The words executive and stress almost go hand in hand these days. Executive professionals face ever-increasing workloads and responsibilities to tighter deadlines and exacting standards. Stress and adrenaline can certainly fuel an executive professional lifestyle – some professionals appear to thrive on it. But it’s important to remember that what we see on the surface can be misleading. People can put across a calm, professional exterior while being in turmoil beneath the facade.
For many professionals, feeling stressed about work is only part of the problem. If your role is very demanding, it can be difficult to leave it at the office (especially as technology means we’re all so easy to contact). It’s a challenge to juggle professional and personal life and it’s not surprising that family and relationships are put under pressure too.

Ultimately, stress can take its toll both mentally and physically. As the effects of stress build up over time, burnout can occur. Burnout manifests itself as exhaustion and is most common amongst executive professionals who are high achievers with a tendency for perfection and control.

Signs and symptoms of burnout

Everyone is different, so there are no hard and fast rules for the signs of stress and burnout. There are however some common symptoms that are seen in executive professionals based in London and beyond. Some of these signs are clear in the professional workplace, where others are far more personal and may only be recognised by the person experiencing burnout or perhaps a family member or friend.

Signs of burnout in the workplace include impatience and irritability. You might also feel low on energy and constantly tired. These feelings can affect your concentration levels while increasing anxiety.
Other symptoms include low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness/helplessness. You might also find it difficult to sleep and feel anxious with racing thoughts when you try to go to bed. It’s also common to lose your appetite or overeat.

Self-medication and addiction

Many professionals relieve the symptoms of stress and burnout by self-medicating with drugs and/or alcohol. This is a growing, widespread problem for executive professionals. This type of self-medication can easily lead to addiction as it becomes an integral part of everyday life. From drinking alcohol to relax and unwind to using cocaine to stay alert and on top of your game, to turning to sleeping pills at bedtime – habits build up over time until it becomes impossible to function without self-medicating.

Cocaine drug use

There’s a strong (and growing) connection between professional life and cocaine. This highly addictive drug is popular with many professionals in financial centres such as the City of London. Over time, cocaine can damage heart muscle and increases the risks of developing psychiatric disorders. It can also lead to poor judgement in decision making with professionals taking reckless risks.

Alcohol addiction

Alcohol can play a significant role in many people’s professional lives. It might literally lubricate lunch meetings with clients and is often used after work to unwind. Eventually, you’ll find yourself needing increasing amounts of alcohol to function and get through the day. This kind of alcohol addiction can lead to liver damage, cancer, depression and all kinds of family/personal problems.

Denial of a problem is widespread within many executive professional communities for both drug and alcohol addiction. Abuse is made normal if others around you are using cocaine or drinking alcohol excessively. It’s easy to say ‘everyone’s doing it – it’s completely normal and part of professional life’.
Rehabilitation for addiction and burnout

If you feel that you’re heading for executive burnout or that addiction is taking control of your life, it’s time to get help and support. Rehabilitation treatment could help you get back on track and there are rehab programmes that treat co-occurring disorders such as burnout, anxiety and depression alongside alcohol and drug addiction.

At Step One Recovery, we take a holistic approach to help you resolve underlying problems and build the strength to manage stress without self-medicating with drugs and alcohol. If there is no addiction to drugs or alcohol, we can treat burnout by tackling anxiety and depression. Whatever the issues, we can tailor our one-to-one treatment programmes to help you build a healthier and productive future.