As seen in Forbes
A few months back, my body started talking to me. My shoulders and neck ached deeply, a strong headache overtook my ability to think clearly, and my brain felt frazzled. The thought of applying effort to anything at all left me short of breath. I was in a state of sheer exhaustion.
I then spent the next two days in bed. Immobile. Essentially useless. Drowning myself in caffeine and hoping for enough energy just to make it to the carpool lane to pick up my toddler from school. I wasn’t sick — I was burnt out. And it was really, truly terrifying.
We’re always warned about stress and its harmful effects: “Stress will kill you!” “Stress equals sickness!” But how in the world are we supposed to avoid being stressed when we’re full-fledged entrepreneurs and, for some of us on top of that, parents?
When I first started my Miami marketing company, I never in a million years thought I’d be able to build something that could pay off the way that it has. Yet here we are. I’m not saying I’m unhappy — in fact, most days I feel so fulfilled and ecstatic with the life I’ve built that I smile for no reason and my heart could burst from happiness. But any entrepreneur who tells you this lifestyle isn’t excruciatingly difficult is lying through gritted teeth — the ones that hurt from the inevitable nighttime grinding that accompanies stress and anxiety.
What causes said stress? For many entrepreneurs, when business is booming, you’re probably, like me, riddled with worry over how to keep it at that level, how to effectively manage your team and how to ensure that all of the work you put out is top-notch. When business slows down, then you’re racking your brain thinking of ways to pick things up again, ways to throw a curveball and get ahead of the game, all while wondering if it’s time to just pack it all in and get in line for a desk job. And then there’s everything else in life to deal with, to add to the already overwhelming pile.
Since this last episode of burnout left me so rattled, I knew it was time to do something about it. Those two miserable days in bed brought to me the awareness that I had no choice but to keep this from happening again, and if not for me, for my ability to be a good parent.
Here’s the thing: You can’t avoid being stressed. This would be almost as impossible as trying to avoid a racing heart each time you open a “call me, it’s important” email from a client. But you can, however, learn how to manage stress when it starts to consume you:
1. Learn when to disconnect.
Your body is brilliant and will start to send you signals when it’s reaching that “I can’t take any more” level of stress: the tension headache, inability to focus for long periods of time, the daily feeling of wanting to just crawl back in bed by 4 p.m. That’s all stress taking its toll on you. Instead of waiting for this to happen, try taking a proactive approach by disconnecting not only when you’ve simply just had enough but each day instead.
Since my last episode of burnout, I have committed to shutting down between the hours of 3 p.m. and 7 p.m., from when I pick my daughter up from school to when I put her to sleep, in order to save my sanity. I don’t check emails, I definitely avoid calls at all costs, and I focus on being present with my child. This not only helps me clear my brain and connect on a deeper level with my daughter but also allows me to “reboot.” That way, I can tackle what’s waiting for me with a clear head once she’s asleep.
This was not easy to do, but with time it became a part of my routine. At first, I worried that I’d be letting things fall apart while losing my grip on running my business. On the contrary, it has made me better, more focused and more productive during my “connected” hours.
2. Learn to set boundaries.
Part of disconnecting includes learning to set boundaries. Like every other self-starter at the beginning of their entrepreneurial journey, I made myself way too accessible to my clients. In order to keep them happy and keep the business rolling in, I found myself answering emails almost immediately, no matter the time of day or night, even pulling over the side of the road from time to time in order to do so. I found myself starting responses with a pathetic apology like, “sorry for the delay!” even if it had only been 30 minutes since I received the message.
3. Stop doing things you hate.
Every entrepreneur has something they hate about running their business. Maybe you’re like me and hate all of the backend bookkeeping and accounting. Maybe you’re the type of person who’d rather just stay behind the scenes and let others do the talking, selling or creating. Part of what led to my burnout was my need to handle each aspect of my business, even the parts I hated most. So I learned to delegate instead, and it has been a game changer.
The next time it all feels like too much — like you’ve bitten off more than you can chew and want to crawl into bed and shut off your phone until friends and family come knocking on your door — follow my instructions. I beg of you. Take a deep breath, look how far you’ve come and be easy on yourself. Your success, happiness and, most importantly, your health, are all depending on it.