Dr. Shannan Crawford with a group of women talking about anxiety

Burnout and Anxiety Can Be a Blessing For High-Achievers

Dr. Shannan Crawford, founder/CEO of Crawford Clinics, walks through the three ways anxiety can help you and make you stronger, as listed in this article from Time. She also explains how burnout and anxiety can be harnessed positively to be a tool for change for high-achievers.

You can listen to this conversation with Dr. Crawford on our podcast, Work, Love, Pray! Listen below or click here to find your preferred listening platform.

According to David H. Rosmarin in an article on Time, the first way that anxiety can help strengthen you is by building your emotional strength and resilience. Can you explain how that might happen?

Think of it as endurance training. If you never feel stress, anxiety, or challenge, that’s actually not good for you. We had generations of people who said ‘we don’t have time for tears, we don’t have time for emotions, that’s a waste of time.’ So the overcompensation we’re seeing in today’s society is people are now going to the other end of the spectrum and resisting even the slightest chance to feel stress or any other negative emotion. The result? We have a rising generation who have not been allowed to have a challenge to fail to get back up. 

This behavior is reducing our grit and fortitude, which also reduces confidence. If we rescue people out of their stress, we’re actually unconsciously communicating that we don’t think they’re capable of handling the situation causing their stress. The result is that the next time that person encounters a stressful situation, their brain will automatically assume that they can’t handle it and then shame kicks in and they will disqualify themselves and switch into striving and trying to make it work.  

One of the best things you can do for yourself as well as for your loved ones is to allow scaffolding. This means you’re still being supported, but it’s also being implied that you’ve got this. Recently I was talking with a TV network about pitching a show and I had this moment of panic before I went. So I did an internal board meeting and discovered some shame and thinking of, ‘What if it doesn’t work out?’ Then I heard another part of me say, ‘But you do hard things all the time, Shannan. If it doesn’t work out, at least you tried.’

People who are most effective in life are the ones that have been exposed to hard things. They keep persevering with passion in one direction and they don’t give up. That grit comes through repeated exposure to anxiety, fear, dread, overwhelm, and still ‘doing it’ anyway.  

The Bible says don’t put your pearls before swine. We have to be really careful. Not everyone is going to be a good steward of your thoughts, heart, and emotions. You want to choose your community wisely. Not everyone gets to have the treasures of your heart, because they are vulnerable. But if you don’t share with anyone, you are creating a deficit, and then that lack of comfort or reassurance of being deeply and profoundly known will drive behavior toward comfort-seeking, like over-eating or over-drinking, or other harmful coping. 

Plan ahead and actually pray into who your trusted three to five people are. If you’re an introvert, your trusted community might be one or two people. If you’re an extrovert, it might be more than five! Really vet how each potential person stewards their own emotions. Are they a good secret keeper? Are they going to honor and protect your heart?

Then, you want to be intentional to ask permission to build that level of depth of connection with your trusted people. The goal is for you to feel seen, known, and unconditionally loved by someone who can say, ‘Hey, that’s normal. I’ve felt like that before.’ The other day, I was in a meeting, and somebody was giving me really hard feedback. I put my little walls up to protect myself and went very blank face and tried to be professional and adult…and it did not go well. The person who was giving me the feedback knows me well and actually said, ‘Wow, I really feel like I’m on the outside of your walls. I feel like our connection just went out the window.’ So we paused and I was able to process the emotion with a healthy, safe, appropriate person, get a couple tears out, and say, ‘I’m overwhelmed. This is hard to hear.’ And the person validated how I felt and reminded me that it was a normal reaction to feel this way.

Just like that, I came back online and we were able to finish that all-day meeting and it was productive and wonderful. Now, I’m not saying to cry at work to your subordinates. I’m not saying to just let your emotions have free rein by any means. But I am saying that in appropriate spaces, when you are open in healthy relationship and you diffuse the stress, you get that cortisol out of your system and you just take a moment to breathe and acknowledge. When you do that with yourself and with the Lord and trusted humans, everything gets released out of your system. 

