Ask any entrepreneur like myself and you’ll know what I’m talking about when I say building a business doesn’t really have much structure like a 9 to 5 day job and we never clock out at 40 hours a week. Taking a weekend to unwind or some vacation days after meeting a big deadline to take care of our mental health, ummm that’s a hard NO for us. See we (entrepreneurs) HUSTLE and GRIND pretty much all day long and check emails all weekend long. Vacation days, what vacation days? Well for starters, they aren’t really built into our ‘benefits package’ because….we don’t have one! We also don’t have sick days and personal days; we don’t have any days given to us which is why we feel we can’t take days off.
So, like Rihanna the boss of Fenty beauty world domination, we work work work work work because we’re building our dream and there is no ‘dream team’ to rely on, especially when you’re first starting out. So, what does an entrepreneur’s work week really look like? Most of us work 18-hour days, not 9 to 5, nope, more like 95 hour work weeks!
There is already immense stress caused by starting a business for any individual which shakes our self-belief to the core in general which is also why being an entrepreneur comes with high risk. Throw in the latest obstacle that is the ongoing COVID pandemic and things have gotten even more challenging for entrepreneurs. According to concerning statistics recently reported by the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), a financial institution dedicated to the growth of businesses and entrepreneurs, BDC reported more than 50 % of entrepreneurs are seeking mental health support more than once a week due to ongoing uncertainty brought on by the COVID pandemic.
The cases are rising even higher among certain groups including women, visible minorities, young entrepreneurs, and those who have partially or have not been able to resume business due to the ongoing impact COVID has had on their cash flow and mental health. Entrepreneurs are 50 % more likely to develop a mental health condition if they are not aware of the signs and symptoms, and many of us just don’t know what these signs and symptoms are which is why mental health education and tips aimed at entrepreneur wellness found here and other resources I will list below is crucial to an entrepreneur’s success.
So, sit back and take some time to dive into this important information I’ve gathered here for you which I wish someone had told me as a young entrepreneur starting out. My hope is that something will resonate with you if there is a need for a change and you are encouraged to make some healthy choices in your life so you can continue to build that dream.
So when did it become such a huge part of our entrepreneurial fabric to work until you just can’t???!!!! #burnout.
“I'm convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.” – Steve Jobs
When I read this quote from one of the most successful entrepreneurs of our lifetime, Steve Jobs, the word perseverance stuck out to me the most in the way he describes what separates the successful ones from the non-successful ones. When we look at the word perseverance, it means persistence in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success. Now, I don’t think Mr. Jobs was telling us aspiring entrepreneurs to persevere through the breakdowns (difficulties) of our mental health but the messaging and the go go go mentality for entrepreneurs to get ahead is definitely how most of us have absorbed the way in which to succeed as an entrepreneur.
Partly because until more recently, thanks to incredible entrepreneurial readiness courses and education offered around the self care of entrepreneurs by RISEhelps.ca and the Canadian Mental Health Associations entrepreneurship coaching and mentoring programs which I also oversee as an Entrepreneurship Coach in Kitchener, Waterloo area, there haven’t been many accessible resources on how one builds an empire or any emphasis on burnout prevention and how one can take care of their most important asset, their mind.
There isn’t a university course or college course you can take either so it's a lot of guessing and trial and error which leaves a lot of room for confusion and fear of losing what you’re putting in, like your time, effort, and most of all, your money. While that might be doable for some folks with some financial support from family, bank loans, or working a job to fund their dream, for others, building this business is the dream they can see themselves pursuing and everything is riding on making this one thing work so like Eminem said, success is the only M*THERF**KIN option, failure’s NOT!
Yes, being an entrepreneur is difficult and we do need to push forward through difficulties and learn how to navigate our way to where we want to be, just like many things in life but not at the cost of our health, our mental health. So how do we learn to put in place a healthy work life balance for ourselves when we don’t have an organization offering us to take sick days or vacation time. How do we learn to be more self compassionate to ourselves? After all, there is a reason employers give their employees sick days and vacation time and you deserve them too.
