I know a thing or two about entrepreneur burnout, unfortunately.
I remember it like it was yesterday. It was March 2016, and I had been letting work pile up and didn’t have any energy or passion to get things done. Then, one morning, I woke with intense chest pains and was having what I thought was a heart attack. I was getting ready to go to the emergency room when I finally settled down enough that I called my primary care physician instead.
I saw my doctor that day and after about 15 minutes of listening to my symptoms and getting some details about my business, she plainly said, “I think you are just burnt out and having panic attacks from trying to do it all anyway.”
Say what? I thought only incredibly successful people or entrepreneurs who were failing miserably suffered from burnout.
I was wrong!
Burnout can happen to anyone, at any stage of their entrepreneurial journey.
Alas, her instructions were clear — take a break, keep an eye on my symptoms, and try to alleviate future stress or I’d end up with more health issues.
I don’t want you to suffer from entrepreneur burnout, my friend! That’s why in this post I’ll be sharing ways to recognize burnout, and some solutions you can use to squash it or even avoid burnout entirely.
How to recognize symptoms of entrepreneur burnout and what to do
The first step towards avoiding burnout is recognizing the symptoms. In this guide, we’ll be reviewing the following topics to help you spot the signs of burnout and how to resolve it:
- What is entrepreneur burnout?
- Signs and symptoms of entrepreneur burnout.
- Don’t try to deal with entrepreneur burnout alone.
- Solutions for and prevention of entrepreneur burnout.
- Find your passion again.
- Look at why you have burnout by pinpointing resentments.
- Start a stress journal to track what triggers stress.
- Delegate tasks that take away from personal time.
- Outsource difficult or stressful chores or maintenance.
- Keep physically fit.
- Set a schedule and stick to it allowing for time off.
- Don’t do work associated tasks after hours.
- Unplug and reduce screen time.
- Reassess your goals and create a personal mission statement.
- Learn to say no.
- Practice positive thinking.
- Take a vacation or leave of absence.
- Bottom line: Entrepreneur burnout is preventable and does have a cure.
Let’s jump in.
What is entrepreneur burnout?
The National Library of Medicine defines burnout as follows:
“The term ‘burnout’ was coined in the 1970s by the American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger. He used it to describe the consequences of severe stress and high ideals in ‘helping’ professions.”
By Dr. Freudenberger’s logic, entrepreneur burnout can be defined as the consequences of severe stress in working for yourself. Some people have referred to it as being overwhelmed by their businesses. Others have simply called it exhaustion and boredom with their business and feeling the need to do all the things because there’s no one else to wear all the hats.
However, the definition that I prefer is that of the World Health Organization (WHO) that describes burnout as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”
The WHO said we can recognize burnout by these three characteristics:
- Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion.
- Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job.
- Reduced professional efficacy.
When we are burnt out, it’s hard to enjoy being the owner of the business.
In fact, it’s sometimes difficult to get anything done. We can find ourselves not doing the things on our to-do list, even when they are pressing, simply because we don’t have any energy or passion left to give to our companies.
Signs and symptoms of entrepreneur burnout
Are you suffering from entrepreneur burnout? Check out this list of possible red flags, and if more than a few apply to you, that answer might be yes. Signs and symptoms include, but aren’t limited to:
Neglecting basic needs
Think poor nutrition (if you remember to eat at all) or a lack of good sleep habits. Perhaps you’re even neglecting your hygiene (skipping showers and wearing the same clothes for several days, anyone?).
Problems are dismissed
Glaring errors on your website and in your blogging copy that you don’t even care to fix, bills that go unpaid, invoices you don’t send out, emails left unanswered, etc. These issues can build up and leave customers unhappy and your business looking sloppy or disorganized.
Your work is no longer your best work, no matter how hard you try. It can feel like you’re forever treading water, trying to keep your head above water.
You haven’t had a new idea since the last presidential election. New or innovative ideas that might have come easily to you previously are no longer flowing.
