September 26, 2022 By Suzanne Robertson

The term “burnout” was coined in the 1970s by American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger. He used the word to describe the consequences of severe stress in “helping” professions like doctors and nurses. However, the term quickly became widely used for all types of people experiencing all kinds of stress. Burnout can manifest slowly, even if you are passionately pursuing your entrepreneurial dream.

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Burnout can be difficult to describe. According to the APA Dictionary of Psychology, burnout is defined as “physical, emotional, or mental exhaustion, accompanied by decreased motivation, lowered performance, and negative attitudes towards oneself and others.”

Don’t let it smolder. Here’s some information about burnout, how you may be able to recognize it, and some tips on how to address the symptoms.

Reasons for burnout

The 40-hour work week may be unreachable for busy entrepreneurs. If you’re running your own business, you may be on call 24/7. Keep an eye out for burnout from some of these issues so you can adjust accordingly.

Unmanageable workloads

If your workload is balanced, you have the opportunity to reset. If you’re constantly under the gun, you’re going to feel the stress. As a busy business owner, you probably wear a lot of hats and take on most responsibilities yourself. But failure to delegate may put you on the road to burnout.


Putting off important tasks is never a good strategy. Leaving something for tomorrow that could have been done today often does nothing but double tomorrow’s work. This may lead to a lot of compounded tasks and the stress that comes with. Procrastinating may be a habit or could be caused by a lack of interest, frustration, or distraction. Take a look at your day-to-day activities to determine if you’re putting off important tasks.

Immense deadline pressure

According to a CareerCast® survey, deadlines are the most common source of professional anxiety. Deadline pressure is something that's universal in every industry, as are the anxious feelings associated with a shortage of time.

Work-life imbalance

For small business owners, striking the right balance between career and personal life can be difficult. For many entrepreneurs, the business demands are constant. If you’re experiencing symptoms of burnout, ensuring your life is in harmony should take priority.

Symptoms of burnout

According to mental health resource HelpGuide®, these are some of the physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms of burnout you may experience.

Physical signs and symptoms of burnout

  • Feeling tired and drained most of the time.
  • Lowered immunity, frequent illnesses.
  • Frequent headaches or muscle pain.
  • Change in appetite or sleep habits.

Emotional signs and symptoms of burnout

  • Sense of failure and self-doubt.
  • Feeling helpless, trapped, and defeated.
  • Detachment, feeling alone in the world.
  • Loss of motivation.
  • Increasingly cynical and negative outlook.
  • Decreased satisfaction and sense of accomplishment.

Behavioral signs and symptoms of burnout

  • Withdrawing from responsibilities.
  • Isolating yourself from others.
  • Procrastinating, taking longer to get things done.
  • Using food, drugs, or alcohol to cope.
  • Taking out your frustrations on others.
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5 ways to avoid burnout as a small business owner

No matter what your workload, there are tools and support systems you can put in place to mitigate the symptoms. Overcoming burnout can help you find joy and purpose in your professional life again. Here are ways to combat the feelings of burnout.

Keep yourself healthy

If you’re run down, you’ll burn out faster. Make sure you get enough sleep, eat right, exercise, and de-stress on a regular basis. It sounds simple, but a small business owner’s limited time leads to limited time for self-care. Even if you think you have no time for exercise, look at exercise as a return on investment. Studies have shown that entrepreneurs who practice cardio exercise have higher sales than those who don’t. You don’t need to invest in costly equipment or a gym membership either. A simple power walk around the block at lunch or after dinner is effective and gives you a mood boost. A good strategy is to block your calendar for a daily dose of exercise.

Take weekends off

Fatigue costs more than $136 billion per year in health-related lost productivity; 84% of those costs are due to reduced performance at work. Is working on your day off really worth it? Unplug from technology and truly enjoy time off – no matter how short that time off is. We all need to take time to relax, refresh, and replenish. Avoid pushing yourself – your employees and your family will thank you.


Entrepreneurs are notorious for “doing it all” but that can often lead to burnout quicker than anything else. Hand over tasks to skilled employees, freelancers, or vendors that support your business objectives. Before you begin to delegate, start tracking all of the information, knowledge, and processes that make your business run well. Having comprehensive and clear documentation is generally essential in order to delegate effectively and feel good about handing over those tasks.

Stop multitasking

We all do it – Texting while walking, sending emails during meetings, talking on the phone, and doing paperwork. Researchers are now finding that multitasking isn’t the answer to getting everything accomplished. It’s actually likely slowing you down. It can often take you longer to finish multiple projects when you’re jumping back and forth than it would to finish each one separately.

Establish goals

Set your small business priorities. Rather than focusing on a to-do list, consider prioritizing your day based on the actions needed to achieve your business goals. Being goal-oriented, not time-oriented, may help to eliminate unnecessary actions and you’ll likely be able to achieve much more.

Final thoughts

Try to avoid embracing the “hustle culture” that can lead to overworking, stress, and ultimately burnout. There are lots of resources online that can guide you towards healthy behaviors and help mitigate the effects of burnout. If you’re not able to get a handle on burnout symptoms, don’t hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional. Both you and your business will benefit.

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