“Nothing will work unless you do.” – Maya Angelou
This quote so beautifully sums up the message here by one of our greatest poets, the legendary Maya Angelou, nothing will work unless you do, no business, no dream, NOTHING, how can anything work if you don’t? So why wait until burnout, lets make a change now so your dream can flourish, and you can live the life you deserve! If you don’t know your worth, then how will anyone else ever believe your business is worth the incredible effort, blood, sweat and tears you put into it.
Listen, I’m also a high achiever and I also get some of my best work done under pressure so I’m not saying don’t work hard, I know that’s not in an entrepreneur’s DNA, we are born to grind and hustle, that’s why we’re special and if it were easy, then everyone would be doing it right? Right! All I’m saying as your fellow entrepreneurship fairy boss is, take care of you, take those days off, build them into your quarterly, yearly plan, this helps you not only take care of your health, but it also builds time for inspiration for exploration, for new ideas to peculate in your beautiful creative mind. Work smarter, not harder!
When I finally learned my mental health was suffering as a direct result of neglecting my self care was when I was laying in a hospital bed suffering from entrepreneurial burnout and being diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I also want you all to know that this happened to me while I at the peak of my entrepreneurial journey. Yes, I was not just starting out in my first business, I was killing it for a while and that’s when I was hospitalized, so an important message to anyone out there reading this, burnout does not only happen when you’re building, it can happen when you’ve reached a peak and are successful as well so looking out for the signs to prevent this from happening to you is what I passionately teach and share with all my entrepreneurs that I coach in hopes this life saving information will help you too so you can focus and be there in mind, body and soul to see yours come to life. I don’t wish what I had to endure on anyone so look out for the signs below and focus on what’s important in your life while learning healthy boundaries with your work.
5 signs of ‘Entrepreneurial Burnout’ to look out for:
- Neglecting self care/basic human needs (this is a big one so I broke it down into 3 parts)
Lack of sleep: sleep is usually the first thing we entrepreneurs tend to sacrifice among many other sacrifices we make. This can happen as a result of working long hours as a passionate and driven entrepreneur but your sleep is essential to you being alive. Sleep deprivation which by the way you can’t really ever make up for by napping or sleeping extra on weekend, according to The Sleep Doctor Micheal J. Breus and many other medical studies show you are at higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease, heart failure, stroke and most of all lack of sleep interferes with healthy immune function. It also causes depression, hypertension and the list goes on.
PREVENTION: Prioritize sleep by dedicating yourself to a sleep and wake schedule/routine meaning sleeping and waking up at the same time each day and aim for 6 to 8 hours of good sound sleep a night. Studies have shown a sleep routine is essential to brain function and can prevent old age brain diseases like Alzheimer’s. Wake up and give yourself light exposure first thing in the morning, take a walk outside and get some sun before you’re sitting infront of that computer grinding all day. This lets your circadian rhythm (your inner sleep and wake clock) know it is time to hustle and grind. Lower the lights at night and switch off all technology at least two hours before bedtime. You need that brain to work right? Give it the rest it needs.
Lack of healthy eating: eating healthy is fuel, fuel is essential to your mind and body function. Just like a car with no gas, you can’t go far without food in your body and your gut getting adequate nutrients which plays a very important role in your overall functioning. Remember that ‘gut feeling’, well that gut is your second brain so your gut is literally responsible for telling you what’s wrong or right, which is highly needed in important decision making for your business. Over time, lack of healthy eating can contribute to the risk of developing other serious illnesses and health problems such as: digestive disorders, being overweight and high blood pressure.
