How to spot signs of burnout as an entrepreneur

stress migraine
Stress headaches and constant tiredness are some physical signs of burnout.

  • Many entrepreneurs near a point of burnout eventually, so it’s important to recognize symptoms early.
  • Burnout occurs gradually and can manifest in changes in mood and personality or even physical symptoms like stress headaches.
  • Consistent tiredness, irritability, and reduced passion for work are also signs of oncoming burnout.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Entrepreneurship is challenging. Some days, it’s downright exhausting. For many entrepreneurs, there comes a “last straw” breaking point where the conditions are too stressful or too overwhelming to continue.

But for most others, the eventual loss of passion for entrepreneurship – better known as burnout – is something slower and more gradual. It’s a creeping feeling that grows from day to day and eventually begins to affect your work performance.

You won’t go from happy-go-lucky to ready to quit overnight. One day, you might be a little extra irritable. The next, you might wake up and dread the idea of going to work. Not long after, you might make worse decisions, rushing through projects, or you might seriously contemplate leaving.

It’s not a position any entrepreneur wants to find themselves in. The good news is, it’s mostly preventable.

Why it’s important to stop burnout

There’s nothing wrong with changing jobs, selling your business, or retiring. But burnout itself can be devastating. Not only will it force you to leave your business prematurely, it can also leave you feeling despair and exhaustion. Even more importantly, it can negatively affect you on a physical level; burnout is associated with higher stress, higher susceptibility to illness, and even a higher risk of heart disease.

These effects compound with time, so acknowledging and stopping burnout early can put you in a much more favorable position long-term.

The trouble is, burnout is difficult to catch, especially early on.

How to identify entrepreneurial burnout

We all feel stress. We all get nervous. We all experience anxiety or dread sometimes. So how do you know when this is just part of the job and when it’s an early sign of burnout?

  • You dread going to work consistently. One of the hallmark signs is dreading going to work. Everyone dreads going to work some of the time; there might be an awful client to deal with or negative consequences from a bad decision to manage. But if you dread going to work on a consistent basis, it’s a sign of developing burnout.
  • Your mood and personality have changed (according to others). It’s hard to notice the changes in your own personality since they often unfold gradually and beneath our notice. However, burnout often leads people to experience mood and personality changes. Talk to the people around you; do they notice that you’re more irritable, angrier, or less pleasant than you used to be? Chances are, something external is responsible for this.
  • You’re experiencing physical symptoms. As burnout develops, it tends to be associated with more and more physical symptoms. For example, you might feel more stress headaches. You might have trouble getting to sleep (or getting enough sleep). And you might even be more susceptible to contagious illnesses. Keep an eye out for these developments.
  • You always feel tired. 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.

Solving the burnout problem

It’s tough to make a one-size-fits-all recommendation for how to get rid of burnout because there are many different types of professionals and many different types of burnout.

For example, your burnout might stem from your own over-investment, in which case, delegating more and reducing your workload could help. You might also be worn out from a specific type of stress, which might require you to change up your daily responsibilities. You might even feel under challenged due to excessive predictability and routine, in which case the solution is finding new ways to be stimulated, like learning a new skill.

In any case, one of the best steps to take to address your burnout is to take some time away. Use up a few vacation days or take an extended hiatus from your work; it’s a great opportunity to de-stress and get away from the burden of work. It’s also a chance to get some perspective. Once you’re away from the office, you’ll have a much keener sense of what’s actually stressing you out (and what you might be able to do about it).

You can also talk to the people around you for advice. They may have a better perspective on your work style than you do. Once you have a better understanding of your current position, you can invest time and energy into making an action plan. How can you change your environment and your approach to work in a way that relieves your stress?

The action plan will look different for everyone. But as long as you’re consistent and proactive, you’ll have a good chance of reversing the effects of entrepreneurial burnout in your career.

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10 ways to manage stress and stay calm under pressure as a business leader

stress migraine
Overloading your mind with too many to-dos can lead to burnout and emotional outbursts.

  • Business leaders can use certain techniques to minimize stress and burnout at work.
  • Managing your daily workload, practicing delegation, and scheduling downtime can help reduce anxiety.
  • Building supportive professional relationships can also help leaders avoid being short-tempered and prone to outbursts.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

One of the most valuable attributes of a good business professional and leader is to be able to control emotional outbursts, to maximize your credibility and respect, and to maintain your own health.

The best of you train yourselves to show emotions sparingly and strategically, while the rest are convinced that emotions cannot be controlled, and are a function of culture and genetics.

Based on my own many years as a business executive and advisor, I have seen many professionals “mature” from hotheads to people who are cool and calm under pressure, becoming better leaders and decision makers in the process. 

