The entrepreneurial journey comes with its rewards but also its challenges. If you’re reading this, perhaps you’re wondering if the level of stress you’re feeling right now is normal and want to get some answers on how to bounce back out of burnout.
First, let’s see if any of the following statements ring true for you:
If you answered ‘yes’ to any of the above? Then it might be a good indicator that this piece of content is going to bring you some really good value, so read on.
The World Health Organisation defines burnout as “a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”. The official symptoms listed are:
Sounds a lot like those statements you might have related to at the start of this article, right?
There are hundreds of other definitions you can find on Google, but for today I just want to help you focus on recognising your own entrepreneurial burnout and finding a cure that works for you.
I’ve built up and sold four of my own businesses. I’ve also helped build several other start-ups. I’ve experienced the ups and – just as important – the downs of being responsible for a business.
At quite a young age, I was running an events business that hosted up to 30 events per week for up to 20,000 people and two online magazines that were getting over 1 million website visits weekly.
I had a big office and a team of over 40 people.
I was one of Ireland’s most-watched young entrepreneurs, making a list of the top ‘30 under 30’ and winning Ireland’s Best Young Entrepreneur twice.
From the outside, I had it made. But in reality, I had a business that became too big, too soon, and the vital details started falling through the cracks.
I ended up learning—the hard way—that working harder only works for so long, and that awful mental place I arrived at? That’s the land of burnout.
So how do I get back out when I feel myself heading towards that state?
‘Bouncing out of burnout’ is a term I’ve often used for myself. It isn’t a one-off event – life can be unpredictable, particularly for entrepreneurs, and I notice I go through cycles with it quite regularly.
At times I’m on the up, my energy is soaring and life is fantastic. During these times, I get out of bed brimming with enthusiasm for the day. My motivation is at an all-time high. And then there are other times when I can feel things starting to slide downwards. My energy and enthusiasm begin to wane and eventually, my confidence starts to suffer too.
However, no matter how many times I go through this cycle, there’s always a moment when something just ‘clicks’ and I know it’s time to take action. I can trust now that I’ll reach a point where I can say “enough is enough” and decide it’s time to change. I can trace that moment back to my own journal entries, where I can still see the words I might have penned months ago:
“This is the week to bounce out of burnout.”
By recognising signs of burnout in myself, I can sooner reach the turning point that helps me get back to a more positive, balanced state.
When you’re at a low point and feeling a certain level of mental exhaustion, the thought of ‘bouncing back’ from anything might seem overwhelming or, at worst, totally impossible.
This is why it’s important that we look at small, manageable steps we can take and give ourselves permission to pause and reflect. As an entrepreneur, you might find you’re constantly rushing around at a hundred miles an hour without making time for personal reflection.
Here are some simple actions you can take today to help you rediscover the energy and enthusiasm that drove you at the very beginning.
When you’re going through burnout in business, you might find yourself being overly self-critical. These low moments can make you feel vulnerable and you begin to feel like you’re not coping as well as everyone else.
In those moments, it’s natural to doubt yourself or feel ashamed of feeling this way.
But the very first thing I want you to do is to acknowledge that it’s totally normal. We might think that it only happens to some, or that it’s a sign of weakness, but it can actually happen to anyone – even the most successful entrepreneurs. In fact, 92% of small business owners have experienced mental health problems over the last two years.
That’s the vast majority of us. And I hope the fact that burnout is normal brings you some relief.
The key thing is to recognise it: recognise the symptoms and recognise that essentially whatever way you’re living isn’t serving you and it’s actually putting you on a downward trajectory. If you can acknowledge that you need to turn things around (chances are, that if you’re reading this, you’re actually at that point already), you’re now ready to ask yourself: “So, what do I need to do?”
One of the most effective tools that helps me manage burnout is the practice of journaling.
Journaling is one of these fantastic processes that helps us really get present in terms of where we are and what we’re feeling. It gives us the time we need to pause what we’re doing and become reflective.