PREVENTION: Being an entrepreneur is a busy lifestyle, meal plan on Sundays for the whole week so you don’t leave it to guesswork or grab and go something unhealthy. Plan to fail or fail to plan. There are also tons of healthy meal delivery services if cooking isn’t your thing, get on a subscription with one and try it out today, there are now so many budget-friendly options. I personally love to graze all day especially while I’m cranking out proposals or other work related to my business so stock up on healthy nuts and protein bars, keep them in your bag, your purse so you are never rushing to a drive through and regretting your choice after. Smoothies are also another quick and easy meal. Haivng all your food ready to go chopped in the fridge and freezer will help when you’re in a hurry and need to get things done so again, meal prep as much as you can and remember you are your greatest investment.
Lack of social interaction: as human beings we are built to interact with each other, it is our way of life but mostly, it is directly related to our health and wellness. Lack of social interaction is known to cause mental health conditions such as anxiety, chronic stress, cognitive decline and other physical ailments. Isolation can lead to reduced immune function and increased inflammation in the body.
PREVENTION: Set aside time to chat with family and friends just like you schedule meetings. Make it that much of a priority in your week. Volunteering for a cause close to your heart can also add much social good feelings to our lives. You can also join a class online and learn something new by connecting to a hobby which connects you with like minded people and you can also take a class at your gym that has you around people. Make time to meet friends and family for a meal, try to check in with your loved ones and the biggest reason for making connecting with others a priority, it lowers your chances of developing dementia.
2. Constantly identifying self worth with how much you work, how much you get done
When you start to identify your entire existence based on your work, when you get highs and lows from how much you can grind and get done, directly impacting your self worth because now it is tied to external factors and not anything internal. Long term affects of tying our self worth to things that are out of our control lead to chronic depression, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts for some.
PREVENTION: Learn to enjoy the process. Statistics show 9 out of 10 start-up businesses fail in the first 3 years, then tying our self worth to something that will need to ebb and flow and is out of our control is detrimental to our health and wellness. Practice the art of detachment, practice letting go. Both things serve us in every area of our lives and will in turn help you be a happier human. When we can see life as it is meant to be happen and not something that is happening to us then we can learn to be more present, mindful and calm, resulting in truly enjoying the process.
3. Inability to trust others, collaborate or delegate business needs and tasks to get things done, feeling cynical
When you find it hard to trust or collaborate with others, this can be a sign of trouble ahead again like overworking yourself to the point of exhaustion but also a sense of martyrdom, feeling like you need to sacrifice your self care because things just won’t get done without you, this is humanly impossible in the long run and leads to mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.
PREVENTION: Remember the saying ‘it takes a village’, when your business starts to grow, it literally will take a village for you to keep going not only because it is humanly impossible to be sales, marketing, payroll, presenter etc etc all by yourself. This will lead to burnout so adopt a ‘delegating mindset’. By delegating you will have time to focus on bigger goals, the bigger picture. Remind yourself delegation means growth. Reframing our way of looking at the task and committing to fully letting go will lead to a harmonious work experiences for your team, your collaborators and mostly for you.
A major sign of chronic stress, when you find yourself being irritated by small things at first but then it starts to become a world view irritation and now you’re irritated by your friends, family, you’re irritated at the littlest thing like not being able to find a remote control which then leads to angry outbursts. This in turn raises health concerns as the high intensity moods can raise your cortisol levels which can lead to major digestive issues like ulcers, IBS or irregular menstrual cycles and hormonal imbalance, all detrimental to one’s health.
PREVENTION: Practicing mindfulness can help us centre ourselves so we can have more time to self reflect when we are feeling irritable. Stop and ask yourself ‘why am I feeling like this?’, before we do things we regret. Talking to a trusted friend or seeking professional help can also help unload and understand what the root cause of feeling irritated can be. Consider taking time off from work to reset, recharge your batteries which is always helpful as well.
