Life coach and author of Burnt Out, Selina Barker explains the four burnout archetypes, how they experience burnout and what can be done to avoid it.
But as anyone who may have experienced it may know, feeling burnt out can apply to many other settings, including our social lives, relationships and families – pretty much any situation where we’ve experienced a prolonged period of stress.
“When I was talking to people who had experienced burnout, I started to notice that there were different behaviours that people would slip into leading up to burnout,” Barker tells Stylist.
She has identified four distinct burnout archetypes that people fall into when they’re in overdrive: the overdoer, the overgiver, the overthinker and the overachiever.
These personalities reflect what she calls the “shadow sides” of your normal, functioning self, which take over when you’re extremely stressed and heading towards burnout.
“When you’re under pressure, you’re in fight or flight mode. Suddenly everything feels panicked and things that are usually people’s strengths turn into sticks to beat themselves with,” Barker explains.
For example, a normally caring and generous person when exhausted and burnt out, may become a chronic people pleaser who finds it impossible to say no.
How to identify your burnout archetype
Identifying your burnout archetype doesn’t only help you to understand yourself better – it can help you spot the signs of burnout early and allow you to make the changes required to prevent you from becoming totally depleted of energy.
According to Barker, you may recognise yourself in one, or parts of yourself in all of them.
Here she explains each archetype, how they experience burnout and what can be done to help avoid it.
You’re the friend people go to for help, because they know you’ll be there for them. Normally a naturally caring person who feels deeply for others, when you start creeping towards burnout, your personal self-care and self-love practices go out the window.
For you, burnout manifests as emotional exhaustion. You feel like you have very little time for yourself because you’re always there for others, focusing on their needs instead of your own.
“Even if helping others usually feels rewarding, when you’re burned out it can feel depleting,” says Barker. “If you spread yourself too thin, you may start feeling guilty because what you usually love doing is feeling like a chore or burden.”
“If you’re an overgiver, it’s really important to do things that fill up your emotional cup. Spend quality time with yourself or quality time with others where you are receiving as much love as you give. Enjoy simple pleasures: things that make you laugh, are playful and creative that help you to show as much love and care to yourself as you do to others,” she advises.
When you’re at full capacity, you’re a naturally resourceful and practical person who takes on the challenges of the day with ease and enthusiasm.
However, when you’re heading towards burnout, you slip into overdrive. When an overdoer burns out, they become physically exhausted, crushed by their everyday responsibilities and never-ending to-do list.
“Overdoers are products of a culture that rewards hard work, progress and positivity, but dismisses stillness and rest,” says Barker.
“Everyone suffering from burnout needs to rest, but probably none more than the overdoer. They need to create space for stillness, like a digital detox or reset day, and really step away from their to-do list and their phone. If you do have to be doing something, make sure it’s for enjoyment, like cooking or drawing - not completing chores or tasks.”
You’re most likely the one who has it all together; a leader with strong visions and clear goals that you know exactly what you need to do to achieve. But this ambitious nature can lead to burnout, and the energy that you’d usually face your ambitions with is replaced with dogged grit and determination.
People may be impressed by what you achieve, but it comes at a cost. Underneath is a deep driving fear of failure and not being good enough.
This means that when burnout hits, you crash hard. On the inside, you start to experience a crisis of confidence and are plagued with doubt, while on the outside you can be defensive to those who try and help you.
“It’s really important for the overachiever to ground themselves,” says Barker. “Overachievers are like Icarus: one minute they’re soaring and the next they’ve flown too close to the sun and they’re crashing. So physical activities, like gardening or walking in nature, that aren’t achievement or goal-focussed are best to help them unwind. Anything that calms their nervous system and gives them the opportunity to focus on what is in front of them, and not always reach for the next project.”
When you’re rested and fully functioning, there’s no problem you can’t solve. You’re always coming up with solutions and ideas. But when you’re burnt out, this focus disappears and your thinking becomes obsessive and urgent.
You may be foggy, struggle to concentrate or feel like your brain has given up. But rather than take that as a cue to rest, your mind will keep racing and you’ll struggle to switch off.
“The most important thing for an over thinker is to get out of their own head,” Barker shares. “Overthinkers will often experience mental burnout, where their brain feels frazzled, so they need to get out of their head and back into their body. Physical movement is key to this, as well as tasks that will engage their full attention, like sudoku or puzzles. Over thinking brains like a challenge and to be stimulated, be that by an activity or a conversation where they can be really present.”
Images: Getty/Selina Barker