I’m an entrepreneur and if you know anything about that mindset, we want to do 12 different dreams at the exact same time. There is something so beautiful about knowing your strengths, but knowing your strength can also often be your blind spot. For example, high achievers know that achievement is their thing. They will lean into that and because they haven’t experienced failure in that area of their life, they often don’t know to cry out to God for help in that area. Then, they might experience a season where it’s suddenly not working for them anymore and they wonder why there isn’t more traction.

I highly encourage entrepreneurs to stay visionary but also to take a step back and say, ‘Hey Lord, I don’t know that I’ve ever submitted this strength to you.’ We all have strength and weakness. We will overcompensate and rely on an area that we’re naturally good at it and then pretend like other areas aren’t a problem. For instance, I had one client who was really high-achiever, brilliant, loved her checklist, but really struggled to admit that she was actually really scared and overwhelmed as a mom.Because she didn’t think she was doing motherhood well, she began to overcompensate. She would buy her child things, she tried to spend time with them, but she could still tell their hearts weren’t connecting. 

When we started doing work to restore her self-cohesion, she was able to connect and realize that because her child was the same age she was when something significant happened in her own life, she was actually avoiding something in herself by avoiding that time period in her child’s life. Because she did the internal work, she saw that she was creating an emotional distance to actually distance from something that happened inside of her that she hadn’t worked through.

She was able to honor her daughter and acknowledge that she hadn’t been able to connect with her. The little girl cried and hugged her mom for the first time in a really long time. Her daughter had thought that her mom’s distance meant that there was something she didn’t like about her anymore. Because my client was always so preoccupied and leaning into her workaholism, she didn’t realize that mindset was keeping her from being present with an area of weakness. 

I love this article’s author’s point that anxiety actually is helpful in rebalancing. Think of a check engine light going off. As entrepreneurs, business women, mothers, we’re juggling so many things. It’s easy to try to ignore that check engine light instead of pausing to acknowledge it and even say, ‘God, thank you for this anxiety. Thank you for this panic attack. Thank you for this feeling of dread or foreboding that I don’t want to go to work tomorrow. Thank you for drawing that into my awareness so that I can go into Your presence and start figuring out where I haven’t honored and acknowledged what I need.

When we take that time to do an internal health checkup, we can create systems and processes, and realign our life. That’s what I’ve been able to do as an entrepreneur. Burnout is a blessing. Anxiety fatigue is actually intel that you need to take things back to the Lord to find where you’re out of alignment, or running in your own strengths. When that mental shift happens, no matter what your strength is, you recalibrate and then have more work-life balance, show up more rested and refreshed because you’re not adding anything else to your life. You’re actually able to scale down and learn to say no, so that you can give your best yes to the key people and key roles that God has assigned you to steward in this season. 

Dr. Shannan Crawford

Highly respected licensed clinical psychologist, Dr. Shannan Crawford, founder/CEO of Crawford Clinics a holistic psychotherapy practice with a highly vetted and trained team of mental health counselors who collaborate to provide life transforming psychotherapy for individuals, couples, families, and organizations.

Earning her doctorate in clinical psychology from Regent University, and post-doctoral fellowship in psychoanalysis and Christian integration from BIPACT, Dr. Crawford has leveraged her 20-years studying the breadth of psychotherapy approaches and inner healing models, to innovate the Restoring-Self-Cohesion (RSC) model.

Amidst a society in chaos in which mental health issues are escalating at unprecedented rates, Dr. Crawford passionately equips leaders to learn how to cultivate their internal world to reproduce healthy ecosystems in their external world. As a thought leader interviewed on various media outlets. As an adjunct professor, as a conference speaker, and as an executive coach shares her expertise with the goal of investing in cultivating healthy leadership that translates into thriving economy, family, and culture.  

As the podcast host of Unlock U with Dr. Shannan Crawford, she engages thought leaders on curated topics designed to help leaders and influencers thrive emotionally, relationally, spiritually, and vocationally,

Dr. Crawford also serves on many philanthropic boards including Untrafficked, an anti-human-trifficking organization based out of Washington D.C.