First, let's define burnout so that we're all on the same page.
Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest and motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place.https://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/burnout-prevention-and-recovery.htm
Note that the mainstream tends to talk about burnout as if it's only in the workplace or in business, but it can be experienced in every dimension of life, including personal, creatively, spiritually, mentally, physically, and more.
Burnout is a very real and common problem, especially for people like busy moms with children who also juggle demanding careers, and solo entrepreneurs (aka solopreneurs).
I've talked to several women who are in burnout mode from just life in general—they're busy mothers usually with 3-4 children, have a full-time career, AND they're the main caretaker for the entire family.
WOW. That's a lot.⠀
On the business owner side, solopreneurs work alone and carry the entire responsibility of their businesses with no help from others. These business owners often work more than 12 hours a day and are often not able to be present at home with their families.
My personal struggle with burnout in 2020
I personally experienced huge burnout at the end of 2020, and didn't even know what was happening to me until I had a full-on meltdown over something relatively minor. Most of the stress had come from running two businesses that year: photography and coaching.
Even though deep down I knew I didn't love the photography business and should shut it down, I struggled with the decision because I kept thinking, "why can't I do both? It makes good money, it took me so long to get successful."
I was fully booked out with photography, and not yet profitable with coaching at that time, so I felt like I needed to keep going with photography.
I resented every moment of it. When more clients kept booking me, instead of feeling grateful and excited, I felt dread and annoyance. I was just so TIRED. Those were all signs I ignored, because I felt that I needed that money.
Eventually, I chose to let go of the photography business because everything about it was draining me, and I simply couldn't tolerate the work anymore.
By that time, I was in full creative burnout, where everything put together had sapped my willpower and desire to even be in that creative headspace. I stopped wanting to do any work, and couldn't create content like I normally did with writing articles, social media posts, etc.
Even though I shut down the photography business at the end of 2020 to take a break, by January my body was in complete rebellion. It had had enough of more than six months of stress, and it let me know in no uncertain terms:
- my ulcer flared up
- I developed eczema suddenly, when I'd never had it in my entire life
- sudden, massive pain with TMJ, which also caused headaches - this lasted the entire MONTH of January
- I was prone to developing hives at anything causing even a little stress
All of January and most of February was spent trying to let my body recover and recalibrate its health and lower the constant state of fight or flight I had been living in.
Common signs you're headed towards burnout
Let’s talk about the signs to look for that indicate you might be headed toward a burnout so that you can catch yourself before you end up like I did.
- Insomnia. If your brain can’t shut down because you can't stop thinking about work, your sleep pattern will get disrupted. You will most likely feel physically overtired, and also lacking the mental energy to work or go about your daily life effectively without feeling like everything is a chore or a burden.
- Procrastination. Do you cringe at the length of your daily to-do list? Did these tasks once excite you but now they make you want to crawl under a rock? Procrastination leads to missed deadlines and opportunities.
- Fatigue. The human body is only capable of handling so much stress on limited sleep. You’ve probably heard the phrase, “burning the candle at both ends” multiple times in your life—that’s what happens when you work yourself to the bone and don’t give your body and brain enough time to recover before starting another high-stress day. At some point your body will want to give up, causing severe fatigue and other illnesses and chronic symptoms that will keep you from living your life.
- Changes in appetite. For some people, stress causes them to overeat so that they gain weight; for others, stress reduces their appetites and they lose weight. Neither extreme is good for your body. For optimal health and mental clarity, take lunch breaks away from the desk and choose natural, healthy food choices instead of fast food items. Try to relax during your meal and do something enjoyable to you so that your stomach can properly digest your food, which it can't do if you're feeling stressed or anxious.
- Anxiety. High stress causes anxiety, which can cause crippling fear or other physical symptoms. Keep in mind that there’s a big difference between the anxiety you feel when stepping out of your comfort zone versus stress-induced anxiety that doesn’t seem to go away. Prolonged stress and anxiety can manifest in many different ways, so take note of any new symptoms that have recently appeared that you usually don't have.
5 steps to recover from burnout
- Identify the activities or work that bring you down the most. Then either stop doing them, or reduce your involvement as much as possible.
- Quit filling up your calendar with work. Think about lightening your load if possible, or even taking a complete break.
- Commit to regular downtime for yourself. Schedule lunch, naps, fun, or even do nothing time. Whatever makes you happy, put it on the calendar.
- Ask yourself: Do I really want this? If the answer isn't immediately a yes, then it's probably a no.
- Learn to pause before saying yes. Saying no is 100% ok. By the way, telling someone, "no," does NOT make you a bad person.
Making time for self-care and relaxation will improve your overall health, mental wellbeing, relationships with other people, and also increase your motivation and productivity so that you feel more ready and willing to take on your responsibilities. Take care of your whole body, mind, and spirit. Take quiet time to relax. Get away from the computer and go outdoors and get some fresh air. Unplug for a whole weekend and live in the moment with your family. Reconnect with your friends or make new ones. Find something that is fun and brings some laughter and silliness back in your life.
Need help getting a handle on everything? I've coached many people through burnout and brought them out of the fog so that they were able to enjoy all the parts to their lives again. Feel free to contact me to set up a call if you'd like to see how I can help you.