Avoiding Burnout as an ISFJ personality type

Clinically Reviewed by Steven Melendy, PsyD. on August 14, 2017

Isn’t it strange how the finest qualities of someone’s personality can become their biggest challenge in life? Consider the ISFJ personality type as an example.

In general, ISFJs are hardworking, cautious, and loyal protectors. They take their responsibilities seriously and they keep their commitments. A job well-done is important to them, and they pay attention to details, making sure all the bases are covered. They care for their loved ones deeply and work hard to make sure their needs are met, while striving for harmony in their relationships.

All are wonderful qualities. Yet, when out of balance, these qualities create the perfect storm for burnout. An ISFJ can work too hard and worry too much, feeling the weight of the world resting firmly on her shoulders. She might even suppress her own thoughts and feelings to please others.

As a strong ISFJ personality type, I know how exhausted that can leave you and how it can stop you from enjoying the present, which is often oh-so-hard for an ISFJ to do. As a cautionary note, the ISFJ is among the types most likely to experience heart disease and is more likely than average to experience chronic pain.

Balance is Best

Regardless which personality type you are, balance is best. In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (a personal favorite of mine), Dr. Stephen Covey discusses the need for balance in our lives. The seventh habit, “Sharpen the Saw,” recommends taking time for self-renewal; by doing so, you “increase your capacity to produce and handle the challenges around you.”

As important as balance is, it’s the hardest of the seven habits for me to follow. This year, I’ve felt the effects of a life lived out of balance, going and going until I drop into a heap of exhaustion.

Maybe it’s because I’m approaching the big “4-0” and a little life reflection is inevitable. Maybe it’s seeing the worry lines show up on my forehead. Or maybe it’s because I’m plain worn out and “something’s gotta give.” But it’s time to slow down and make some changes to take care of myself going forward.

If you’re an ISFJ, whether you’re a twenty-something embarking into the world of adult responsibilities or further into life’s journey like me, it’s my hope that you can learn a bit from my experience and that you’ll recognize the tendency for burnout, so you can make some simple changes leading to a happier, healthier, and more balanced life as an ISFJ.

And if you love an ISFJ, it’s my hope that you’ll understand their personality a bit better and be the person who gently encourages them to take a break, take a nap, or have a little fun. Because it doesn’t come naturally to us.

So what can you do to prevent burnout if you’re an ISFJ?

Practice Self-Care

And I do mean practice. Like, you need to get better at it because it’s your job. If you don’t take care of yourself, it eventually catches up with you.

Find little ways to take care of yourself each day.

  • Start simple and build. Be sure to eat a healthy breakfast and take a lunch break each day. Add in a short walk. Keep building upon simple self-care routines.
  • Schedule it. Call a friend and make dinner reservations. Join a class at a fitness center, or sign up for an art class if that’s your thing.
  • Pick a quitting time. Decide on a time of day that you’re finished working, signaling time to rest. It will help to prioritize the tasks that must get done and which ones can wait until tomorrow.
  • Make yourself a priority. That thing you’ve wanted to do forever, but you’re waiting for “enough time,” to do it. Get your nails done, take up a hobby, go fishing, read a good book. Whatever it is to you.
  • Take time for fun and laughter. Laughter is the best cure for stress. Seek a friendship with someone who brings lighthearted moments into your life.

Ditch The Worry and Guilt

It’s easier said than done, I know.

In true ISFJ fashion, my nickname is “Worrywart Williams” for my need to check-up on things. (I promise, it was given to me in the most loving way possible.)

Guilt isn’t far behind. I often feel personally responsible for things that go wrong, whether I truly am or not.

There is a healthy dose of concern and conscience, and then there’s taking it too far. Learning how to manage anxious thoughts is important. They’re exhausting all by themselves.

The weight of the world isn’t on your shoulders, or mine. If something goes wrong, there’s a good chance it isn’t your fault anyway; you take more precautions than the average person, right? If it is, you’re human. Like everyone else in the world, making mistakes is inevitable.

Forgive yourself. Learn from it, and move on.

Let your mind rest.

Set Boundaries and Speak Up

It’s in an ISFJ’s nature to give of themselves to take care of others. It’s also in our nature to keep the peace in relationships. This often makes saying no to requests a challenge, especially if you feel you’ll disappoint someone.

Holding in opinions, or saying yes to a task when you don’t have the time or energy to complete it, builds resentment which leads to stress and contributes to burnout.

Learning to set boundaries and to speak up is good for your health. The book Boundaries, co-authored by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, is a great resource for learning to set boundaries in your life and relationships.

Final Thoughts

For far too long, it’s been my plan to get the work done, then rest, have friends over for game night, or take time for myself. You name it, I’ve been putting it off until the work is finished.

The work is never done.

There is always something more to finish, someone needing something, or someone who isn’t happy, no matter what you do. Taking time to take care of yourself makes you more productive and better able to care for those you love in the long run. Life is too short not to enjoy it a little!

And with that said, I think I’ll take a nap, then get back to work.

Stefanie Williams

Stefanie Williams is a freelance copywriter and decluttering expert. As a wife and mom to five boys and one rowdy princess, maximizing productivity is always on her mind. You can connect with Stefanie at her blog, Streamlined Freelancer, where she explores ways to streamline life and business.

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About the Clinical Reviewer

Steven Melendy, PsyD., is a Clinical Psychologist who received his doctorate from The Wright Institute in Berkeley, California. He specializes in using evidence-based approaches in his work with individuals and groups. Steve has worked with diverse populations and in variety of a settings, from community clinics to SF General Hospital. He believes strongly in the importance of self-care, good friendships, and humor whenever possible.


FsclGirl (not verified) says...

Great post! My mantra has always be "work first, then play." Play never quite seems to come in the doses I had hoped for. Just took my test and I'm an ISFJ, and these posts are providing a lot of "aha" insights. 

Stefanie Williams (not verified) says...

Thank you; I appreciate your comment! "Work first, then play" is generally a great mantra, except maybe for us ISFJs lol! Hopefully you are finding time to play more! I'm working on it...

PeterCarlson (not verified) says...

Hi Stefanie,

Well as an ISFJ male I've read a lot of advice (out there) with a feminine tense or reference. being ISFJ is not really a gender specific trait but Id like to hear your thoughts on what differences there are between ISFJ males and females and what to be aware of. Obviously to help the lower number of ISFJ men out there.



PeterCarlson (not verified) says...

Hi Stefanie,

Advice for an ISFJ male living with ISTJ female please. For example how do deal with the strong similarities and differences of the two types, in general.


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