The conscious act of being in the present moment and zoning in is important. Perhaps you find yourself turning to habits such as overeating or excessive alcohol at the end of a long day, which might mask the symptoms of burnout temporarily but ultimately make you feel worse in the long run.
This time, tell yourself ‘no’ and allow yourself to feel it all. There is wisdom in those feelings. And there are valuable lessons in those feelings that are going to help you navigate out of burnout and back into a state of balance.
And this is exactly why I turn to my journal when I start to notice I’m on a downward trajectory. It’s now a habit to journal every day for about 20 or 30 minutes. Find a time of day that works best for you. Journaling doesn’t need to be laborious – I often just get a nice cup of tea, sit down, put a bit of pen to paper and simply ask myself: “Jamie, how are you?”
I think about how I’m feeling, what I’m doing and what’s occupying my headspace. And then I write it down.
Sometimes all you need to do is take those heavy thoughts and move them from your to the page in front of you. I find I get a big sense of relief in expressing them outside of myself and it can really help put things into perspective.
The sooner you catch these thoughts, the sooner you can turn things around and stop burnout in its tracks.
There’s a great quote by Benjamin Franklin that says:
“If you do tomorrow what you did today, you’ll get tomorrow what you got today.”
This has always sparked a curiosity in me and made me think about things I can change today to change what I experience tomorrow.
The reason I share that quote after the journaling exercise is because when you’re tapping into how you’re feeling, you might start tapping into certain little habits that aren’t serving you. What do you do every day without fail?
That’s one of your habits.
And if you aren’t happy with how your days are unfolding and you’re feeling mentally exhausted, start trialling and experimenting with these habits. Pull things out of your daily routine and try putting new things in.
It’s interesting to see how it might change how you feel the next day.
To give you an example, I was journaling this morning as part of my daily routine and noticed I was a bit out of sorts. I was feeling unusually tired and realised I’d been having a coffee every day for the last few weeks. So I decided this morning that I’d skip my coffee. I just wanted to see how I’d feel as a result, and make some notes about it tomorrow.
I already notice that my head’s much calmer and my energy feels much more stable.
Now I want you to do the same. Look at the little things you’re doing every day and ask yourself: “Is that serving me?”
If you’re unsure, then perhaps take something out at random and see what tomorrow brings without that random thing that you normally do the day prior.
This exercise of trialling and experimenting will help you identify what habits are working and which ones aren’t. It’s such a simple thing, but it can really help you figure out a more refined, optimised way forward. It’s one positive step you can take today to navigate your way out of entrepreneurial burnout.
The deeper you’re in, the more changes you’re probably going to have to make and vice versa. But it works.
On average, it takes just over two months before a new behaviour becomes automatic — 66 days to be exact. But trial and experiment will help you identify the little habits that are worth keeping and which ones need to go.
Of course, some of the tools that worked in the past do still work in the future but there are always new things to learn. This above process is a powerful way for us essentially to learn how to work with ourselves better. There might be things you’re stressing about the things you think you want as an entrepreneur, but might not necessarily be what you need.
I’m a passionate lifelong learner and to be honest, also passionately in competition with myself. I mean that in a positive way.
I’m sharing this article because I love the idea that I can share the small lessons that I’m learning and the value that I’m getting. I love that I can share them with anyone, not knowing who’s going to receive them or what value it’s going to bring them.
But if these tips help someone to start making positive changes and find more balance, then that’s the greatest reward for me too.
If there are any parts of this process I’ve shared that have worked well for you, I’d love you to share them with me. And if you are in a challenging period right now and you start applying parts of this method today, I’d love to hear in a couple of weeks how it served you.
I love helping people break through blocks and realise their true potential. Nothing brings me more joy than seeing people come to life. If you need more of a helping hand to achieve a balance between your work life and your sense of wellbeing, I’d love to work with you and help turn things around.
Get in touch and together, let’s start creating a brighter future for you, your business and your overall wellbeing so you can be the best version of yourself yet.
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