What is burnout?
Burnout is a major imbalance in your energy system that means you’re physically, emotionally and mentally exhausted and no longer have the energy, willpower or motivation to do what you need or want to do. It usually arises out of prolonged stress, excessive pressure and constantly driving yourself to work hard without giving yourself enough rest.
What causes burnout?
I find there are three major factors that contribute to burnout.
- Overuse of the mind
Many business owners use their minds all day long. It can become addictive and severely out of balance. You find yourself thinking all the time and you never switch off. And as you become more and more exhausted, you try to use your mind to fix the problem which is a recipe for disaster. Your mind is already out of balance so it doesn’t have the power or ability to rebalance itself or solve its own problems.
- Not enough self love
If you run a business and have a family it’s likely that you spend all your time serving others. You work to make a living and take care of your family. You serve clients all day every day and you also need to take care of your team. This is all important and good, but where do you come into it all? Do you ever give time to yourself? How much do you do to refuel and replenish your energy?
- Misalignment of work and purpose
I’m seeing more and more business owners who feel something is missing in their lives because they’re not experiencing enough meaning. This can even arise when your business is your passion. As human beings we have a deep need for meaning and purpose in our lives. We feel much better when our work and our purpose are closely aligned with each other, so we can fulfill our purpose through our work, as well as through our family and social life. When there’s a lack of alignment we end up feeling that everything we’re doing is pointless. This leads eventually to burning out.
How do you prevent burnout?
If you recognise yourself in any of the descriptions above here are some simple things you can do to prevent yourself falling into the hole of total burnout. These are worth paying attention to, because it’s no fun to burn out. You can end up having to take a lot of time off work to recover and it feels horrible for most of that time.
- Give your mind a break
The mind is not designed to work all the time. In fact our best ideas usually come when we’re not thinking – perhaps in the shower or while you’re out doing something fun. You need to give your mind time to rest every single day. This is about as basic as brushing your teeth or having a shower every day or keeping your desk tidy.
The simplest way to do it is to sit down and do nothing for 20-30 minutes, or more. It’s not easy, because your mind will probably go crazy and try to convince you that you should be doing something. But if you build a daily habit of giving yourself a mental break your mind will gradually simmer down and you’ll start to find some more peace. Another way to give your mind a break is to do a daily meditation or relaxation practice. This works wonders for long-term mental clarity and focus.
- Love yourself more
This is far more important than most people realise. It helps to prevent sickness as well as burnout and is a major key to feeling good on a day to day basis. My belief is that we all know how to love. Whether you love your garden or your children or your bank account, you know how to pay attention to what’s important for you. You make sure you give the best you can to anything or anyone you love. But do you ever do that for yourself?
This is hard for many business owners because they feel it’s selfish. But taking care of yourself well is what allows you to have the energy to help everyone else in your life. If you collapse, a lot else will fall down at the same time. The simple way to start is to think of something you’d love to do for yourself. Maybe it’s to go away for a weekend on your own or to spend a day with your friends doing something you love. Whatever it is, find a way to do it. You may appear to be doing something out of character, but it’s so rewarding and the people around you will often appreciate you doing something for yourself for once.
- Explore purpose
If your life lacks the depth of meaning you’re looking for, it’s time to start asking some deeper questions. Instead of avoiding the topic of purpose (because it’s uncomfortable or seems impossible) start to ask the bigger questions about life. Who am I really? Why am I here? What’s the real purpose of my life? What do I really care about?
These are significant questions, so the answers may emerge of months and years to come. It’s not necessary to sort it all out in the next few days or weeks. But if you’re on a search for more meaning you’re sure to find it. And it’s the journey of discovery that is the most fascinating and enjoyable part of this.
What can you do if you’ve already burnt out?
It takes time to recover from burnout – usually a long time. And much of that requires you to rebalance your life and learn how to do it differently in the future, because there’s no going back. It often requires many weeks or months off work, and you may find yourself able to do very little during that time.
I burned out when I was 28 in my second year as a teacher, and I lay on the beach for at least a month just sleeping, eating and swimming all day. I had no will or energy to do anything else at all. And that was after just two years of stressful work with some long holidays in between terms.
As you recover you’ll need to learn how to relax, how to enjoy simple things, how to let go of thinking and give yourself some rest, how to love yourself and why there’s more to life than work, money and achievement. These can take some years to explore and most people have to go back to work earlier than is really good for them, so you’ll need to make a very significant adjustment to your lifestyle.
Is burnout on the increase?
It’s not easy to access reliable statistics on whether burnout is increasing. There is certainly more awareness of it and it seems likely to me that it’s on the increase.
My sense is that there is an increasing sense of uncertainty that we’re all living with. We know from the media that life is changing very fast. We know that many people will soon not be doing the jobs they’re currently doing.
We don’t seem to know much about what we’ll be doing instead. Will there be new work? Will there be very little work? Who will it be suitable for? We know that many industries are being disrupted at an unprecedented speed. We know that we’re living unsustainably on our planet. We know the world population is predicted to increase from its current 7.5 billion to 11 billion by the end of the century. We know that major change is needed at every level.
This creates an underlying sense of global pressure and insecurity which is added to the daily pressures of running a business. It wouldn’t surprise me if the statistics on burnout will show a considerable increase over coming years.
Is there any good news?
Yes, most definitely there is. The upside of taking action to prevent burnout (or worst-case scenario, recovering from burnout) is that you become a much stronger, more resilient person. You can open up aspects of your life and your potential that were totally inaccessible before. You discover who you really are – and this is what makes life feel truly meaningful and fulfilling. You can experience more love, more happiness and more joy than most people ever get close to. And that’s just the beginning. You could be on the way to a life truly worth living, and to me that’s an amazing reason to take action if you’re at risk of burning out.