Executive burn-out

Executive burn-out
Executive burn-out
How Serena House Can Help

What is executive burn-out?

Burn-out is associated with physiological signs such as frequent headaches and the inability to shake colds, as well as with psychological symptoms such as quick temper and a suspicious attitude about others.

Here are some characteristics of someone suffering from burn-out:

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Anger at those making demands
  • Self-criticism for putting up with the demands
  • Cynicism, negativity, and irritability
  • A sense of being besieged
  • Hair-trigger display of emotions

High-achievers walk fast, talk fast, eat fast, and over schedule. But the syndrome of executive burn-out can happen to anyone from a chief executive to someone in a supervisor role. It’s been described as ‘emotional exhaustion and cynicism’, and is no reflection on the competence of an individual, it happens to most managers at some point in their career.

Harvard University researchers have described the condition of being trapped in a kind of psychological quicksand, where the high demands put on someone to problem solve and achieve are hampered by either unrealistic expectations or a combination of restrictive factors such as conflicting ways of working, or dysfunctional relationships within the organisation, so that the manager isn’t able to do their job, however many hours they put in.

Those who study executive burn-out agree that it tends to occur after people expend a great deal of effort, intense to the point of exhaustion, without visible results. People in these situations feel angry, helpless, trapped, and depleted: they are burned out.

This is more likely to happen in the current climate of redundancies and cuts, and compounded by a culture which rewards being competitive and hard working.

This is more than ordinary stress, it’s a psychological malaise brought on when a high achiever is unable to feel they are making progress, because the problems they have been set to resolve are too complex, or the situation is too overwhelming.

Sadly, the person usually ends up having a mental and emotional breakdown where they are hospitalised with exhaustion.

Dangers of burn-out

Those in the grip of executive burn-out may try to escape the pressure through illness, absenteeism, or drugs or alcohol. It’s common to wake in the middle of the night catastrophizing about worse case scenarios, and some suffer severe physical symptoms of stress such as hair loss, fingernails falling out, and stomach ulcers.

Three of the main symptoms associated with burn-out are anxiety, depression and personality change.

Anxiety and panic attacks

Doctors and counsellors are reporting a growing trend of professionals suffering from High Functioning Anxiety, a condition driven by a mix of anxiety, ambition and need for approval. If you feel like things are unravelling out of your control, this can arouse deep emotions—sorrow, fear, despair, compassion, helplessness, pity, and rage. The person will often try to contain their feelings and hide their anguish. But as the breakdown progresses, stress causes them to suffer panic attacks, claustrophobia, depression, and acute sleep problems.


If you’re suffering from burn-out it’s typical to feel that life has lost its purpose and you can’t see the point in anything. Many people report a sense of inertia and depression. You are no-longer doing things that make you happy, and the odds are you feel numb, which can make you appear cold and detached. It could be that you find yourself cancelling meetings or shutting yourself away in an office to avoid having to do things. It’s common to think that you’re alone with your problems.

Personality changes

Those close to the person may notice that they’ve become angrier, more quick to snap and shout. And someone who was once outgoing may appear introverted and reclusive.  They may also display increasingly rigid attitudes and be controlling of situations and people.

The internal feelings of chaos can lead to seemingly capable people losing their integrity through unethical acts and immoral behaviours.

Treatment for burn-out

You may feel you’re unable to step off the treadmill, but that is exactly what you have to do when you hit executive burn-out. Exhaustion, both mental and physical has real symptoms that need treatment.

At Serena House residential detox clinic in the heart of London, a team of dedicated medical and support staff, can ensure you get complete rest. If you have been using drugs or alcohol to get you through the day, then withdrawal from these can be carefully managed.

Mentally, you can have a complete digital detox, while talking therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy along with a range of alternative therapies, can be integrated to help return your mindset to a more positive outlook, allowing you to recapture what it is that makes you feel happy. To attend to your physical wellbeing, a nutritionist and sleep therapist will be able to advise on a plan for helping with rest and recuperation.

You will have access to the experts you need, so that if there’s any other problems related to your breakdown, such as infertility as a result of a lack of libido due to anxiety, this can be addressed.

Once you are ready to leave the safe haven of Serena House you will be given a full aftercare package to ensure you harness your potential to heal and make a successful recovery.

Book an Appointment

Talk to one of our counsellors on 020 3582 4288.