What Is Your Burnout Telling You?

If you’ve been an entrepreneur for more than five minutes, you’ve probably faced burnout.  Being an entrepreneur can be stressful, a veritable roller coaster, and there are some days that you’ll feel like you’re in over your head.

On those days, instead of allowing yourself to drown, stop for a second and ask yourself this question:

Everyone’s burnout is different, and every stage a different shade.  So grab a cup of coffee, or tea, or whatever your comfort liquid is, and let’s hunker down.

I offer “unplugging” advice as a guest on the Hello Tech Pros podcast.


Get to Know Your Limbic System

The Limbic System is the “fight, flight, or freeze” part of our brain.  Often, this part of your brain is called your “Lizard Brain” because it is such a simple base of operation.  In fact, the Limbic System reacts several milliseconds faster than your higher brain.

The Limbic System is also the originator for stress.  In some cases, your Limbic System may mistakenly connect a current situation with a negative past condition.  It is entirely possible to be stressed about something that isn’t actually stressful, simply due to such a connection.  As if we didn’t have enough to deal with already…

The Limbic System is responsible for the feeling that stress is building up, even if you’re not sure why.  With enough stress comes burnout — flight being the usual gut response.  If you’re feeling this way, please don’t abandon your hard work.  Instead, let’s work through what your burnout could be saying — and how to fix it.

Burnout isn’t just burnout.

It is your mind (or body) trying to tell you something.  Even if it is misguided by past experience, it is important to work through the stress and put that trigger experience to rest.

For the purposes of this article, I’m going to assume that your stress is coming from your business, and not from a past trigger.  So let’s take a look at the three major types of business burnout and how to deal with them.

The launch is so close.

You’re a week away from a major launch and suddenly your brain has decided to poop out on you.  It doesn’t want you to get out of bed, hates that you’re drinking coffee to try to jump start it, and definitely does not want to make sense of the work you have ahead of you.  How could it be that you are so close to the finish line and your mind just refuses to get along?

Validate the Stress

In this case, your burnout probably  just needs to be recognized and soothed.  Bear in mind, burnout comes from the Limbic System — the part of your brain that is most animalistic, and often rather childish.  Your burnout doesn’t mean give up on the project.  It’s childish to give up when it’s almost completed (unless there is a major red flag), right?

The Limbic System isn’t rational.  It doesn’t know that you’re almost at the finish line — it just knows that its stress threshold has been reached and it wants to be done.  To get past it, stop for a moment and allow yourself to know that you’re burnt out.  Take a few deep breaths, and let it happen.  By not fighting it, your burnout is validated, and your Limbic System satisfied.  Follow through with a good meal and early bed time to let your brain rest.

This mantra I made may help:


I suddenly feel run ragged.

If you haven’t been working toward a major goal in which the stress will soon subside, your burnout is probably saying something much more significant.  I’m assuming you still love what you do (otherwise, scroll down), which means your burnout is most likely telling you that you’re not paying enough attention to yourself.  I totally get that — I have a tendency to do the same.  In fact, earlier this year I noticed while setting my monthly goals that I was making no personal goals.  It was all business.  And that’s the fastest way to burnout.

Take Care Of Yourself

Ok, let’s start with goal setting.  Have you set any for yourself, lately?  I mean anything from losing ten pounds to finally reading that book that you bought six months ago because it looked amazing.  If you’re not setting even small goals for your personal life, you’re making yourself prone to burnout.  Self-goals are like the Vitamin C & D for your immune system.  Sure, it can get along fine without them, but with them you could go years without getting sick.  Which would you prefer?

My current goals are to finish an art series that is scheduled to show in August, make my second batch of kombucha, and finish a leathersmithing project I started for a friend (back in February — ew!).  My larger personal goals are to hang out at least one week night with friends, and to meet Bono.  I said larger, didn’t I?!

One other important area to look at is self care.  If you don’t even know what that means, click the link.  This is really important and you’ve been missing it.

If you know about self care, have you been doing it?  When was the last time?  Self care is food for the soul and is necessary to fuel the energy it takes to be an entrepreneur.  It also helps the work / life divide, which I believe is important for sanity’s sake.  Take this moment to reassess your self care rituals and, if necessary, form some new ones.  Commit to yourself that you will do these regularly —  preferably weekly.

My current self care regimen includes epsom salt & oil baths, reading in bed, listening to music with good headphones on, and making a big dinner from scratch.  What do you do for your self care? Share in the comment area below so others can get ideas!

I can’t do this anymore.

Ok.  This is a HUGE signal and deserves a lot of attention and introspection.  If you sincerely feel like you can’t continue your work, it may be that you are no longer dealing with a Limbic System reaction.  Rather, your core self is reacting to what you’re doing, and your Limbic System is providing the alarm.  What do I mean by your core self?  However you define your essence — what makes you, you.  Your soul, your spirit, your personality.  And if that is what is conflicting with your business, it’s time for a major change.

Confronting Your Business

This could easily turn into an existential crisis — but luckily, you’ve got me.  Let’s take this one step at a time.  First, answer these few questions as honestly as possible:

  1. Did you start your business to escape a situation?
  2. Do you have trouble identifying with your clients / customers?
  3. Do you feel a sense of dread when it’s time to begin work?

If you answered “yes” to all of these, your business is not right for you.  Your burnout is telling you to take a good look at your life and make some major changes.  It’s time to consider what you are actually passionate about, what problem you want to solve, who you identify with, and why you want to be an entrepreneur.  It is likely that you will be able to pivot your business, but this is a long road, and you’ll need help.  I absolutely can provide that support, but you will need clarity about the above considerations before we get started.

If your answers were mixed, it may be that you’ve been sidetracked from your core values.  Perhaps a mentor made a suggestion that sounded logical but wasn’t for you.  Maybe you jumped at an opportunity without considering if it truly fit your business model (and business self).  So let’s boil the situation down even further with a few more questions.  Please write down your answers, as they will become mantras and reminders moving forward:

  1. Why did you start your business?
  2. What do you love doing for your business?
  3. What do you like about working with your clients / customers?
  4. What parts of your business do you talk about to friends / family?

Have you discovered any discrepancies in your business today versus what you thought it would be at the beginning?  What about compared to what you love to do?  It may be time to rebuild your business – not from scratch, but from a philosophical standpoint.

Print off a copy of the Lean Canvas.  Begin filling it out with your answers in mind.  Take time to do it — several days is not unreasonable.  As you work on it, more realizations may come forth.

The Business Model Canvas will set a new foundation for your business.  It will also make sure you don’t get out of scope in the future.  Working outside your target market or business mission will easily burn you out again.  Now you have, in writing, something to compare every opportunity to.

From here, do two things.  First, boil your answers and Canvas down into several key phrases that will help you remember your core values and business mission.  Place them where you will regularly see them during your work day.  Second, begin working through each aspect of your company to ‘trim the fat’.  What activities, areas of focus, or clients don’t fit your Business Model Canvas?  Begin setting goals to wean off them.  It will hurt your company’s reputation to change overnight, but you can begin making changes right away.  Stop taking clients that don’t fit your Model, for example.  With actionable goals in mind, your stress should reduce and burnout fade.

What have you done to restore yourself after burnout?  Comment below so others might take your advice!








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  1. […] it away.  When the day is done, put your sh-tuff away to avoid burnout.  If you have a home office, shut the door and don’t reenter until the next business day. […]

  2. […] is extremely difficult — stress makes us latch onto ideas as if our life depended on them.  Recall my article about burnout and the ‘fight or flight’ affect of stress; your brain thinks it’s life or death when stress is […]

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