Revision of values
This can mean a number of things such as no longer caring about your clients, doing things cheaper even if the quality drops, outsourcing to less-than-credible contractors just to get the work out of your hair, etc.
For example, let’s say one of your company values has always been to be as energy-efficient as possible. When you’re suffering from burnout, caring about the planet may no longer matter to you.
All those networking events you signed up for in the past, you stop attending. You start saying no to every invitation to coffee, lunch or dinner. You even avoid meetings with clients every chance you get.
Behavioral changes, cynicism, aggression
You used to be so happy and now everything annoys you. You get upset and fly off the handle at vendors, team members and even clients.
You feel more like a cog in a wheel than the person running the show. Or you feel completely disconnected from everything, and don’t even feel like it’s your business anymore.
Feeling empty inside
There’s just a void that can’t be filled. Activities that used to motivate or excite you aren’t fulfilling anymore.
Depression, emotional exhaustion, unable to cope
You may have prided yourself previously on being unshakeable, but now you feel down and out despite your best attempts.
You can barely formulate a sentence, let alone compose an email. Your brain just feels, for lack of a better word, broken.
You get sick, you can’t get out of bed and/or every action feels like it will take more effort than ever before.
Don’t try to deal with entrepreneur burnout alone
I’m going to pause here for a moment and say that if you’re feeling the extreme symptoms of entrepreneur burnout, you may want to talk to someone. A counselor, a confidant, a therapist, a mentor — someone, anyone, who can help you through this period.
As entrepreneurs, it is far too common to try to be the superhero in our business.
The part of our DNA that makes us passionate and hardworking often blinds us into believing if we are capable of doing something required to grow our business, then it is our responsibility to make sure it gets done.
As entrepreneurs, passion and vision drive us at first to an advantage — but eventually our mental and physical limitations catch up with us.
The fact is, we all have a limited pool of cognitive resources. As stress levels increase, symptoms like these can begin to appear that are detrimental to our business, and to our own mental and emotional health.
Far too many entrepreneurs I’ve met over the years have felt the feelings like those mentioned above and don’t get the help they need. I’ve personally talked to a therapist many times in the past because — let’s face it — sometimes entrepreneurship can be hard, and damn lonely. But it doesn’t mean you have to deal with the hard times alone!
Related: How to find a mentor
Solutions for and prevention of entrepreneur burnout
All right. So you now have a pretty good understanding of what entrepreneur burnout is, and what it looks like. How can you squash it? Or better yet, prevent it from coming back entirely?
The truth is, it may still creep up on you despite your best efforts.
Below are some ideas that may help you get rid of it quickly or keep it from returning. This is far from an exhaustive list, but I hope it inspires you nonetheless!
Find your passion again
Think back to the early days of when you started your business, and what got you excited enough to start it in the first place. Consider the people that you wanted to help.
Perhaps that is all you need to spark yourself up again.
Look at why you have burnout by pinpointing resentments
When you get really honest with yourself, you might find that an incredibly easy “fix” will squash your burnout. For example, if all of your stress and frustration is resulting from one client, you may find you need to fire them. Yep! Let them go so you can have your life back.
Or perhaps you’re just bogged down with the mundane tasks that don’t light you up, and you need to hire help. Maybe doing your taxes or sending invoices drives you bananas. Someone else can manage that for you!
Start a stress journal to track what triggers stress
Stress is a big contributor to entrepreneur burnout, and the act of writing it down is sometimes all it takes to stop it dead in its tracks. If not, it could at least provide you with a record that shows you a pattern of issues you can act on to prevent problems in the future.
Delegate tasks that take away from personal time
Being an entrepreneur doesn’t mean you lose your personal life. Or at least it shouldn’t mean that. If this means you need an assistant or answering service to handle calls so you can catch a movie, hire one!
Automate mundane tasks as well. If there is something you do frequently that bores you to tears, look into software solutions that might give you the ability to automate it and practically forget it.
Outsource difficult or stressful chores or maintenance
You are not a superhero. Stop trying to act like one. Anything that doesn’t have to be done by you should be done by someone else.
