Don’t Worry, Be Happy: How to Avoid Burnout As a Small Business Owner
Sustaining a small business is tough work, and it’s easy to get burned out. In fact, many small business owners burn out. But what does that really mean? And how can you avoid it?
What Exactly is Burnout?
Burnout for small business owners is often characterized by physical and emotional exhaustion, which is often accompanied by a sense of cynicism, detachment, and reduced effectiveness in running their business. It occurs when the demands and pressures of owning and managing a business become overwhelming and exceed the individual’s capacity to cope with them effectively.
According to the Entrepreneurial Operating System, signs that you’re heading for burnout include:
- You’re exhausted and overwhelmed
- You’re frustrated and cynical
- You can’t think well
- Your performance is dropping
- You’re always at work … even when you’re not at work
- You treat your people poorly
- Nothing seems good enough
- You socialize less
- You can’t sleep
- You have health issues
The Stress of Owning a Small Business
What causes burnout? A lot has to do with running a small business.
Small business owners may feel pressured because, as leaders, they are expected to be strong, resilient, and well-adjusted. Therapist and executive coach Megan Bruneau notes the perception that entrepreneurs must “have it all together” and not show weakness. These expectations can lead to shame and burnout, discouraging these small business owners from seeking the support they need.
Research shows that discussing and dealing with mental wellbeing is difficult for small business owners.
A just-released report from Xero, “The global state of small business owner wellbeing,” found that:
- Only 42 percent of U.S. small business owners feel calm and relaxed most or all of the time. That’s the second-lowest score among the seven nations studied.
- And 55 percent of American entrepreneurs say they can take a break anytime. But just 19 percent wake up feeling rested and fresh.
The report says this highlights the need for small business owners to take a break from their businesses. On a more positive note, Canadian and American business owners lead the world in finding their work meaningful and purposeful.
All these stresses can lead to burnout.
Supporting Your Mental Wellbeing
If you feel you are burning out, seek support and advice before these issues impact you and your company. Here are several ways to proactively reduce the chances of burnout and cultivate general wellbeing.
1. Notice the Signs of Burnout
Recognize symptoms of stress, burnout, and anxiety before they become overwhelming. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, you should seek professional help if these symptoms have lasted two weeks or more:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Appetite changes that result in unwanted weight fluctuations
- Struggling to get out of bed in the morning
- Difficulty concentrating
- Loss of interest in things you usually find enjoyable
- Inability to perform typical daily functions and responsibilities
Owning a business can be isolating, particularly during the startup phase, or during busy or otherwise challenging times. It’s too easy to lose connections with friends and family when all you can think about is work. During times like these, make time for social interactions and stop focusing on your business problems. Socializing and communicating can remove mental blocks, revealing solutions you haven’t considered.
You might join networking groups, get involved in your community, or take a class. Create a “village” of peers, partners, friends, and advisors.
3. Get Physical
Physical activity is one of the most effective ways to improve your wellbeing, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Regular aerobic exercise decreases overall tension, elevates your mood, and improves sleep.
Scientists at the Mayo Clinic say that physical activity increases endorphin production, which blocks negativity while generating “feel-good” chemicals, such as dopamine.
4. Find a Coping Mechanism
How you cope is up to you. For example, one of my business owner friends recently attended a four-day silent retreat and returned feeling relieved and energized.
Mental health experts suggest facing your stress head-on, which helps you figure out what grounds you. They recommend:
- Journaling your experiences
- Letting go of trying to control every aspect of your business
- Identifying any positive factors of whatever you’re facing
- Focusing on other parts of your life
Finally, the wellbeing report from Xero recommends:
- Joining a peer network where you can discuss your stress and possible solutions with other entrepreneurs
- Cultivating a mindset of rest where you intentionally put business aside rather than waiting for vacation time
5. Use Technology to Make Your Job Easier
Another way of avoiding burnout in the first place is to use technology to reduce your workload. The Index by Pinger app lets you automate and simplify much of your business communications, enabling you to work smarter, not harder. And that, in turn, can help you prevent burnout in the first place.
Small business owners tend to be positive people by nature. So, revive your inner Pollyanna. Remember, you are not your business. Attaching your identity to your company is dangerous and one of the most common causes of entrepreneurial burnout.
Instead, think about your personal goals and how to reach them. Creating boundaries between you and your business helps maintain a healthy mental state, making you a happier person and a better business owner.
Rieva Lesonsky is an award-winning business journalist who has covered small businesses and entrepreneurship for over 30 years. She was the long-time editorial director at Entrepreneur magazine.
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