Dealing with Burnout in Business

What Causes Business Burnout?

Being an entrepreneur is a stressful job and places many unique pressures on business owners that traditional employees don’t experience. For many business owners, these challenges aren’t often understood by their peers, family, and friends, and other business owners may be reluctant or embarrassed to admit that their business is burning them out. These factors contribute to a stigma faced amongst entrepreneurs. 

Even so, burnout in business is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, burnout has been classified as an occupational phenomenon by the World Health Organization since 2019 and is included in the WHO’s International Classification of Diseases. While it’s not a medical condition, burnout syndrome is caused by severe chronic workplace stress and has symptoms similar to depression. 

Burnout can have many causes, depending on the occupation and unique stresses that role faces in the workplace. For entrepreneurs, the US Chamber of Commerce has identified four primary burnout triggers: obsessive passion, social isolation, constant uncertainty, and overworking. These triggers result in burnout because:

  • An unhealthy obsession with one’s work can lead to feelings of dissatisfaction. Obsessive passion is fueled by the desire to obtain money, social status, or other reward. In comparison, healthy passion is driven by a true love for one’s work that makes an entrepreneur feel more fulfilled.
  • Business owners often may feel isolated, whether it’s because of long work hours or a weak or missing support system. Social isolation reduces the ability to think creatively and limits exposure to unique viewpoints.
  • Uncertainty often can increase stress and exacerbate burnout, especially for entrepreneurs. As business owners have a lot on the line, like the success of their business and financial security, this can be a significant worry. 
  • Entrepreneurs are prone to overworking themselves, often working late hours and long days. However, constantly overworking means you’re not taking enough time to relax. This can negatively impact your body, resulting in exhaustion and low energy levels.

How Many Business Owners Are Burned Out?

If you’re struggling with burnout, it’s easy to feel like you’re alone. However, according to small business burnout statistics obtained in a survey of 300 entrepreneurs, 63% report feeling burnt out

While burnout is not a phenomenon reserved for entrepreneurs, it is more common because they are often required to wear many hats in the day-to-day operations of their business while also being directly responsible for the growth and success of the business. Burnout is driven by many factors, but the most predominant include financial concerns, work-life balance, and day-to-day stress. 

What are the Five Symptoms of Burnout?

Some stress is a normal part of life, but when it becomes unmanageable and takes a toll on all aspects of life and your health, it’s a problem. But how do you tell if you are burned out? There are five primary burnout symptoms to keep watch out for. 

  1. Fatigue: There’s tiredness, and then there’s extreme tiredness accompanying burnout. If you’re fatigued, it might feel harder to get out of bed in the morning, it may be difficult to complete routine tasks, and it can feel impossible to make it through the day. No matter how much you sleep, you might not feel refreshed and keep fighting an overwhelming urge to go back to sleep.
  2. Dissatisfaction: We all have days where we don’t want to go to work, but if this feeling and mindset never goes away, that could be a sign of burnout. An even more telling sign is that you feel dissatisfied with the work you’re doing.
  3. Headaches: When you’re experiencing burnout, a common symptom is tension headaches. These headaches are often triggered by stress and lack of sleep and feel like a tight band around the head. 
  4. Changes in habits: Burnout can cause changes to your sleep and eating habits. For example, you might get less sleep than usual or reach for more unhealthy foods. Much of our daily lives rely on the habits we’ve developed over our lifetimes, so significant changes to these patterns can be a sign that you’re feeling burned out.
  5. Mental health: Burnout is not a medical condition, but can share many symptoms with depression or anxiety. And, if burnout is left to spiral further out of control, it could eventually evolve into more serious mental health concerns. Fortunately, burnout often begins to dissipate if you’re able to disconnect from your job. 

What Happens in the Body During Burnout?

Burnout is an extreme state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion. For the average person, it’s relatively easy to recover from a singular stressful day. However, when the stress becomes chronic, the effect it has on the body worsens.

After a week of constant stress, elevated cortisol levels are likely to interfere with sleep patterns. Sleep is important for maintaining a healthy body, so after a week of insufficient sleep, you may feel like you have a foggy memory, you’re more prone to getting sick, and maybe you’ve put on a little weight. 

After a month of stress, your body will continue to feel its effects. This stress can be presented as changes to your appetite, irritability, and feelings of anxiety. Some people also may experience gut issues and hair loss. As the duration of stress continues to increase, your feelings of burnout may continue to worsen. You might lose enjoyment in activities you normally like doing, feel pessimistic, or find it difficult to go to work in the morning. 

In worst-case scenarios, chronic stress can also lead to joint pain, arthritis, and high blood pressure (increasing your risk for heart attack and stroke). If you’re feeling like burnout is setting in, it’s important to identify strategies that help to keep your body feeling its best. 

Can You Work Through Burnout?

