How to Avoid Burnout in a High-Stress Environment

Photo by Luis Villasmil on Unsplash

Burnout seems like a colloquial term for feeling tired, or temporarily feeling disinterested in your job, but it’s a real and serious phenomenon among entrepreneurs. Career burnout can manifest as a growing distaste for your line of work or frustration with your current venture, but it also manifests emotionally and physically; among other symptoms, you may experience changes to your sleep patterns and appetite, become more irritable and depressed, and could even be more susceptible to diseases.

Physicians, nurses, social workers, and other high-stress positions are notorious for their burnout rates, and for good reason; high stress, when managed improperly, can wreak havoc on both your personal and professional life. Before you know it, the job and environment you once craved could become like a hellish prison sentence, forcing you to decide to either continue your misery or abandon your original goals.

It sounds terrible, but it’s an entirely avoidable outcome, so long as you practice the following strategies.

Identify the Root Causes and Eliminate Them

It seems obvious, but don’t underestimate the power of this strategy. Each day, take notes on what you do, how much time you spend, and how you feel about the time you spent. Chances are, you’ll identify a selection of tasks that disproportionately contribute to your stress; you might spend far more time on them than you originally realized, or you might just hate doing them outright due to personal preferences.

Your main strategies here are to:

· Automate the work, by finding a software tool that can handle the task for you.

· Delegate the work, by training another staff member or hiring someone new to handle those specific responsibilities.

· Rework your processes, possibly reshaping the business so you no longer have to focus on those specific tasks as an organization.

Keep in mind that even if you genuinely tolerate all the work you do, you may still be overburdened. If your workload is chronically too high, you’ll eventually burn out no matter how passionate you are, so don’t be afraid to rebalance your workload with other people within your company. Delegation is a skill.

Manage Stress Through Healthy Lifestyle Choices

There are dozens of lifestyle choices and strategies that can help you manage your chronic, high levels of stress — and you probably know what they are. For example, physical exercise helps you manage stress both as a short-term measure (by releasing endorphins and endocannabinoids that give you a kind of natural high), and as a long-term measure (by lowering your blood pressure and improving your overall health).

Eating healthier foods can give you long-lasting energy throughout the day, and regular sessions of meditation are shown to reduce levels of stress dramatically. You’ll also want to get a full night’s sleep (at least seven hours) every night.

The big problem most entrepreneurs have with these lifestyle choices is finding time to accomplish them. Sleep instantly cuts seven hours out of the day, and finding the extra hours to prepare healthy meals, work out, and enjoy life can be difficult. However, if you want to be successful, you do need to make time for yourself and your health; otherwise all the hours you pour into your business could end up wasted.

Take Breaks (and a Vacation)

Whenever you can, let yourself take breaks (even if that means sneaking in a nap at the office). You’ll see a boost in productivity, and you’ll foster a more positive relationship with your work. Things won’t seem as intimidating or as burdensome, and by allotting break time, you’ll create slots in your schedule for more relaxing, enjoyable activities. In a similar vein, make sure you take a vacation at least once a year.

Even if you don’t leave the house, taking a few consecutive days off work can give your mind the refreshing breather it needs to stay sane in your high-stress environment.

Know the Symptoms

Finally, you’ll need to learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of burnout. They tend to start out somewhat innocuous, growing more intense over time, and include:

· Having persistent feelings of exhaustion.

· Feeling self-doubt and recurring frustration.

· Being cynical or critical at work.

· Losing motivation and/or dreading coming to work in the morning.

· Isolating yourself, or feeling alone.

· Using food, drugs, or alcohol to cope with your frustration.

· Avoiding or abandoning your responsibilities.

· Experiencing a change in sleep or eating habits.

· Headaches and/or muscle soreness.

· Becoming more susceptible to illness and fatigue.

If you start to notice these signs, it’s your responsibility to take action, increasing your attention to the preceding strategies and making an improvement before things get any worse. Beyond these symptoms, you could start dealing with significant health consequences, including depression and heart disease.

Fortunately, you’re equipped with the knowledge and awareness necessary to nip the problem in the bud — you just have to invest your time in the strategies that can make it happen.

CEO of EmailAnalytics (, a productivity tool that visualizes team email activity, and measures email response time. Check out the free trial!