Social Isolation, Overtraining, Burnout, Injuries and Retirement

Social Isolation

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 often than not 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 the increased time commitment associated with 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 also 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.


When one gets injured in a sport or fails at a business venture, it can be extremely difficult to find the courage to back to doing the thing that you love. Factors that influence the process of getting back to the task at hand have been identified as:

  • The emotional perception of the injury (physical or business failure)
  • Working through the loss 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 of recovery often takes a long time, 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. Once the individual has made the decision to retire, they can expect 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