The short answer is yes, you can work through burnout. After all, it may not always be possible to take some time away from the office. However, this doesn’t mean not dealing with entrepreneur burnout. 

One of the first things you can do–without taking time off–is to establish boundaries. While it can be hard to set boundaries, especially when it comes to your business, it is an important practice to get used to. For example, be strict about your working hours–don’t check your email or take calls in the evenings, during the weekend, or on holidays (unless it’s an absolute emergency). This will let you unwind without work-related distractions during your time away from the office, while you can use this time to prioritize what’s important to you, like family, friends, or hobbies. 

If you’re feeling disconnected from your work, think about what inspired you to begin your business. Think about what you enjoy and what brings you passion, which can give you a more positive outlook on your career. 

As an entrepreneur, your identity may have become intertwined with your role within your business. This could be contributing to your burnout, especially if how well the business is doing has a direct impact on your personal life. If this is the case, try to find ways that allow you to disconnect from the job. If you’re over-investing yourself in your business, ask someone close to you to help keep you accountable and let you know if they notice you pulling away from your personal life. 

These practices can help you build a healthier relationship with your business by decreasing stress and taking weight off your shoulders. 

Can You Recover From Burnout Without Quitting Your Job?

Traditional employees who may be burned out can just quit their jobs if they feel the situation requires it. For entrepreneurs, this isn’t an option–you can’t just quit owning a business, especially if you have employees and customers who rely on you. 

Fortunately, beating burnout at work is possible. As mentioned in the previous section, you can begin to recover from burnout by setting boundaries, reframing your mindset, and separating your identity from your work. Here are some additional things you can do to recover without quitting. 

  1. Don’t forget self-care: With a busy schedule, it might feel like you don’t have any time to focus on yourself. This may be one of the factors contributing to burnout. Make an effort to implement self-care practices, whether that’s journaling, getting in some exercise, or making sure you get enough sleep at night. 
  2. Stay social: When your focus is on growing your business, it can be easy to fall behind in your social life. However, spending time with family and friends is an excellent way to reduce stress and spend time with people you enjoy being around. If you don’t feel like there’s enough time, try carving out dedicated time that you can use for this purpose. 
  3. Get a change of scenery: If you’re always working in the same place, don’t be afraid to change things up. For example, you could spend some time getting work done at a cafe or go to a different location in your office. 

How to Avoid Burnout as an Entrepreneur

Since some of the factors contributing to entrepreneur fatigue are unique, there are some additional strategies that entrepreneurs can employ to avoid burnout in the future. 

First, business owners should stop multitasking. According to an article published by the US Chamber of Commerce, multitasking can cause increased levels of stress and decreased performance. Many people think multitasking will help them get more done in less time, but it often has negative repercussions.

Next, business owners should remember to delegate tasks. While it’s easy to feel like you need to take care of everything, it’s not possible to do everything yourself. Delegate tasks to employees or outsource to free up time for important decision-making and business development, or just make sure you have time to dedicate to taking care of yourself. 

Another component of avoiding burnout is staying organized in your personal and professional lives. This can help you keep track of things with the highest priority, ensure you have enough time to take care of responsibilities, and enable more control over your time. 

Lastly, you’ll want to surround yourself with the right people. This may be a support network of like-minded entrepreneurs who understand the struggles of owning and running a business. This approach will help you learn from other entrepreneurs, turn challenges into opportunities, and be held accountable. 

If building this type of support system sounds like it would be the right fit for you, 3to5 Club is a collaborative learning group for serious business owners and entrepreneurs. 3to5 Club seeks to connect like-minded entrepreneurs and provide guidance that empowers them to rediscover their passion for their business, the tools needed to make more money in less time, and the support needed for entrepreneur burnout recovery. 

Is Burnout the Same Thing as Depression?

On the surface, there are some clear similarities when comparing burnout vs. depression. Despite some overlap, burnout is not the same thing as depression. Burnout is classified as an occupational phenomenon, while depression is a clinical diagnosis. 

With both burnout and depression, you may feel fatigued, have trouble focusing, sleep too much or too little, or even notice changes to your appetite. However, one of the most important differentiators between the two is that burnout gets better when you remove yourself from work–taking a vacation or a day off often begins to alleviate symptoms of burnout.

In contrast, depression doesn’t usually get better when you place yourself in another situation. And with burnout, you might not have the energy to do things you usually enjoy, but with depression, you might not find these activities enjoyable at all. According to a psychology professor at Kent State University, burnout can also be a risk factor for depression. 

If you find yourself struggling with burnout, it could be beneficial to speak with a mental health provider you feel comfortable talking to. They can help you identify healthy coping strategies to help you overcome burnout. They’ll also be able to assess whether the feelings you have are just burnout or if you’re dealing with something more complex like depression or anxiety. 

While dealing with burnout is complex, it is not impossible. Fortunately, there are many simple ways that you can begin to overcome the burnout you’re experiencing and regain control over your life.