involved with others, and to forget ourselves, to not be able to set our limits.

  • We can also simply be affected because we have absorbed all the emotions of others. So if we work in a general atmosphere very charged with negative emotions it is all the more complicated.

  • Our “perfectionism”, this need to always do better and more, leads us to live under pressure, with often high and unattainable goals, which creates a considerable source of stress.

Quite simply, our habit of constantly overadapting is a trap, because we do not perceive the warning signals from our body.

Prevention and management of burnout

So you will have understood, when it comes to burnout, prevention is better than cure. Because once the adrenal glands are exhausted, it is very complicated to get back on track. So how can we avoid getting to this point?

I could simply give you advice on healthy living, or on how to manage your stress. But I believe that this would not be enough to prevent you from burning out, even if it could help you not to go to the point of final exhaustion, or to last longer. On the contrary, I think that it is a question of a broader reflection to be carried out and even a societal reflection.

So I'm not telling you all this to scare you, but so that you know that there is a real risk that is sometimes almost invisible, especially if you are not connected to your body. On the other hand, I want to emphasize the fact that burnout is not a problem of individual insufficiency due to insufficient listening to oneself, or to not knowing how to set one's limits. On the other hand, it is clearly a social problem where performance and productivity, results are the only ones valued, and the intellect privileged for the benefit of the body and its intelligence. We always think instead of feeling our emotions. And it is rather by having a real reflection on the question of productivity that we can escape this spiral of always more, always better, always faster, always too much.

So I’m going to invite you to ask yourself 4 questions to avoid falling into the trap:

  • How does productivity manifest in your personal and professional life (because yes, burnout is not always professional)?

  • Who or what do you work for?

  • What is productivity trying to get from you?

  • What are you running after?


As a highly sensitive person, you have every interest in being very vigilant to avoid the burnout trap, or if you have already burned out, to prevent it from happening to you again (because it is unfortunately 1 person in 4 who relapses).

To lower your stress level inherent to your high sensitivity, it is important:

- To prioritize your lifestyle and self-care specific to your needs.

- To develop your ability to feel and listen to the warning signals from your body and your emotional state

- To change your relationship with time to act at the right time and avoid going to the point of exhaustion.

- And it is also essential to change your relationship to productivity and performance.

If you want to regulate your well-being in depth and get rid of your daily problems linked to your high sensitivity, this is exactly what I offer you in my coaching. Contact me if you have any questions or need support.


You want to share your story, your struggles and the battles you won, and be part of our circle of sensitive and intuitive people. Come with us and let's chat with other highly sensitive people!

Join the Highly Sensitive Empaths community:

Sign up for our newsletters to receive information and stories for highly sensitive people.

Join us on: Instagram and Facebook (private group)



bottom of page