Why Are Successful Women Prone to Burnout?

Why Are Successful Women Prone to Burnout?

why am i tired and exhausted?

Oops, I did it again (nearly!).

The last 9 months have been HUGE for me work-wise – creating brand new programs for my clients, speaking engagements, 3 overseas trips as the Fiji Nutrition Co-ordinator for Involvement Volunteers International, countless educational seminars and workshops (local, interstate, plus one overseas), plus an ever-increasing tribe of clinic clients whom I’m committed to serving to the very best of my ability.

Er, Type A, much?

So it’s no wonder that I woke up a few weeks ago and realised that I was TIRED. And it was all good – I saw it coming, took a bunch of stuff off my plate, and RESTED (even though it’s not my natural state!).

But the crazy thing is, I’ve run this pattern before. It’s not the first time (it probably won’t be my last, either!). Yet I ended up there again.

I’ve got pyrrole disorder, a variation of the MTHFR mutation, and a formal diagnosis of chronic fatigue under my belt. I should know better. Yet I push, and push. But at least these days I know the warning signs, those moments where my body says “you’re not going to get away with this for much longer and you need to stop now.”

For me, those warning signs include a sore throat, swollen glands, a generalised feeling of anxiety, and trouble sleeping. My eyelids twitch, I get muscle cramps, joint pain and tension headaches (ugh – can you relate?). And then there’s that old chronic fatigue feeling of having my batteries completely drained…

But enough about me. How does it show up for you? What are your warning signs? Perhaps it’s IBS, a migraine, increased colds and flus, PMS or menopausal symptoms, painful periods, skin breakouts or eczema, an increase in inflammation, or a decrease in iron stores. Or maybe you just find yourself getting angry and yelling at your partner or kids more. (Believe me – that’s pretty common!)

It’s obvious in hindsight that we were burning the candle at both ends, when we stop and really think about it. Yet all too often when we’re in it, we ignore these signs and instead we can be found setting new goals, striving to do more things, stubbornly refusing to take anything off our to-do lists. We’re tough. We can push through. We’re Superwoman.

Until we break.

Because you can only repeat this pattern for so long before things take a turn for the worse – adrenal fatigue, low energy levels, and if you’re really unlucky… chronic illness that can’t be reversed.

So why is it that successful, driven women are the ones most prone to burnout?

1. We’re optimists

We always think we can get more done than we actually can. We overcommit. We say yes to things and work out how to do them later. It’s the old “jump off the cliff and build your parachute on the way down” mindset. And this would be totally fine, except we end up committing to waaaay too much. And we’re too proud to backpedal, so we just suck it up and deal with it, telling ourselves that we can rest later. But “later” never comes.

2. We have an “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” attitude

Life is short. We’re hard-wired to achieve, and achieve, and achieve, often at the expense of all-important self-care, wind-down time, or sleep. I’m guilty as charged of working into the night, using that 9pm surge of cortisol to crack on behind the laptop. And you know what – sometimes there’s a deadline that truly does need to be met. And that’s ok. Work late if you need to. But if you’re doing it all the time, we need to have a serious chat. Because how sustainable to you REALLY think this is?

3. We have FOMO (Fear Of Missing Opportunities)

What if we take time out to rest, and that golden opportunity that we’ve been waiting for passes us by? I know women who are addicted to showing up constantly in business groups on Facebook, or at local networking events, or on their own social media pages and groups. They think that if they stop and rest that they’ll miss out on crucial connections, or news, or a potential client. But let me tell you, if you show up in those spaces feeling drained, tired or worn out, you won’t attract the right connections anyway. Those opportunities go to the people who feel vibrant, present and have the space in their lives to take on new challenges.

4. We set the bar really high, and then raise it some more

As soon as we reach a certain level, instead of enjoying the view from there, many of us are instead immediately at it again – head down, bum up, striving to reach the next goal, and the next goal. And then we move those goals. We tell ourselves “if only I can reach ….. (insert big, personal/career/fitness/financial goal here) ….. then I’ll be happy.” And then we reach it. And we don’t feel happy. So we immediately we set a new measure of happiness and make a game plan to achieve it.

