Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Are you Entering the Burn-out Zone? Seven Ways an Entrepreneur can Deal with Stress and/or Burn-out

Stress.  It's a common word we use for many situations.  "I'm so stressed out!" We are stressed about money.  Stressed about work.  Stressed about the kids.  Stressed about relationships.  Stressed about the weather.  Stressed about the situation in the Middle East.  Stressed about supper.  Stressed about our schedule.....

Burnout is not as common.  However, it is much more severe.

The difference between stress and burnout is seen in the following chart (

Stress vs. Burnout
Characterized by over-engagement
Characterized by disengagement
Emotions are overreactive
Emotions are blunted
Produces urgency and hyperactivity
Produces helplessness and hopelessness
Loss of energy
Loss of motivation, ideals, and hope
Leads to anxiety disorders
Leads to detachment and depression
Primary damage is physical
Primary damage is emotional
May kill you prematurely
May make life seem not worth living
Source: Stress and Burnout in Ministry

A few years ago, I was stressed... really stressed.  I was working all hours in the night and up early to work again.  My life revolved around my daughter (which, thankfully, I never lost sight of), my job, which I was extremely passionate about, and my sideline business, which was failing.

I had many of the symptoms of stress.  Interestingly, I was calm on the outside most of the time, but I experienced heart palpitations, neck pain, and frequent headaches... and eventually, fatigue.  Over-engagement was an understatement.  I lost sight of what was truly important in my work.

I was a team leader.  I was a good leader.  But I began to lose sight of serving my customers and my team.  My days began to be about managing my own stress.  I had an amazing team who I could delegate to, but I lost my inspirational leadership abilities.

I was also a business owner.  I am not sure I was very good at that at the time.  However, I learned a lot.  As I became more and more stressed, I became less and less interested in leading my staff and business.  Eventually, the doors closed.  The team members were laid off.  And I was $100,000 in debt.

The following few years were an emotional roller coaster.  I'd met the man of my dreams, sold my house to pay of debt, travelled to South East Asia for the experience of a lifetime, had a baby, and got married.  I also had family illness, family conflict, difficulties re-entering the workforce, and increasing neck/back pain.  Then I started a business doing what I love to do - helping people be holistically well and lead with inspiration.  So life was overall good.  But a bunch of negative emotions bubbled into some of my days until I eventually couldn't get off the couch.

I was not able to bring myself to be excited about my business.  I often just lay down in the middle of the day and, really, had no emotions.  I had a lot of knowledge about what was happening and why, but I couldn't seem to bring myself to move.  I wasn't sad.  I wasn't happy.  I was nothing.

I hit the wall.

And my business suffered.  I am over two years in business now, and sometimes it feels like I just started.  But, like in my past business, I learned a lot.  Following are some of the lessons I learned. Some of these have nothing to do with business... and they have everything to do with business.

