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What to do when it feels like it’s all up to you: how to avoid burnout as a business owner

The entrepreneurial journey is often marked by intense dedication, long hours, and relentless pressure to succeed. Unfortunately, these factors can lead to burnout, which not only affects the well-being of business founders but also hampers the growth and success of their ventures.

If you’ve ever faced it, you’re not alone. Research from Capital One shows nearly half of all small business owners struggle with burnout and seven out of ten experience mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion due to the stress of running their businesses.

How do you know if you have burnout? What causes it? And how can you, as a business owner, avoid burnout or recover from it?

In this article, we’ll take a look at the burnout business owners face and what you can do to overcome this common challenge.

What is burnout?

The World Health Organization defines burnout in their 2023 International Classification of Diseases as a syndrome resulting from unsuccessfully-managed “chronic workplace stress.”

Though not an illness, burnout can lead to serious health problems, broken relationships and even the loss of your business.

Here are just a few of the health-related symptoms that can occur:

  • Pain
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Low energy
  • Lack of focus
  • Changes in appetite
  • Increased alcohol or drug use

Left unchecked, burnout can lead to hypertension, heart disease, obesity, Type II diabetes, arthritis, depression, and anxiety disorders.

When it spreads throughout a company, owners and managers struggle with low-functioning employees and missed workdays. Left unchecked, burnout results in costly high turnover rates.

What are the symptoms of burnout?

The same study found three major signals of burnout: exhaustion, detachment, and feeling ineffective in your position.

Sleep deprivation, 18-hour days, and lack of nutrition and exercise, along with the psychological stressors of starting a business, can leave business owners feeling tired, depleted, and in need of retreat. As you shoulder more responsibilities, it’s easy to overlook all you’ve done and continue to do. Without that feeling of success, it’s harder to stay motivated.

Think you may be on the road to burnout? Look for one or more of these 14 signs:

  • Dreading Monday morning
  • Increased caffeine or alcohol intake
  • Poor sleep
  • Persistent fatigue
  • Exhaustion
  • A change in eating habits
  • Cynicism about work
  • Negativity at work
  • Irritability
  • Withdrawal
  • Feeling less connected to coworkers
  • Struggling with focus and productivity
  • Feeling ineffective in your role
  • Being overly critical of your own performance

How do you avoid Burnout?

Balance is the number one challenge entrepreneurs face, according to a NodeSource survey. Joe McCann, CEO, offers three ways business owners can recover a sustainable work-life balance.

Prioritize: Make a list of all your activities. Decide which are the most important. Then cross out everything else.

Delegate: Which tasks can you assign to someone at home or at work? Do you need someone to walk the dog, prepare a healthy meal, or design meeting presentations?

Schedule: Prioritize personal and family time by adding it to your calendar. Build recovery and reward into your schedule.

However, what if you’re already in the burnout stages?

Setting priorities

If you’re already struggling with burnout, it’s not too late. Here are three steps you can take to recover:

Set boundaries

Creating a firm divide between your personal and business life can be a struggle when you’re the owner — especially if you’re working out of a home office.

  • Set office hours.
  • Develop a practice of shutting down the office every day.
  • And spend time in active recovery from work.

Have a plan for active recovery

Instead of leaving recreation to chance, plan ahead so you don’t find yourself sitting in front of a screen again.

  • Get outside and take a walk
  • Get the sleep you need
  • Go to the gym
  • Visit a local park, beach, or mountain trail
  • Draw a sketch
  • Pick up a musical instrument
  • Spend time with people you care about

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