Running a business or working a job comes with a certain amount of expected stress that can range from impatience, lack of focus, to fatigue. However, entrepreneurs, who often work extreme hours with intense focus, are at special risk of something more severe than stress: burnout.
A 2016 study in the journal Burnout Research characterizes burnout as physical, mental and emotional exhaustion. Further, they find that burnout has been linked with a variety of bodily complaints, cardiovascular and musculoskeletal diseases and a reduction in job satisfaction, performance, creativity and innovation. In essence, burnout is the enemy of a productive business and a healthy individual.
However, there are signs and symptoms of burnout that you can learn to look for both on the moderate side of burnout, and the acute side.
People in or on the verge of burnout are often so fatigued all the time that even pleasant activities or welcome responsibilities can feel like burdens.
Jane Scudder, a Chicago-based certified leadership, personal development and career transition coach says the first sign of burnout can be avoiding things you want to do.
"When an ambitious and busy client regularly reschedules sessions, I know something is up," Scudder says. She will ask her clients gentle questions about what's going on in their lives to find out the culprit.
YOU DON'T STOP
While productivity is often praised as a positive business asset, barely stopping to rest or break is a red flag for heading straight into burnout. "If you can't recall the last real moment of real down time you gave yourself, that means you're due for some," Scudder insists.
YOU FEEL NUMB OR UNEMOTIONAL
Burnout is often characterized by emotional exhaustion that can transform into depression or even a kind of numbness, but the truth is that you are often sitting on a volcano of emotion that you think you don't have time to feel. "The reality is you do have time," Scudder says. "Those mental conversations…in which you proclaim that you don't have time to stop are actually taking up the time you should be using to stop."
LACK OF JOY OR PLEASURE IN YOUR WORK
One of the most common signs of burnout is that you find you've lost or are losing the spark of passion, enthusiasm or excitement that once motivated your every decision. If you can't bear to get out of bed and get started, if the idea of going into the office fills you with dread, if the product or service you're creating seems pointless, you may be suffering burnout.
If you ignore those first few signs, you may find yourself debilitated by burnout, not only in your entrepreneurial life, but in your personal relationships and hobbies, too, says Shanna A. Jefferson, a MSW, LCSW, a mental health therapist and entrepreneur based in Atlanta, Georgia.
YOU BECOME DEPRESSED
Jefferson says that it's normal for entrepreneurs to experience bouts of depression, particularly as aspects of the work can be isolating, and require extreme outputs of creativity and energy. "They are often used to the mentality of 'time is money,' which often deprives them of sleep, leisure, exercise, and other activities that could lift them out of a depressive state," she explains.
The problem is that untreated depression can become clinical depression, requiring medical intervention. "Entrepreneurs often try to cover up their depressive state by opting to work more extended hours," she points out, which aggravates everything.
YOU STRUGGLE WITH YOUR SELF-WORTH
"Many entrepreneurs' self-worth is closely linked to their net-worth," Jefferson says. "When they are experiencing a boom in their business, their self-esteem will also be boosted accordingly. However, when they encounter the downside of the industry, and they couldn't meet up with their targets, they become so demoralized, and they struggle for identity."
This can be a set-up for a mental health crisis, she warns.
YOU STRUGGLE WITH ANXIETY
Entrepreneurs face a whole lot of pressure on a daily basis. "[Stress] could come in different forms, such as your plan to service a particular debt, and it rests on your ability to win a contract bid. It could even be a fame-related pressure, whereby you are trying to find a way to balance it with your busy work schedule. All this could lead to heightened anxiety." Jefferson points out that anxiety left unchecked for an extended period will eventually lead to burnout
STEPS TO PREVENT OR RECOVER FROM BURNOUT:
Let go of toxic people, places, and beliefs.
Jefferson urges you to take a good, hard look around and see who in your life does not support you, drags you down, or contributes negativity not conducive to your growth. "You must get rid of what you don't want to get what you deserve," she insists.
The most basic advice becomes lifesaving for those in or near burnout: "Put up your 'Do not disturb' sign. Unplug from social media. Unplug from your cell phone. Unplug from technology. Take at least 15 minutes each day to unplug," Jefferson says.
Fuel your body
Do you run on carbs and caffeine? When was the last time you ate a vegetable? Consider if you're tending to the most important vehicle that makes all of your work possible: your body. Burnout is notorious for sapping your energy stores, and if you're not replenishing them with healthy food, adequate water and sleep, this is only going to drag you down.
Research on exercise makes a compelling case as an intervention on stress. Exercise improves cardiovascular health, which improves energy and general well being. It improves cognitive functioning, which can lead to improved productivity. It improves mood, which can help with anxiety and depression. "Exercise is beneficial for your physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being," Jefferson says. "Commit to exercising at least 30 minutes, 5 days [per week]."
Seek professional help
Lastly, if other interventions aren't working to prevent or heal burnout, don't be afraid to turn to professional help. "Mental health professionals can assist entrepreneurs in addressing an array of presenting symptoms contributing to burnout and provide therapeutic support to facilitate an improvement in level of functioning," Jefferson says.