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Sara Denning, PhD, Clinical Psychologist

Executive Burnout

Avoiding Burnout.

Janet can’t think of anything but the office projects even when deliberately trying to have a good time at her birthday party she continues to talk about nothing else. For Jeffrey nothing ever feels finished so sitting on the beach with his wife is torture. He hasn’t experienced a sense of accomplishment all year even though he is a senior partner in the firm and closed more deals that anyone. Ned has just returned from a vacation in Colorado where he spent hours on the ski slopes strategizing the spring rollout for the new product line. These professionals are locked in to a malady that has very little press. They may even have the envy of others around them for their great work ethic or financial success.

The symptoms are subtle because what feels like "good work ethics”, or concentration may be chronic anxiety. These executives have found many ways to cope with their workload by taking time off but even that time is being used to work.

Each of these cases is showing symptoms of stress and is a candidate for burnout. Coping with anxiety about work means often means overworking to keep up with the internalized ideal self that has become a dictator. Symptoms of chronic stress include combinations of each of the following:

  • Spending too many hours on the job
  • Sleeplessness
  • Irritable with team member
  • Arguing over inconsequential details
  • Constant feeling of having missed something
  • Pretending that everything is "great"

What can be done is elegantly simple and very difficult. Cognitive Behavioral psychologists conclude that learning a full stop is the first step followed by creating a stress scale to measure levels of anxiety.

A stress scale is a simple 1 – 10 vertical scale that helps executives think about their stress differently. Create a scale by describing the feelings you have when stress builds. When you can put a number to the feeling you have a sense of control. That number even if it is high can be brought down through a few simple steps. Oddly enough the first thing that lowers stress is shifting to a cognitive mode. When you can say to yourself " O.K. this is a level eight for me”, then you have made that first shift to thinking about yourself. Now you can stop and consider what to do next. This is just one of many techniques that can help executives avoid burnout.

Dr. Denning is a clinical and consulting psychologist in private practice in New York City. For more information visit www.stressedoutexec.com. There are several free techniques on this site to those who need to learn to deal with the stress of ‘success’.


Sara Denning, PhD, Clinical Psychologist, New York

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New York, NY 10003
845-597-5279

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Last Modified: 3/23/2018  


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