Mental Health Awareness Month happens every May. While this is a reminder to pause and reflect on the importance of self care, mental health is a priority all year long. This series shines a spotlight on the issues that impact entrepreneurs every day—along with solutions and resources to help put your wellbeing first.
According to a 2022 survey of small business owners, 42% of respondents report experiencing burnout, especially after navigating entrepreneurship through two years of a pandemic. Furthermore, 53% of business owners say burnout hinders them from succeeding in their business—just one of the reasons why it’s so important to understand the signs and causes of burnout and how to avoid burnout in the first place.
Throughout this article, we’re going to dive deeper into what burnout is, cover a few major symptoms of burnout, and provide you with a list of tips for burnout prevention.
What is burnout?
Burnout is a medical disorder that is the result of excessive and prolonged stress. The term was first coined in the 1970s by psychologist Herbert Freudenberger. Shortly after, professor Christina Maslach became one of the foremost researchers on the phenomenon, helping shed light on its full impact and implications.
Although “burnout” is a common buzzword these days, legitimate burnout can cause severe mental and physical health issues. For instance, Arianna Huffington collapsed due to severe exhaustion and burnout two years after creating The Huffington Post, breaking her cheekbone and requiring four stitches by her right eye.
Although “burnout” is a common buzzword these days, legitimate burnout can cause severe mental and physical health issues.
Burnout is not caused only by overworking; instead, it’s a combination of too many deadlines and tasks with a lack of progress or recognition. This can be detrimental to entrepreneurs who are oftentimes growing businesses (and closing businesses) all on their own, and associate the term “entrepreneurship” with feeling like they need to work more than they physically should.
Keeping an eye out for symptoms of burnout and knowing the steps to take when you start to experience it can be a game-changer for your mental health—and your business.
6 signs of burnout
Because burnout can lead to significant health problems, it’s important to know what symptoms to look out for as an entrepreneur.
The top six signs of burnout include:
- Exhaustion. Chronic emotional and physical exhaustion is a tell-tale sign that you’re getting burned out. If you’re struggling to get out of bed each morning, even after a full night’s sleep, you might need to take a break.
- Cynicism. Entrepreneurs tend to be passionate about what they do. If you’re losing interest fast and having negative thoughts about work, that’s a sure sign you’re burning out.
- Irritability. This encompasses being irritable and impatient, even at the smallest obstacle.
- Inefficacy. You’ve started this business because you’re good at what you do. But burnout can make you feel like you have no clue what you’re doing, even keeping you from being able to problem-solve or come up with new ideas.
- Depression. Often people mistake burnout with depression or depersonalization, as they have similar symptoms. If you’re feeling depressed, it might be time to take a look at your work-life balance and day-to-day stressors.
- Lack of focus/motivation/productivity. Low productivity and procrastination are also major signs of burnout, especially if you’re used to being “on” and available all day.
If you’re starting to feel burned out, or even if you haven’t gotten there yet, it’s a good idea to work some processes into your workday and personal life that can help avoid burnout.
How to avoid burnout as an entrepreneur
Burnout is prevalent in all industries and job roles, but it’s especially difficult for business owners and entrepreneurs whose business success relies on them being productive and engaged.
To ensure you’re able to remain a positive and effective business owner and boss, we’ve got nine tips to help you keep burnout at bay.
1. Delegate tasks 🤝
When you’re first starting your business, it can be tough to delegate, especially if you’re the only person on the team. But it’s important to get help, hire new team members, or outsource tasks as soon as you can.
For example, for an entrepreneur starting a new agency, focusing on new clients is a larger priority than the accounting side of the business. Hiring an accountant or using accounting software can take a ton of extra work off your plate.
It can be nerve-wracking to hire your first employee, but it’s important to get help in your business before it’s too late.
Similarly, once that agency starts to grow, that entrepreneur will need support in managing all of the client work. It can be nerve-wracking to hire your first employee, but it’s important to get help in your business before it’s too late.
After launching plant-care business Partly Sunny Projects and taking off on TikTok, for example, Sonja Detrinidad found herself getting more orders than she could manage—so she began outsourcing some of the work to her husband, and eventually hired an employee to manage shipping in order to focus on growing her TikTok audience. “I’m OK focusing on the one thing that really works for me right now,” she says.”
Investing in the right tools to help you automate processes is another great way to make your job easier. Shopify has a number of tools that are perfect for this. Shopify Flow helps business owners automate their email sequences, while the Shopify Experts marketplace helps entrepreneurs find experts that can assist with other aspects of the business.
2. Stick to a set schedule ⏰
To ensure you don’t overwork yourself and still have time for your home life and loved ones, you’ll want to put together a set schedule for your business.
Decide how many hours you’d like to work each week, then break that down day by day. You might choose to have a three-day weekend, so you’ll break those hours down between Monday through Thursday. Or you might prefer to work four hours each day, weekends included.