But what if we stopped to admire the view, just for a short while, and congratulated ourselves before striving to reach the next goal?

5. We’re addicted to busy

That feeling of being on point, like you’ve had a shot of caffeine directly into your veins, and you’re going to smash through your whole to-do list in record time? That’s our good friend cortisol, a stress hormone that is produced when we’re busy or under pressure. It induces a process known as “the fight or flight response.”

Cortisol is addictive. It makes us feel ALIVE. But unfortunately, operating in that state all the time (I call it “Meerkat Level 10”) is not sustainable. After a while, you don’t have energy to smash the to-do list anymore. Coffee stops working on you (remember when it used to perk you up? Ahhh, the good ol’ days!). You start to feel shaky, drained, and maybe even anxious or depressed. The side effect of too many fight or flight moments over a long period of time? Thyroid hormone issues, reproductive hormone imbalances, digestive problems, and a huge toll on both your immune and nervous systems, to name just a few.

Cortisol becomes elevated in the early stages of adrenal fatigue, and depleted in the later stages. In other words, that “on point” feeling doesn’t last forever… and it is replaced with something far worse. Burnout.

So next time you’re buzzing through the day, ask yourself, “Is this healthy energy or am I running on stress hormones?”

6. We feel guilty or lazy if we rest.

If the word “rest” causes you to feel guilty or lazy, then it’s time to reframe it to “recharge.”

I understand your resistance – many of us come from a good upbringing with a solid work ethic, where we were told that idleness was NOT ok – I mean – no wonder we feel guilty for doing nothing! But there’s power in quiet moments – it’s when I take something off my plate that a space opens up for magic to happen. Creativity flows. In terms of my business, new products, recipes, blog posts and ideas are born. I know it seems counter-intuitive, but I’ve learned the hard way that sometimes you need to do less to achieve more. Pushing harder is a creativity-dampener.

So, my beautiful Type A Woman… here’s the challenge I’m setting for you…

Take something off your plate BEFORE your body reaches burnout point. BEFORE.

Who or what can you say “no” to over the next few weeks? Is there something that you can get rid of in your schedule that doesn’t serve you? Perhaps it’s something that makes you feel heavy and dull just thinking about it. Or is there someone toxic in your life that’s sapping your energy? Do you need to remove yourself from them for a while, until you get your energy and resilience back?

How would your day/week/month look if you made YOU the priority?

Because putting yourself first, especially while you heal your adrenals and nervous system, saves a whole lot of pain down the track.

And remember – you don’t need to fill the spaces that you create in your schedule (and in your life!). See my previous blog post, The Awkward Art of Doing Nothing for help on this one.

Warning: It’s probably going to feel unnatural and counter-intuitive.

At first, the spaciousness that you create can trigger feelings of agitation. That’s ok. This too shall pass. Especially once you realise that it’s actually causing you to become more productive in the hours that you DO work. Give it a go and report back!

If you’ve been reading along, nodding your head because you’re already experiencing the signs and symptoms of burnout, don’t wait for it to get worse! Book in here for a FREE chat with me and in less than 20 minutes you will have a roadmap with the first steps you need to take to start healing those pesky adrenals 🙂

3 Comments
  • Viv
    Posted at 14:59h, 26 March Reply

    Really great post Jules. I can totally relate! You’d think having burn out once would be enough but I’ve been in this pattern on and off for years. I’m definitely better at recognising the signs these days and adjusting accordingly. Amazing how we do it to ourselves over and over again x

    • Jules Galloway
      Posted at 15:17h, 26 March Reply

      Thanks Viv! Old habits are hard to break, but it’s so good when you get to the point where you can see an old pattern forming and you nip it in the bud, rather than burning yourself out again. Here’s to more “recharge” days in the future… without guilt!

  • Irena
    Posted at 21:14h, 31 March Reply

    Loved this post, Jules! I am absolutely in the same boat as you and lately I’ve been trying to change gears and unbusy myself. It’s so much harder than what you think it would be. I constantly get that agitated feeling when I am not working but I will take your advice and see what I can say NO to in order to make my life a bit more balanced.

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