Reserve your energy for the things that keep you excited about and focused on your business.
Keep physically fit
This one might come as a shock, but allowing your body to get out of shape is directly related to many cases of entrepreneur burnout. You need a good exercise regimen, a healthy diet, plenty of sleep and plenty of water to stay hydrated.
When we are taking care of our physical bodies, that is often all we need to keep our minds and emotions in check.
Set a schedule and stick to it allowing for time off
Just because people have access to your website 24 hours a day, seven days a week, doesn’t mean you have to be working all the time.
You need to take time away from your business.
Beginning and ending your workday at the same time each day helps our body “predict” when it’s time to work and time to rest. It’s also important to be incredibly tight with your schedule.
Put everything in your calendar, including break times, and time off work so you will stick to it. This will allow you to establish a rhythm. This is ultimately better for your physical, emotional and mental health.
As great as it is to be an entrepreneur driven to create a successful business, there’s a lot more to life.
Don’t do work associated tasks after hours
While this is incredibly hard for passionate entrepreneurs to do, you need to force yourself not to do things like checking email and taking business calls after the work hours you designate for yourself.
First, if you allow people to reach you at all hours, they will try to do so. Second, if you start working in your off time, you might not stop until you reach the point of exhaustion.
Editor’s note: Tired of taking calls after hours? Avoid burnout and get a second phone line on your smartphone with GoDaddy’s SmartLine and only get business calls during your set working hours.
Unplug and reduce screen time
Trust me on this. As difficult as it might seem, you need time away from your electronics. If you can’t shut it off during non-work hours, at least turn it off an hour before bed. Give yourself time to wind down before you go to sleep.
Reassess your goals and create a personal mission statement
When you get to this solution, you may find that your business isn’t the one you want to be in anymore. If that’s the case, know that it’s OK.
You have the right to pivot and/or start over entirely.
Figure out what you want most, write it down, and then do more of that.
Learn to say no
Saying no is okay. And it’s better than saying yes, only to bail out at the last minute or deliver lackluster results. I highly recommend reading this post from Mind Body Green on why to say no more often.
You don’t have to say yes every time!
Practice positive thinking
Focus on the positive aspects of your business. Think about how amazing it is that you get to work for yourself.
Remember how lucky you are to get to call the shots and be the boss.
This may sound kind of cheesy, but the best advice I’ve heard is to reframe the way you think of your business from “have to” to “get to.” When you start thinking about all the things you get to do in your business, instead of all the things you have to do, you feel much more empowered and less likely to feel burnt out.
You don’t have to study transcendental meditation or take a vow of silence to make this work. Simply sit quietly and breathe deeply for a few minutes a few times every day.
Use an app, or head to YouTube and find one of many hundreds of free guided meditations. The short mental break could be all you need to come out of your funk.
Take a vacation or leave of absence
Entrepreneurs get paid for problem-solving and creativity, and as counterproductive as it seems, the secret to turning your business (and life) around might be as simple as slowing down.
Taking time off is often the best way to relieve stress and recharge your batteries, so you can return to your business with the ability to be more creative and productive.
Build yourself a burnout prevention fund that you can tap into to take time off.
Just as you might set aside money to cover your expenses if you were to feel physically unwell, make sure you have the money to manage a time when you might feel mentally drained. Having savings gives you a buffer to choose not to take on new work, to hire someone to fill in for you, or to try out something new.
Bottom line: Entrepreneur burnout is preventable and does have a cure
We’ve covered a lot here today. If you take nothing else away from this post, please remember this:
Happy and healthy business owners create better businesses.
As stress symptoms start to increase, our businesses tend to suffer.
With a little planning, taking better care of yourself, hiring some help, and focusing on the things that got you excited about your business in the first place, hopefully, you can keep entrepreneur burnout at bay.
If you are already struggling with symptoms of burnout, try some of the solutions mentioned in this post. Your business is important to the world, but your health is even more important.
Your first priority must always be to take care of yourself first so you’ll have the passion and ability to give your best to your business.