Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive, prolonged stress. Individual characteristics like introversion relate to burnout, which, at its most severe, may require medical intervention. The process has been described as a sequence in which there is increasing acquiescence to the demands of work, revision of personal values, neglect of self or others, denial, behavioral changes, and spiraling toward depression.1
What Is Introvert Burnout?
For introverts, burnout can occur due to too much socializing without time to recharge (this can also happen on a smaller scale, sometimes called an “introvert hangover”). Burnout itself can lead to a cycle of stress without relief. The stress-response cycle is a physiological response to perceived danger, causing our bodies to produce stress hormones. Being unable to discharge the accumulation of hormones while persistently adding to our stress leads to more burnout.
Symptoms of burnout can include:
- Emotional or mental exhaustion
- Decreased performance
- Physical symptoms such as headaches
- Alienation from work related activities
Extraversion vs. Introversion
Simply put, people high in extroversion feel energized around others whereas introverts require solitude to recharge. Introversion is often conflated with being shy or disliking others, when, in reality, introverts are just more sensitive to social environments and dopamine, thus requiring less. If they get the same amount as an extravert, they get overstimulated.2
These traits can be particularly important in the workplace depending on job duties, social expectations, and team environment. How individual characteristics relate to burnout can be described via Person-Environment Fit theory, referring to the degree of match between individuals and some aspect of their work environment.
On the personal side, characteristics may include:
- Knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs)
- Personality traits
On the environmental side, characteristics may include:3
- Vocational norms
- Job demands
- Job characteristics
- Organizational cultures and climates
- Company or group goals
An introvert may have the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to be successful in a particular job, but job characteristics, norms, or organizational culture could lead to burnout – e.g., teacher burnout related to constantly being around children. In contrast, in remote settings, introversion may be negatively correlated to burnout.4 The introvert may thrive personally and professionally, but if their remote worksite also includes a teleworking spouse, homeschooling children, and company-required video socializing in addition to meeting work goals, the situation may lead to burnout.
Causes of Introvert Burnout
Factors that cause introvert burnout include unclear requirements, impossible requirements, high stress, big consequences for failure, lack of personal control, lack of recognition, poor communication, insufficient compensation.5 Essentially, it is often the demands of a job rather than someone’s personal characteristics that determine the likelihood of any kind of burnout. One study cited poor leadership as a primary source.6
Causes of introvert burnout include:
- Unclear work expectations
- Poor boundaries between work and personal life
- Work environment that includes a lot of socializing (even if remotely)
- Work environment that encourages workaholism
- Unrealistic expectations of self or by organization
- Poor person-environment fit
- Open office
- Noisy office
- Emphasis on meetings
- Intense work with few breaks
- Unrealistic timelines
Signs You Are Experiencing Introvert Burnout
Signs that you may be experiencing introvert burnout include physical exhaustion, irritability, anxiety, and loss of expressiveness; however, you could experience a range of other symptoms to varying degrees.
Here are eight signs of burnout:
- Physical exhaustion
- Lack of focus
- Anxiety (even if you’re still “high-functioning”)
- Loss of expressiveness
- Loss of meaning
12 Ways to Avoid Introvert Burnout
Avoidance of burnout requires self-awareness, vigilance, and an ability to self-advocate. In general, once you notice the signs of burnout as an introvert, prioritize interventions that allow you to recharge. The earlier the issue is addressed the more likely that intervention will be successful in a short period of time.
Here are twelve ways to avoid introvert burnout:
- Identify and manage significant stressors
- Set boundaries with work peers and managers: This may require having frank conversations with others about issues such as having “quiet time” in your day or work week, not answering text or email after hours, skipping additional social time (even if it occurs virtually), and perhaps turning off your camera during video meetings.
- Set boundaries between work and home: Setting dedicated work hours, creating dedicated work space, and charging your work phone out of sight can improve work boundaries. In high intensity jobs, this is more difficult. However, improved boundaries can also increase productivity during work time.
- Get some exercise (outside is preferable): Exercise can help complete the stress-response cycle. If you have been inactive for an extended period of time consider choosing gentle exercise options such as yoga or walking. For introverts, the gym environment can be overstimulating. Online or home-based options like running, using an elliptical, or doing body weight exercises can vastly improve the symptoms of burnout.