Make sure you commit to a set schedule each week that won’t cause burnout in itself—i.e., make a realistic schedule that’s not 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. every single day. And if you need to work more during your busy seasons, that’s fine; just make sure it’s only a short-term adjustment to your schedule that you’re planning for ahead of time.
If you’re struggling to find the best schedule, getting input from those closest to you (like your spouse) can be a great help. “Early on, my wife drew a line in the sand and said she wanted me home by 6 every night,” says Tarik, founder of TY Fine Furniture.
“Having her set that boundary made a huge difference. We both shifted our work week to match my showroom hours, so I work Tuesday to Saturday now.”
3. Give yourself time to completely unplug 🔌
Just because you’re a business owner doesn’t make you any less in need of a vacation to recharge—especially considering surveys show that entrepreneurs are working 72-hour work weeks. That same article suggests the magic number of vacation days for business owners is four weeks, giving you “a week each quarter to recoup and regroup.”
If you’re worried about taking a vacation as an entrepreneur, here are a few tips for being able to step away from work and unplug:
- Get your work done ahead of time so you have no tasks during your week off
- Let clients know you’ll be out of touch for a week
- Prepare your team and give them a point of contact for emergencies
- Create an email autoresponder that lets people know when you’ll get back to them
4. Switch up your routine 🌳
Sometimes a simple change of scenery can work wonders for your productivity. When you’re sitting in the same chair in the same room doing the same work day after day, it can really start to eat at your energy levels.
This is why it’s a great idea to switch up your routine every now and then—more so when you’re starting to dread work time.
When you’re sitting in the same chair in the same room doing the same work day after day, it can really start to eat at your energy levels.
One way to do this is to change up where you’re getting your work done each day. Work from the office one day (if you have one), work from home the next, and head to a coffee shop another day.
5. Prioritize self-care 🛁
Self-care is always important, and though it’s not the only key to avoiding burnout, it’s a big contributor.
As an entrepreneur, your self-care means actually carving out time for taking care of yourself: Getting enough sleep, eating all three meals, and taking time to do things you enjoy.
For entrepreneur Monisha Edwards, making candles became a way to calm herself after a stressful period of her life. That act of self-care eventually blossomed into her business, Scent & Fire. She learned first hand the toll of not taking care of herself and has now become a mental health advocate.
By putting your well-being at the forefront of your priorities, you’ll be on the right track to keeping your mental and physical health in check.
6. Build a supportive network ☎️
As an entrepreneur, it’s important to connect with people who are going through the same motions as you. Because starting a business is a unique journey, it can be hard for others to relate—which is why so many entrepreneurs face loneliness and stress.
Consider finding a mentor or business coach, or joining an entrepreneurial community that gives you the chance to chat with other business owners who are facing some of the same struggles you are.
Because starting a business is a unique journey, it can be hard for others to relate—which is why so many entrepreneurs face loneliness and stress.
One place to check out is Shopify’s internal merchant community. Here, you can find answers to business and shop questions, meet like-minded entrepreneurs, and create connections that will help make work more rewarding.
Furthermore, make sure that those close to you in your day-to-day life are just as supportive of your venture and can help you find the right balance between your business and your real life.
7. Exercise regularly 🥾
Exercise has a number of health benefits that can help keep burnout at bay. From reducing anxiety and depression to improving your mood, self-esteem, and cognitive function, bringing exercise into your daily routine can give you a better mindset when it comes to work.
You can do a yoga routine each morning, hit the gym—even something as simple as going for a daily walk or run can be a big motivator for getting things done throughout the rest of your day.
8. Do things you enjoy 🧶
Even if you love your work, if you do nothing but work, work, work, you’re creating a recipe for burnout. Take time to find a hobby and regularly take work breaks to do something else that you really enjoy.
Read a book, go to a park, watch a movie or TV show, listen to a podcast (hard mode: one that’s not work-related), make something with your hands, find a video game that you love. There are so many options out there for you to explore.
Engaging in a variety of activities (i.e., having hobbies that are vastly different from what you do at work each day) can also improve cognitive abilities. So finding a new hobby can keep your mind sharp, which is ultimately good news for your business.
9. Talk to a therapist 👂
If you’re feeling burned out or unhappy with work and your day-to-day life, the best thing you can do for yourself is to speak with a mental health professional. In fact, many therapists specialize in helping professionals and entrepreneurs with burnout and other related symptoms.
Speaking to someone who knows exactly what you’re going through and has the tools to help you overcome it can be a game-changer for your life and for your business.
Entrepreneurship doesn’t have to mean nonstop work
Don’t get caught up in the entrepreneur mindset that makes you think you have to work nonstop to build your business without any semblance of a break. Our brains don’t work that way, and it’s better to put practices in place that can help you avoid burnout in the long run.
Find a work schedule that works for you, exercise and find new hobbies, and prioritize time management to ensure you can keep working on your business—happily.
Words by Chloe West
Feature image by Loren Blackman