Burnout is a state of exhaustion: emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. Experts agree that there are five stages of burnout:
- The honeymoon phase – The Engaged Stage. You are energetic, involved and effective. You have probably taken on a new role or opened a new business and you are excited and optimistic.
- The onset of stress – The Overextended Stage. You are tired and overworked, that new business isn’t quite so shiny and exciting any more, but you’re still slogging away.
- Chronic Stress – Disengaged: You are still productive, but you are getting more and more cynical and disinterested. Your stress is no longer a motivator, it is resulting in negative emotions and disengagement. You are likely to begin feeling apathetic, exhausted and possibly depressed or consistently anxious.
- Burnout – Ineffective Stage: Your productivity is dropping, but you probably still care about your work and the fact that your productivity is dropping. Mental escapism is common and you are beginning to experience physical symptoms like headaches or digestive issues. At this point you are probably spending a lot of time wondering what on earth motivated you to open a business in the first place!
- Habitual Burnout: You are exhausted, cynical, disengaged and completely ineffective. The symptoms are so embedded in your life that you are likely to continue in this state permanently unless you seek help.
Stage one and stage five can be states of being. Stages two to four tend to be transitional – you move from one to the other, but they can arise independently. The point is that you really want to stay in stage one, or somewhere in between stage one and two – you don’t want to be in any other stage
Essentially, burnout has two causes:
- Excessive work demands (or personal demands… basically, excessive demands on you)
- Limited resources (too little time, money, supplies, support or anything you feel you need to get the job done)
Burnout-causing situations tend to have one to six characteristics:
- Workload. Too much work, unreasonable time pressure, or the wrong type of work (work you are not suited to)
- Control or Clarity. No authority to do what is needed to achieve the goal, or a sense that too many things happen that affect you that are out of your control. A lack of clarity regarding the work you are doing, or a feeling that you aren’t good enough to do it, can also lead to a sense of being out of control.
- Reward. Inadequate rewards for the energy expended (low pay, no business growth, no recognition or no job satisfaction)
- Community. A constant state of isolation, or a constant state of conflict cause massive stress reactions in the body. A lack of communication or support from a manager or a partner can be very detrimental to your mental health.
- Fairness. Or more specifically, a lack thereof. Just the impression of a lack of justice or respect can be stressful, actual disrespect or bad treatment is definitely going to increase your stress levels.
- Values. If your personal values are in conflict with the work you are doing, you are going to be under constant strain.
Burnout can be caused by just one of these factors, but if more than one is present then burnout is guaranteed.
If you own your own business it is highly likely that you will suffer burnout at least once. Excessive work, including work you aren’t necessarily good at, limited resources and a sense of being out of control will be experiences you can’t avoid during the process of building a business. In fact, 78% of polled business owners report burnout within the first two years of starting a business. 78%!!
It is important to note that while burnout may be a result of unrelenting stress, it is not the same as too much stress. Stress is generally related to a feeling of “too much”. You have too much work and too much of a demand on your emotionally, mentally or physically. However, people experiencing stress can still tell themselves that if they can get things back under control, they will be ok again.
Burnout is about “not enough”. You are mentally, physically and emotionally drained and empty. Excessive stress feels as though you are overwhelmed by responsibilities but burnout is the sense that you no longer care about these responsibilities because there is nothing left in you to deal with them. Stress can manifest in anxiety, insomnia and depression. Burnout may present these symptoms, but will also manifest in hopelessness, apathy and despair.
The good news is that burnout is not a dead-end street. It can be recognised, dealt with and prevented. There is light at the end of the burnout tunnel – it’s you getting your fire back.
Please don’t give up, you CAN get back to being you!
Give us a shout to discuss how.