Feeling Burned Out? Let’s Talk About That

Feeling Burned Out? Let’s Talk About That

Originally written for Chauffeur Driven Magazine by Robyn Goldenberg 

Question: “We have burnout symptoms. We’ve been working harder than we ever have before with fewer resources and for less money at the end. I’m starting to feel like there’s no end in sight, and I am losing interest in pushing forward. I’ve been falling behind with projects. I haven’t felt like working for the past week or so. I have work to do, and I just don’t want to do it. Every task on my plate is making me feel more and more anxious. I feel tired all the time, and I start a lot of things, but then I don’t want to finish them. Maybe I’m just being lazy. Or am I experiencing burnout symptoms? Any advice on how to get past this?”

Answer: Sounds like burnout. And it’s no wonder that business owners are feeling this way. This past year has placed unimaginable stress and pressure on everyone, especially business owners. The uncertainty of what the future holds is scary enough for an average person but includes the additional responsibilities of keeping your business running and making money, managing without enough resources, balancing the company’s needs with family needs, etc., and it’s a lot to handle. And for most business owners, their operation is their number one asset, which they rely on to live—and their families are relying on it too.

“Burnout can come with a lot of symptoms: Often people who are in burnout have trouble concentrating on other things besides the negative.”

What is burnout exactly?

Burnout is common for business owners. Burnout symptoms can include a state where you feel exhausted and lack interest in things that used to make up your life. The result? Job performance declines as well, leading finally towards decreased productivity at work or school – which can have lasting effects on one’s personal relationships if left unchecked long enough! From Dr. David Ballard, the head of the American Psychological Association’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program: “A lot of burnout really has to do with experiencing chronic stress. Sometimes we can’t deal with the stress in our lives because it exceeds what resources are available to us. This leads to burnout, which ruins happiness and health among other things.” Burnout takes over your life, and it can quickly become crippling, so it’s essential to recognize the signs so you can take action before it engulfs you.

How do I know if I am experiencing burnout? What are the signs?

Burnout can come with many symptoms, including feeling exhausted, not being motivated, being frustrated all the time, and feeling pessimistic. Often people in burnout have trouble focusing on anything else besides the negative. When we are stressed, our brains focus on one problem to get it solved. This is a normal reaction and a good way for our brains to work through short bursts of stress. However, when stress becomes chronic, and when we move into burnout, the brain stays focused on that narrow path, which means that we have trouble working on and paying attention to other things.

How does one get to the point of burnout? 

You don’t just go from “everything’s fine” to light stress to burnout overnight; it’s essential to look at these burnout symptoms as early warning signs. Burnout starts with everyday stress. You may notice that some days are more stressful than others, but not worry about it. Typical symptoms of baseline stress include reduced optimism for specific tasks, anxiety, avoiding making decisions, neglecting personal needs, poor sleep, headaches, and irritability. We may encounter and dismiss these things as “normal” but should be monitored.

“Especially in times of extreme stress and burnout, it’s critical that you cultivate a life outside of your company that makes you happy.”

When “normal” stress starts to move into what is typically called chronic stress, you’ll probably start to feel irritated more frequently. Some of the symptoms of chronic stress, which leads to burnout, include aggression, apathy, waking up feeling tired, withdrawal from friends and family, physical symptoms like stomachaches, feeling like things are out of control, and increased caffeine consumption. Take these issues as severe warnings that burnout might be around the corner. At this point, trying to continue like everything is fine becomes almost impossible. You might find that you’ll have chronic headaches and stomach issues, a pessimistic outlook on life/work, self-doubt, escapist behaviors, and mentality, or a lack of desire to do anything, including work and family obligations. Many of these symptoms mirror depression, so don’t wait for things to spiral this far and combat burnout as soon as you recognize the signs.

How do I work through burnout?

The first step is to realize that you are indeed burned out or on the verge of it. There’s nothing wrong with you, and you’re not just “being lazy.” It’s OK to admit that things aren’t OK. Business owners tend to put themselves into silos, where everything sits on your shoulders, like a tent pole holding up the entire operation. This may be especially true as you’ve had to lay off key staff who usually helped with many of these duties. The burden of that responsibility, plus responsibilities and stress outside the office, becomes a lot to handle. You don’t have to sit in your silo and pretend everything is fine. More importantly, it’s OK to ask for help—there’s no shame in it.

If you need someone to help talk you through, there are resources out there. Virtual therapy, done through your phone or computer, has seen massive growth through 2020. Many insurances cover this now, but it’s a cost-effective way to talk to a licensed therapist about your burnout symptoms for those who don’t have insurance coverage.

Find a coach.

Looking for something a little less “head-shrink”? Find a coach. My recommendation would be to find a business coach with an excellent reputation or a life coach who has experience working with business owners. We have been working with our clients throughout COVID to recognize that their feelings are entirely valid while building a plan with action steps to move forward. Find someone who will help you work through these feelings and symptoms, so you don’t sit and dwell on your burnout. Ask for references when engaging a coach, and do your reference calls.

Self-care is important.

More of a do-it-yourself person? That’s OK too. Think about what helps you relax. Some people meditate, do yoga, hike, jam out to their favorite music, read books, knit, create pottery—the options are endless. What really matters is that you choose something enjoyable for you and helps you relax. Once you’ve figured out that, delegate time in your calendar for that. Quite literally, block out time in your schedule to relax. I know it sounds silly, but creating time to focus on relaxing is the only way to build the habit, especially for the time being when you’re lacking the motivation to do even the things you once enjoyed.

Business owners get stuck in work mode where everything revolves around the operation, and this can be a business owner’s biggest helper and their biggest downfall. Especially in extreme stress and burnout, you must cultivate a life outside of your company that makes you happy. That could be working on your hobby, going to the gym, spending dedicated time with friends and family, etc. Find something that allows you to participate in non-business activities and find happiness.

How much are you sleeping? Chronic stress can negatively impact your sleep, whether that’s waking up frequently during the night or full-blown insomnia. Research shows that poor sleep affects productivity, motivation, mental function, and memory. Not to mention that your body actually heals itself during sleep, which is why a sleep schedule is so crucial to athletes. You need proper rest to keep your body and brain healthy. Prioritizing sleep by unplugging from electronics early at night, reducing stimulation (like caffeine) before bed, and setting a regular bedtime schedule can help you get back on track for a refreshing night’s sleep.

Burnout is manageable.

If you are feeling stressed and anxious, it might be because you are not organized. This can lead to forgetfulness and a feeling that you have too many things to do. A way to solve this is to make a task list of what you need to do, prioritize the tasks, and set due dates for goals. We call this a Next Steps List at Strategy Leaders: It is a tool we use not just for our clients but also for our own internal tasks and projects. Don’t try to do too much in a short amount of time. It will only make you more stressed out. Use a system to help you remember what you need to do so that you don’t forget anything. Last year was hard for a lot of people, and that has put a lot of pressure on business owners. But the good news is that it can be treated and managed if you recognize the signs and take steps to work through it. This will allow you to move your business and personal life forward even during the most challenging times.  

 Robyn Goldenberg is Chief Marketing Officer for Strategy Leaders. She can be reached at robyn@strategyleaders.com