With some coaching and mentoring from other leaders, I was able to do it myself. So I know you can do it too, by committing to the following strategies:

1. Train yourself to always look for positives, not negatives

Optimistic business leaders see value in every new business challenge, rather than stress and risk. You must recognize that change is the norm in business, so problems represent opportunities to learn something new, and improve your productivity and the competitiveness of the business.

2. Write down your top five core values and review them often

Pressure and emotion in business is often an indication of core value conflicts. Once you see and understand the conflict, it’s easier to make a decision, respond rationally, or simply remove yourself from the role. Don’t try to be someone you aren’t, or be everything to everyone.

3. Create a short to-do list at the beginning of each day

A mind overloaded with a large and growing list of critical items is not efficient, and will always be prone to burnout and emotional outbursts. I recommend a three-item high-priority list for focus. Then limit the external interruptions, so you can comfortably and effectively address each one, and more.

4. Practice delegation and decline unreasonable requests

Learn how to courteously turn back requests outside your realm of responsibility, and recommend others who may be more qualified. The most respected business leaders know their limitations, and are not afraid to admit them. Do the same for any commitments to the community and family.

5. Never schedule more than 80% of your time

Pressure and emotion become dominant when your schedule is overloaded, or too many predictable interruptions occur. Of course, most professionals are optimistic, so they tend to over-commit and underestimate work requirements. We all need a buffer to handle those special cases.

6. Put more focus on building the right relationships

Since business is generally not rocket science, relationships with peers, partners, and customers are often more important than skills. Find time in your work schedule for networking, working lunches, and business conferences, where you can test your ideas, learn, and generate support.

7. Define a clear break between work and private activities

Practice a ritual, such as a cup of coffee with a peer, to define your workday beginning, and maybe tea with your spouse to reset to family time. Then diligently don’t let these worlds intrude on each other, except in emergencies. Use the transition to reset stress pressures and emotions.

8. Never use emotion as a substitute for preparation

Effective business professionals always prepare for tough issues and key meetings by doing their own research and getting early counsel from experts and coaches. Not only do they do the homework, but they prepare mentally and physically to be at their best, rather than on the edge.

9. Take satisfaction from wins to balance against setbacks

No one in business wins every battle, so frustration on any issue needs to be offset by other wins and achieving incremental thresholds along the way. For most of us, this requires setting aside some contemplative time on a daily basis to measure key item progress and enjoy small wins.

10. Maintain at least one non-work passion for energy balance

Everyone needs a focus outside of work, such as a hobby, exercise regimen, or sports, to grant relief from work pressures and reset emotions. Emotional outbursts and losing one’s cool are often indicative of burnouts and pending meltdowns. Spread your energy to family as well as work.
 
Don’t let anyone tell you that what you can accomplish is limited by your culture or old habits. Everyone has the ability to control their own actions and emotions, which I find to be the keys to success in most business roles.

I encourage you to learn and practice the strategies outlined here, to minimize stress, and enjoy the journey as well as the destination.

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Holiday music may be bad for your mental health, according to science

mariah carey santa holiday music
Santa and Mariah Carey.

  • Incessant repetition of holiday music can have a psychological impact.
  • At first, holiday music can be uplifting, but after a certain period of time, it can cause boredom — and even distress.
  • It can remind listeners of the other stressors of the holiday season, like finances and family.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The sights and sounds of the holidays are here – and they’re completely inescapable. No matter where you go, it seems like the same classic songs are played on repeat. 

This perception is spot on: Spotify reports that listening spikes during the last two months of the year. Michael Bublé’s “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas” and Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” top the list of most streamed tunes

But the incessant repetition can have a psychological impact. There’s a U-shaped relationship between how often we hear a song and how much we like it, what’s known as the mere exposure effect

At first, holiday music may spark nostalgia and get you in the holiday spirit. But hearing “Jingle Bells” for the millionth time can lead to annoyance, boredom, and even distress, researchers say.

That’s because the brain becomes oversaturated, triggering a negative response. If you’re already worried about moneywork, or seeing family during the holidays, the constant inundation of cheerful tunes may reinforce your stress instead of relieving it. 

It can also be downright distracting, affecting employee productivity and irritating consumers. In fact, a 2011 Consumer Reports survey found that 23% of Americans dread holiday music.

Clinical psychologist Linda Blair says Christmas music can be mentally draining:

“People working in the shops [have to tune out] Christmas music, because if they don’t, it really does stop you from being able to focus on anything else… You’re simply spending all of your energy trying not to hear what you’re hearing.”

How can you strike the right balance of good cheer that doesn’t drive you crazy?

Switch up your music so people’s brains don’t get bored. Playing the same Christmas songs all season long produces cognitive fatigue. Practice good sound management by varying your playlists and keeping the volume in check.

Studies also show that wintry scents like pine and cinnamon help conjure happy emotions, so recruit other senses when celebrating. 

If all else fails, a set of ear plugs makes a nice stocking stuffer.

This Inc story was originally published on Business Insider December 24, 2018.

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