  1. Allow yourself to feel whatever emotions you are feeling.  Pushing them away simply prolongs the suffering... and may make it worse.  I pushed away anger, hurt, sadness, loss... because I knew I had to be happy and positive to attract happy and positive to my life.  Well, folks, we are human, and we are not wired to be happy and positive all the time.  We need to experience the whole range of emotions if we are to be alive and well. 
  2. That all said, become aware of the negative emotions and begin to shift them.  This takes time.  If you feel sad... feel sad.  Allow it to move through you.  Then allow it to leave.  Begin to find happier than sad.  That may not be 'happy'... that might be 'not sad'... and that is OK. Identify what makes you feel happy and do it.  Think it.  Experience it.  This begins a true shift in your brain and you will begin to feel happy again.  I began to keep my toddler home from daycare some days and have Mommy and daughter time.  Seeing the world through a child's eyes is one of the greatest forms of joy.  I also began to walk.  Outside.  Every day I could.  It brought lightness to me.  Over time, I added more things to my happy list, and over time, I climbed out of the emotionless pit I'd fallen into.
  3. Breathe.  Just sit and pay attention to your breath.  This calms your mind and helps you see more clearly.  We are often bombarded by our own thoughts.  We create chaos and stress in our lives because it is in our minds.  Calm your mind and calm your stress.  Meditation and yoga provided true healing for me.  And then I started my training to be a meditation instructor AND a yoga teacher.  Everything happens for a reason:) 
  4. Be with people who are truly kind and compassionate.  There are many positive people and groups out there. These may not be the best groups for you to be with when you feel burnt out - although they may.  I needed REAL.  Going to a group in which everyone was happy and positive made me feel awful - because I wanted to feel that but I couldn't.  I also did not feel good going to a group that was like a support group, where everyone shared their problems and cried with each other (you may need that, though).  I needed real people who were indeed happy, but they were non-judgmental.  They listened.  They did not try to fix me.  They did not have a need to flaunt their own happy or their own emotional distress.  They were truly kind. You will know them when you meet them because they make you feel good - not bad.  Now that I've left the burn-out zone, I can be with all the other people and groups without the emotions affecting me.  I needed attention and I needed kindness.  I needed a reprieve.  I needed real.  I needed to be able to say what was truly on my mind without fear of it affecting my business... because, afterall, I was in the business of mindfulness, leadership, and wellness, yet I was not being much of a leader and I was unwell.  
  5. Be kind to you.  So this piece of advice was given to me by a friend.  She just said these words and they resonated with me.  I was pushing my emotions down.  I was trying so hard to be what people expected of me - a great wife, a great mom, a smart business owner, a compassionate coach, a loving daughter/sister/friend.  But I struggled with all those roles because I wasn't listening to myself.  If I didn't feel happy and positive, I beat myself up because I knew better.  I needed some time to heal.  I was burnt out and it had been going on for years!  I finally needed to just rest.  Now, don't get me wrong, I still fed my children:)  But if I couldn't cook the healthiest meal, I didn't beat myself up about it.  If I didn't complete my tasks for the day, I didn't beat myself up about it.  If I felt bad... I didn't feel bad about feeling bad.  This was where I needed to begin.
  6. Investigate what is really going on.  You can do this through contemplation during meditation, journaling, or simply thinking about it while walking or resting.  For me, I experienced loss and hadn't dealt with it.  I left my job, closed my business, and then couldn't find a job for a long time when I lived in Singapore.  Upon my return to Newfoundland, I also did not have a job because I had a baby, but I searched for one even though I really wanted to be home with my baby.  Part of my loss was a loss in identity, which resulted in a loss of self-esteem.  I had been defining myself as a promising organizational leader.  But I was no longer that.  Once I recognized this, I could begin to shift it.  I began to let go of this identity.  I realized it was not WHO I was.  I intellectually knew all of this... but experiencing it brings a deeper level of understanding.  Once I got that, I could create my new vision and goals.  I could get excited about this new chapter in my life and I could say good-bye to the old one.
  7. Talk to another Entrepreneur or Business Leader or someone in your field or a Coach... who is non-judgmental.  I sought out fellow business owners ever since I first started my business.  I joined groups.  I met one-on-one.  I networked.  And I shared my challenges and successes.  But I did not always feel supported or encouraged.  In fact, I sometimes felt completely torn down.  Of course, I know this is not my problem but theirs.  However, as I entered the burn-out zone, this was detrimental to my confidence and courage as a business owner.  Slowly, I began to remove myself from all business groups.  In fact, I withdrew completely for a while.  It may not sound smart from a business point of view, but would you speak with a group of investors without preparing your speech?  I needed to prepare me.  So I did.  I took care of my mental state and was very selective about who I met with, who I took on as a client, what events I participated in.  I continue to find my tribe - my group of fellow colleagues who are open, caring, non-competitive, and real.
As an Entrepreneur or Business Leader, we often feel alone.  Stress is something we can handle with coping mechanisms if we are aware of and kind to ourselves.   The symptoms of stress can often be managed with lifestyle changes such as exercise, sleep, relaxation, nutrition, nature, art, healthy rituals, and setting boundaries.  Burn-out is much more difficult and business can suffer greatly when it comes along.  It is emotional and mental exhaustion.  It sometimes requires a complete change in career or job in order to deal with it.  But, you CAN pull yourself out of it.  Reach out for some help. Meditate.  Train your brain.  Find something good.  Celebrate feeling better than yesterday - even if that is angry because yesterday, you may have felt nothing.