Let’s get one thing straight — being a CEO is not easy. If you’re an entrepreneur yourself, you’re probably familiar with the stress and late nights that come with being responsible for the wellbeing of an entire business. When you add kids and home life into the equation, it can often feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders.
Unfortunately, if you lack a healthy outlet for this stress and work too hard for too long, the consequences can actually be dire and lead to what’s called “burnout.” If this has ever happened to you before, know that you are not alone. Entrepreneurial burnout is incredibly common in entrepreneurs and CEOs (particularly women). Letting it fester can only cause mental health problems and more unhappiness down the line, which is why it’s absolutely imperative to take care of yourself in the aftermath of burnout and implement preventative measures into your routine to prevent it from occurring in the first place.
Keep reading to learn more about what burnout is exactly, signs to be aware of, and how to prevent burnout and/or recover from it if it’s already struck you.
What is burnout?
The simple answer? Burnout is a condition marked by complete mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion.
The more complicated answer involves a bit of science. Science dictates that normal, everyday stress can actually be healthy and even contribute to one’s peak performance. But when we consistently don’t recuperate by resting, we start building chronic stress, which can lead to a number of negative side effects — including hormonal disorders, muscle aches, heart problems, anxiety, depression, and more. Eventually, the nonstop stress on the body over a long period of time disturbs the endocrine system, a network of organ + glands that are responsible for regulating the “fight or flight” response. When the endocrine system is disturbed, it starts taking over everything that the brain considers nonessential. This is when burnout starts.
Burnout doesn’t just happen overnight. For most entrepreneurs, it’s a gradual feeling that develops in phases and eventually begins to affect both work performance and mental health. While this isn’t a position that any CEO wants to find themselves in for obvious reasons, the good news is that burnout is easy to identify in the early stages, and there are plenty of tactics you can use to prevent it from occurring at all.
Signs and symptoms of burnout
Some signs of burnout may be obvious (like 24/7 exhaustion or stress) while others are more personal and internalised. To assess whether or not you could be on the brink of burnout, here are a few signs and symptoms to look out for:
It’s normal to occasionally have an “off” day or not feel like working, but if you seriously dread the thought of waking up and having to do your job every single day (to the point of avoiding it and risking negative consequences), it could be a sign that you’re headed for burnout and need a break.
No matter how much sleep you get, burnout will leave you feeling tired. You’ll be physically and mentally exhausted most of the time, even after a good night of sleep or a break away from work. It’s almost impossible to feel full of energy. If you never seem to feel 100%, aren’t sleeping or eating well, and generally are prioritising work over your own wellbeing, there’s a chance you’re pushing things too far. Never let work get in the way of your health!
You may not notice your personality changing over time, but the people around you might. If family members or friends express concern over your general wellbeing, it might be a sign to reassess your work/life balance and take some time to regroup. Some external signs that others may observe include lack of patience and irritability, distancing from work, and a noticeably short temper.
Many of the symptoms of burnout coincide with symptoms of other common mental health conditions, such as depression. The notable difference between the two is that burnout has a specific, singular cause: your work.
Can you recover from burnout?
Luckily, burnout is a condition that can be addressed through a combination of lifestyle changes, added support systems, and thought reprogramming.
While there’s no “one-size-fits-all” solution to curing burnout, a good place to start is with taking a break from work, if it’s financially and logistically possible. This could mean time spent at home with family, a true vacation or travel adventure, or simply taking a few days/weeks to yourself to recuperate.
When stopping away from the job isn’t possible (as is often the case for early-stage CEOs), there are still tools you can turn to that will help you fight the burnout until you can take a real break, such as:
- Adhering to a strict sleep schedule (and getting your 8 hours every night)
- Outsourcing and/or delegating tasks that don’t bring you joy
- Focusing on non-work related hobbies
- Spending time with loved ones
- Taking time for self-care
- Getting active for 30min/day
- Talking to a trusted professional (like a therapist)
- Connecting with other entrepreneurs who can relate
Prioritizing these recommendations in your daily routine can help you manage the stress that comes with a high-pressure job. Most entrepreneurs typically start to feel better within 6-12 weeks of making these changes.
How to prevent burnout
Of course, the best way to recover from burnout is to prevent it in the first place. This doesn’t mean reinventing the wheel when it comes to your routine — implementing the recovery tips we just went over into day-to-day life can be a long-term way to keep burnout at bay. Some additional tips include:
- Observing and assessing your own feelings through journaling or therapy
- Attending to your own needs first
- Evaluating a typical weekly schedule (and reducing “time clutter”)
- Exercising regularly and eating a well-balanced diet
- Taking regular time away from work
- Building up your professional and personal support system (including family, mentors, and mental health advocates)
But like I mentioned before, there really is no “one-size-fits-all” solution. What will work for you is 100% dependent on your lifestyle, resources, and what fills your cup. For example, here are a few of the things I like to prioritise in my own life to prevent burnout as the CEO of a multi-million dollar company:
Preventing and recovering from burnout isn’t about working less hard, or not going after your goals as aggressively. Instead, it’s about having time to enjoy everything you’ve already accomplished while still working towards your dreams.
Are you currently on the brink of or suffering from burnout? If so, I’m here for you as a resource. I suggest scheduling a strategy call to create a plan of action for how to get through it and come out the other side feeling more energised and excited about your business than ever before.
I can’t wait to hear from you!