Jack Mason - avoiding burnout

August 13, 2020

Avoiding burnout is vital to your success in business – here’s why

This month (August 2020) is massive month for the Inc & Co group. We’ve just announced our new acquisitions, incspaces is off to a phenomenal start and there’s so much more to come for the rest of the year.

Growing a business, acquiring businesses, onboarding all kinds of different people, getting to know our new acquisitions, planning for the future… all in the middle of a global pandemic.

It’s been a super challenging and somewhat of an emotional rollercoaster. And to make sure I’m resilient enough to continue working at this pace, I took a week off last month. Here’s why you should do the same.

Taking regularly breaks is key to avoiding burnout

It may sound contradictory to take time off just when your business is flying. But avoiding burnout is essential to long term business success. It doesn’t matter your sector, business or plan, coping with the pandemic and everything else that goes along with it is tough. Work never stops, but you have to.

I’ve been through burnout a number of times in my career and have learned to take strategic time out when necessary. I chose a week in Istanbul to help me relax, regroup and get ready for the second half of this turbulent year. But it doesn’t matter where you go, or what you do. Taking the time to rest, spend time with family or just do something unconnected with work will help lower stress levels and boost your resilience and motivation.

There’s little point having amazing, world-beating ideas and then finding you’re too stressed physically and emotionally to implement them. Business leadership is not just about skill, experience and an eye for a strategic deal. It’s also about mental and emotional resilience. For this you need to be in good health, and able to think clearly.

What exactly does burnout mean?

Burnout is a term used to describe that feeling many people know well. It’s a feeling of being unable to cope because of the sheer pressure work brings to your life. It’s usually used to refer to a state of long-term and sustained exhaustion. Usually compounded by inability to continue working and mental and physical ill health, it can be a career ending state of mind.

This kind of sustained emotional disruption usually arises from a long period of overwork. Some people find they reach burnout after excessive and consistent stress. However, this isn’t the only story behind burnout. Today, doctors think that burnout and emotional distress caused by work can also be affected by your genetic disposition.

In other words, some people will never suffer from burnout regardless of the pressure on them. Others may find they’re struggling under what is considered ‘manageable’ stress. As with everything when it comes to mental wellbeing, burnout is not the same for everyone.

There is no single medical definition of ‘burnout’, but its symptoms tend to mirror that of severe anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses. People may feel exhausted, confused by decision making and struggle to find motivation. They may also doubt their own skills and ability and suffer with low self-esteem or a sudden drop in confidence. And with mental health struggles on the rise thanks to the pandemic, more people than ever are in danger of reaching burnout. 

Is stress ever a good thing?

Scientists now think that some level of stress is a good thing for people. The right kind of stress acts as a motivator and stimulus to achieve. But a long period of excess stress is widely thought to be bad for an individual.

Physiological reasons for this are down to the hormones released in the body at times of stress. Think of ‘fight or flight’. When you feel stressed or anxious, your body releases adrenaline and cortisol and these hormones cause physical reactions. Your heart rate may increase, blood flow changes could lead to panic attacks or you may lose your appetite. Perhaps you can’t sleep much or, conversely, you find you want to sleep all the time.Either way, this feeling will make you nervous, jumpy and affect your emotions. This is wearing not only on your mind, but also your body. People who undergo long periods of stress are more likely to become physically unwell. In extreme cases, unattended burnout can lead to chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) or Myalgic Encephalopathy (ME). These are neurological conditions that are thought to be exacerbated or sometimes stimulated by stress. Symptoms include physical affects ranging from muscle aches to migraines and mental effects such as poor short-term memory and inability to focus.

How to avoiding burnout

The best way to deal with the possibility of burnout is to prevent it from happening. When you’re in the thick of it, finding ways out can be difficult. It’s important to make changes to how you work and live to ensure you’re protected from too much work stress. Do it before you ever experience burnout, and you can avoid it indefinitely.

While some people are more prone to burnout, even those who normally manage to stay calm are at risk. Here are my tips to help you avoid burnout and manage stress.

  1. Be aware of your stress levels

As I’ve said, prevention is always better than cure when it comes to stress levels and burnout. Stay in tune with your own mental health and when you recognise rising stress levels, take action. I find a week off is enough for me, but you may need something more. 

  1. You are in control – even if it doesn’t feel like it

Most people feel more stressed when they feel stuck in a situation that’s feels out of their control. To minimise this feeling, take control of as many aspects of your work as you can. For example, think about the type of situations that make you feel stressed and put coping mechanisms in place. Don’t avoid them altogether but consider whether you can take a job that doesn’t force you into situation that will definitely affect your stress levels. Stress is a very personal thing, and only you know what’s too much for you. 

  1. Develop a good work/life balance

Stress can be dealt with by ensuring you live a balanced life. Take your holidays, even when it feels like you shouldn’t. You are guaranteed to be able to cope better on your return. Make time for exercise, your family and friends, socialising and hobbies. Work will always expand to fit the time you make available. Minimise the time you allocate to your work and the chances are you’ll still achieve your goals.

  1. Stay active and exercise regularly

Exercise is one of the most effective ways to deal with burnout. Being physically fit boosts your immune system and helps to manage stress. But exercise also releases chemicals in your brain. Endorphins make you feel good, and this will help you boost your resilience to work stress.

Above all, if you feel you’re heading towards burnout, speak to someone. Your health and wellbeing must always come first.

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