Avoiding Burnout: Seven red flags for business owners and what to do

After the year we’ve just experienced, it’s unsurprising that so many people are facing burnout right now. Years of a pandemic and the economic uncertainty of 2022 have left many people operating in survival mode, resulting in widespread burnout. 

For business owners, in particular, burnout is a big problem due to increased responsibilities, financial pressures and leadership challenges.

In fact, according to the Opinium and the Centre for Economic and Business Research, 92 per cent of small business owners have experienced mental health problems over the past two years, and 40 per cent said dealing with their psychological problems will likely take longer than financial recovery.

So, what are the warning signs of business owner burnout, and what can you do to prevent it?

Here are seven warning signs you might be headed by burnout and a few tips to help you look after your mental health and well-being this holiday season.

Warning signs you’re headed for burnout

  1. You’re feeling uninspired: We all go through highs and lows when it comes to motivation, but for business owners, these experiences are often magnified, with big wins sometimes followed by even bigger losses. With tech staff layoffs, staff shortages, and inflation thrown into the mix; many might feel inspired. However, if you’ve been feeling unmotivated for some time and can’t shake the feeling, this could be a warning sign that burnout is looming.

    If at all possible, try taking a break over the holidays, even if it’s just for a few days. Scientific studies have shown that ‘switching off’ can lead to increased productivity, higher rates of happiness and better sleep. A well-rested founder can achieve a great deal more than someone who is stressed out and on edge. 

  1.  Loss of focus: It can be difficult to stay focused when your workload is overwhelming, but if you’re struggling to concentrate or to complete tasks this could indicate burnout. Take a step back, prioritise what needs to be done right now, and delegate the rest to your team. As a leader, it can be easy to feel like you ‘need’ to be involved in every task and situation, but actually stepping back and letting your staff step up is vital to your long-term success. If you haven’t got anyone in a position of trust yet, consider training somebody to act as second in command when you need time off or some help managing the business. 
  1.  Increased stress levels: Stress is inevitable in business, but if it’s starting to take a toll on your mental and physical health, it could be time to find a way to unwind. Try doing a short meditation, as even a few minutes can reduce your heart rate and enable you to think more clearer. Likewise, if things are getting too much, get outside!  Studies have shown we experience a reduction in stress hormones when we walk in nature, which in effect, lowers blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle tension.
  1.  Becoming easily frustrated: If you find yourself snapping at colleagues or clients more often than usual, this could be a sign of burnout. Take a step back and try to recognise when you’re becoming frustrated and why. Addressing the ‘why’ may actually help you solve any underlying issues that may be causing your stress. You may also just need a break, in order to see things more clearly. 
  1.  Avoiding social interactions: If you’ve been avoiding social situations more than usual and feel like you’ve got nothing left in the tank, this could be a sure sign of burnout. However, when feeling this way, it’s beneficial to try engaging with people outside of work to realign your work/life balance. Doing things for fun can distract your mind from work issues, which can provide you with a much-needed healthy distraction and mental break. 
  1. Trouble sleeping: Lack of sleep can be a warning sign that you’re heading for burnout. If your mind is spinning with work when you’re trying to get to sleep, it’s time to take a step back. Try using sleep apps like Headspace or Calm to either meditate or listen to sleep songs or sleep stories to help your mind forget about work.
  2.  Feeling overwhelmed: If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your workload or the sheer number of tasks that need to be done, it can be helpful to break them down into smaller chunks and tackle one thing at a time. Use your colleagues, family and friends as support pillars, and if things really are too much, it might be time to chat with a professional to get some greater tools to assist you. There’s no shame in seeking professional help, as many do, to assist you with building the tools to manage the many stressors in life. 

Remember, burnout doesn’t have to be a permanent state, and with the right steps and support, you can recover and get back on track. Stay focused on your goals, take regular breaks, delegate tasks when necessary and have an open dialogue with your team. And if all else fails, step back and take a break! 

Resources for mental health as a business owner