- Find a creative outlet: Dedicating time to creative outlets such as music, art, cooking, or other interests is a healthy intervention. For those who exercise creativity in their work lives having “non-demand” creativity can be a critical means of recovering from burnout.
- Spend your alone time wisely: Burned out individuals can struggle to do any more than mindlessly scroll through media in down times. Having awareness of how you spend your time alone and ensuring that it is in activities that recharge your batteries is important to address burnout.
- Find something to look forward to: Regularly scheduling things that are meaningful to you such as time off, a vacation or staycation, and social time with someone you’re comfortable with is a way to break up the feeling of unremitting demands.
- Say no: “No” is a complete sentence. It is acceptable to say “no” to piling more on your plate, especially things that deplete you. Saying no isn’t easy for everyone, but when you are suffering from burnout, even “the little things” can be significant.
- Use your company’s benefits: Do you struggle to use your PTO? Does your company have a wellness program? An Employee Assistance Program? Does your health insurance offer benefits such as therapeutic massage, acupuncture, or mental health services? Do you have an FSA or HSA account that could be used for some adjunctive health services? Making use of these benefits can contribute physical and emotional benefits to combat burnout.
- Sleep: The role played by sleep in restoring mental health, emotional wellbeing, and physical health cannot be overstated.In addition to learning your natural rhythms, have a predictable schedule for work, rest, and sleep lets your body know when to sleep. Also, exercise good sleep hygiene.
- Enlist help: Family members who understand your introversion and the emotional challenges you are experiencing can be a good line of defense against taking on more. They can also provide privacy and support you in recharging.
- Consult a mental health professional: If you know or suspect that you are burned out, a therapist can help you create a plan to address the sources of burnout and provide a healing space to work through your feelings. If your burnout has created family or relationship problems, a therapist can be an invaluable support system to address these challenges as well.
When to Get Professional Help For Introvert Burnout
Consider getting professional help for your introvert burnout when you no longer feel like you’re getting the most out of your life. If you’re more hesitant to attend therapy, you might wait until your life, relationships, or work have become unmanageable. Either way, pay attention to and prioritize your own self-care.
Here are ten signs that you should seek professional help for introvert burnout:
- Behavioral changes: When others note that you have changed your behaviors (work-related and non-work related) in negative ways.
- Increase or significant time in escapist activities: Food, alcohol, drugs, caffeine, social media, gaming, pornography use can all be used or misused as a way to escape from the negative emotional experience of burnout.
- Emptiness: Inability to enjoy things that were previously enjoyable or a loss of meaning.
- Escapist fantasies: Imaging scenarios of moving away or quitting work that increases to the point of becoming intrusive.
- Stomach issues, headaches, unexplained physical symptoms: If you are experiencing chronic and poorly explained physical symptoms, consider getting a check-up as well as seeing a therapist.
- Disengagement: No longer caring about work performance or having trouble connecting with others.
- Irritability: Becoming easily angered or irritable.
- Performance issues: Being unable to perform at work with your customary success. This could involve missing deadlines or chronic lateness.
- Exhaustion: When you are unable to feel refreshed after a weekend or night’s sleep and it has become a pattern.
- Sleep issues: Trouble sleeping, early waking, or difficulty getting up despite having slept a reasonable number of hours.
How to Find a Therapist
Research demonstrates the importance of choosing a therapist who you feel understands you and your issues well. Many therapists provide a free consultation to help you decide whether they’re the right fit. You can also review our therapist directory to search for therapists in your area with specific specialties. You may want to review therapists listed on your health insurance plan’s website as well. If you’re dealing with burnout, individual therapy may help you cope and avoid burnout in the future. But if burnout is a result of family obligations or a relationship, you may consider work with a family therapist or couples counselor, too.
Final Thoughts On Introvert Burnout
If you’re struggling with the symptoms of introvert burnout, know that you’re not alone. While it can feel isolating at times, there are avenues to get help, including an increased focus on self-care, going to therapy, and relying on your network of personal support.