Social Isolation, Overtraining, Burnout, Injuries and Retirement
In the pursuit of excellence, high achievers in sports, business or high demand careers become increasingly isolated from their peers and their social support system. The leader of the organization, the business owner or director of a dance company is more frequently than not “lonely at the top” and lacking in emotional support and social support from his/her system.
Three factors have been identified in social isolation in high performers:
- Isolation because of increasing leadership demands
- Reduced social support because of increased time commitment to high performance
- Social isolation caused by the constraints of the workplace
Emotional exhaustion and burnout are always more likely in the face of social isolation. It is paradoxical but as the levels of stress increase with the pursuit of excellence the high performer is left alone to deal with failure, loss, and all other emotional challenges. Interventions designed to help people improve the quality of their immediate and general support system can not only improve the quality of life but diminish the risks that result from social isolation.
Overtraining and Burnout
There are important differences between overtraining and burnout. Burnout is defined as a stress reaction syndrome that includes symptoms of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and lack of development. Overtraining syndrome was first a term utilized in sports to describe decreased performance outcomes and stress-related symptoms (both physical and psychological). Psychologically speaking overtraining syndrome leads to depression, low frustration tolerance, and anger that can ultimately lead to the end of an individual’s career. The primary distinction between burnout and overtraining is that burnout leads to a loss of motivation while overtraining syndrome is more likely the issue when the person continues motivated to train or work hard but has a diminished ability to perform and struggles with physical and emotional symptoms.
Injuries occur in sports and business failures with their concomitant emotional issues are their equivalent. Factors that influence the process of “getting back on your feet” have been identified:
- The emotional perception of the injury (physical or business failure)
- Working thru the losses of aspects of one’s identity
- The loss of one’s social support network
- Fears about the process of resuming one’s baseline level of functioning and the uncertainty regarding the future.
- The loss of confidence in one’s ability to achieve again
- Anxieties about potential reinjury after one’s return to the sport or work responsibilities.
Knowing that injury adjustment and recovery does not happen without strong negative emotions is important. The support of a psychologist can be very significant in the process as it can aid in normalizing the suffering and uncertainty. The process is often long and knowing what to anticipate at each stage can enhance your chances of success.
Reference: Lavallee and Andersen In “Performance Psychology In Action”, Hays K., 2012
Retirement from athletic pursuits or high-level careers involves making the difficult decision to retire and then a complex adjustment process that requires adjustments of both personal identity and social identity as well as changes in the social support system of the individual.
The reasons and timing for the decision to retire are often grouped into two broad categories:
- Non-selection: the athlete or executive does not “make the cut” to the position that they were seeking.
- Career-Ending Injury or Business Failure
- Developmental Stage