As an entrepreneur, there are seemingly countless demands keeping you busy throughout the work day. Even the mundane task of checking emails can turn into a major time burden.
While it can be easy to brush stress and a heavy workload off as an acceptable part of the entrepreneurial grind, far too many young professionals push themselves too hard in their efforts to get ahead. With this prolonged stress, it is surprisingly easy for entrepreneurs to suffer from burnout.
Burnout has been defined as “a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands.” Worse yet, it causes you to lose the motivation and drive you need to succeed.
But how can you tell when you’re on your way to getting burned out? I had the opportunity to speak with Jaimie Crooks, founder and CEO of Definitely Definitely, to gain more perspective on this issue.
As an executive coach with a background in psychology, Jaimie helps business professionals take a holistic approach to life to improve their health, happiness and work performance. She was kind enough to share common warning signs of burnout that all budding entrepreneurs should watch out for.
“Getting stuck in a mental fog is one of the most common signs that you’re on the road to burnout,” Jaimie says. “For example, you might find yourself reading the same page or email over and over, yet still have no idea what it said. This occurs because continued stress builds up cortisol in our system. If we don’t do anything to release it, our bodies stay stuck in a mode where physical performance is prioritized over intellectual ability.”
When experiencing a mental fog, you might not feel particularly stressed, but you will find that you no longer feel as mentally sharp as you normally do. You might be more mistake-prone in your work, or take longer to complete mundane tasks. Such issues are often the first sign of burnout.
As stress becomes increasingly toxic, you’ll likely find yourself becoming irritated or annoyed much more easily — even over seemingly minor things. Though this irritability might begin in the workplace, it can quickly spill over into home life or interactions with friends.
“People experiencing burnout at work can get full-blown angry at little things that normally wouldn’t bother them,” Jaimie notes.
“If a piece of technology that doesn’t work as planned, a change of plans or a delay in completing a project cause you to lash out at others, it’s time to take a step back before you say or do something you’ll regret.”
Stress and the immune system were first linked by a ten-year study that took place in the 1980s and 1990s. In the study, researchers discovered that medical students experienced a decline in immunity during the three-day period in which they took exams.
The extended period of stress caused by the tests actually caused their bodies to stop producing the cells needed to fight off infection.
Entrepreneurs who suffer from burnout experience a similar phenomenon, and it has a direct and profound impact on their physical well-being. You might find yourself suffering from the cold or flu, even in the middle of summer. You could feel sore and achy on a regular or even constant basis. Some who suffer from burnout even get diagnosed with chronic conditions as a result of their stress.
Illness isn’t the only way that burnout and excessive stress can have a negative impact on your physical health. “This is another outcome of cortisol build up,” explains Jaimie.
“Even if you’re eating clean and exercising as much as ever, excess cortisol sends a signal to your body that you’re in danger and need to hold on to your calories in the form of body fat, in case of an emergency.”
This buildup can also sabotage any healthy eating habits you’ve tried to develop. According to WebMD, cortisol buildup can raise your body’s insulin levels, causing your blood sugar to drop.
This makes the body crave foods that are high in sugar or fat — throwing off any diet plans and helping you add extra pounds around the middle.
One additional physical symptom to be aware of: exhaustion. While it isn’t unusual to feel worn out after a night where you didn’t get much sleep, if these feelings never seem to go away, you’re likely suffering from burnout.
This is one symptom that Jaimie experienced first-hand:
“Six years ago, I went to my doctor complaining about exhaustion that never seemed to go away. It didn’t matter how much I slept or how many cups of coffee I drank, I was always tired! He actually referred me for a brain scan because he thought I might have a tumor. The scan came back fine, but I learned that my symptoms matched those of severe burnout. It was a huge wake-up call.”
Feeling burned out at work won’t just affect your performance in the office. You’ll start losing interest and passion for almost everything you once enjoyed. Burned out individuals often slip into a type of emotional numbness where they no longer feel inspired or excited.
This can cause a loss of interest in even the activities outside of work that once gratified you more than anything — activities with friends, holidays, taking part in a favourite hobby and so on.
This can be especially disastrous for an entrepreneur, as passion is often directly linked with young professionals’ ability to achieve success in the business world.
As you lose motivation, you’ll find it harder to roll with the challenges that naturally come your way, making it all too easy for your business to suffer.
If you recognize these warning signs in yourself, don’t wait until the problem gets out of hand.
Take action now so you can recover and come back refreshed and ready to achieve even better results in the future. Waiting too long could completely ruin your business endeavors and result in other negative consequences to your health and relationships.
Though some cases of burnout require professional assistance, many young entrepreneurs are able to recover by taking a break and making lifestyle adjustments promptly before things go too far.
Devoting time to lower-intensity, cortisol reducing exercise and a diet high in antioxidants, in particular, can be powerful routes to helping you get back on track both internally and externally. Considering a new perspective on lifestyle and dedicating regular time to rest, relaxation and mindfulness can be an enormous help, too.
As you take action to fight back against burnout, you can regain the joy necessary to live life to the fullest. There’s no time like the present to make all of this happen — so what are you waiting for?