5. Feeling empty inside
When an entrepreneurial journey starts to feel less exciting and more work is done to try and fill a void because we’ve lost interest in things that made us happy before or we try engaging in distraction-based behaviours such as over eating, over working, substance use, anything to numb the feeling of disconnection to our life purpose. There is no excitement, there is no inspiration. Emptiness and losing motivation poses challenges when moving through natural hurdles that come your way as an entrepreneur, you need to be able to dust yourself off and try again but emptiness can cause depression which can lead to lack of motivation for anything at all causing your business to suffer.
PREVENTION: Feelings of emptiness are deeply rooted in ones lack of self love and self compassion. Knowing when to give ourselves a break and speaking to ourselves like we would to a friend is one place to start. Feelings of emptiness come from feeling disconnected to our purpose, or our sense of belonging. In order to get to the depth of this lingering feeling, take time out to refocus and rebalance yourself. Take time for self care which is essentially spending time with yourself and tending to our desires. Simple things like taking a warm bath or taking walks in nature to reconnect with ourselves and our purpose can help with leaning into the discomfort we’re feeling rather than avoiding it. Meditation such as sitting in stillness or meditation through movement such as yoga can always refresh the mind and body and leave us with feelings of connectedness, lessening the feelings of emptiness. As always, speaking to a professional or a trusted loved one or friend can be helpful as well.
After all is said and done, all of us entrepreneurs just want to flourish and kick butt in our entrepreneurial journey but waiting to learn to take care of ourselves while we are on this unique journey and getting to the point of burnout can risk us losing everything we worked so hard for so why not start taking care of ourselves today? In some cases, we may need professional help and other resources to connect to, so I’m listing some resources for all you beautiful humans, my tribe, my fellow entrepreneurs,
YOU CAN DO THIS, and only you can see if there is a need to slow down, listen, lean in, let go, rest, refresh, reset so you can get right back to hustling and grinding again like the BADASS ENTREPRENEUR YOU ARE MEANT TO BE!
You got this!
Entrepreneurial Burnout prevention resources:
Canadian Mental Health Association Entrepreneurship support program
Self Help & Peer Support offers the services of the Entrepreneurship Facilitator for individuals who have experience with the mental health and/or addiction system, and are interested in self-employment or starting their own business.
Rise is a national organization dedicated to empowering people with mental health and addiction challenges to achieve greater social and economic inclusion through entrepreneurship.
Psychology Today is a website dedicated to many mental health resources and has a robust directory of therapists if you need professional help. Remember you can always ask the therapist you choose for a ‘sliding scale’ to help with any financial burden you may be facing. You can also ask your family doctor to refer you to a therapist which can lead to free sessions as some family health teams have therapists on their team. I myself had sessions with a registered therapist for two years without ever paying a single penny and have used many employees assistance programs as well.
If you are experiencing mental health challenges, you can also join support groups through CAMH (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health) and again through the Canadian Mental Health Association .
Join entrepreneurship community forums – stay connected with others, build that tribe and stay connected.
Take care my entrepreneurship warriors and goddesses, wishing you all happy and healthy hustling and may all your dreams come true!
Your Entrepreneurship Fairy Boss,
Iman Grewal is a passionate Entrepreneur Coach at the Canadian Mental Health Association where she is blessed to work with aspiring entrepreneurs helping them develop business strategies and business plans while connecting them to supportive entrepreneurship resources so they can bring their dreams to fruition. The focus of this initiative is to support entrepreneurs with the most important part of their journey, their mental health.
Iman offers entrepreneurs support and education from a peer support and lived experience perspective to help prevent burnout and other mental health challenges that can be brought on by neglecting oneself care due to lack of resources and support for aspiring entrepreneurs.
Iman is also a driven entrepreneur herself. She is the founder and lead healer of her very own wellness platform (www.imangrewal.com) where she offers her expertise as a wellness expert gained from dedicating 20 years of education and training to the wellness industry specialising in ancient Vedic healing methods such as Yoga, Ayurveda and Meditation, all deeply rooted to her motherland, India. Iman is also a Mental Health Advocate working towards eliminating the stigma related to mental health because without mental health, there is no health.