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Hi everyone – it’s wonderful to be back on the podcast!
Today, I’m talking about my experience with entrepreneurial burnout in 2022. This is the first in a two-part series.
I hope that what I share today and next week will help other entrepreneurs who are going through something similar. Also, anyone who feels they may be at risk of burning out will likely benefit from this series.
Although burnout is not a medical diagnosis, the MBI (Maslach Burnout Inventory) identifies 3 dimensions that are used to measure it:
- Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion.
- Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job.
- Reduced professional efficacy.
In my case, burnout showed up as a loss of creativity and interest in my work. I felt unable to create new content and struggled constantly with cynical thoughts about my business and the coaching industry.
I also went through some increased anxiety and bouts of depression. The early days of burnout were not a fun experience!
As someone who has felt inspired in business for the last eight years, this came as a shock. Luckily, my story has a happy ending and I’m delighted to be back working in my business and talking with you all again.
You’ll also hear in next week’s episode, how I came to see my burnout as a gift.
What you’ll learn on today’s episode:
- How introverts are both more and less likely to struggle in online business.
- My 4-step method to manage stress and recover from burnout.
- Why it’s essential you don’t make any major business decisions while recovering from burnout.
Featured on this episode:
Social Support, Personality, and Burnout in Nurses (Eastburg, M.C., Williamson, M., Gorsuch, R. and Ridley, C. (1994), Social Support, Personality, and Burnout in Nurses. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 24: 1233-1250)
Get more information about Business Growth Lab here: sallyannmiller.com/thelab/
Welcome to Introverts Thriving In Business, the podcast for introverts who enjoy the comfort of home, hate the idea of selling, and want to create a thriving business on their terms. If you are ready to go from overwhelmed and anxious, to feeling calm and accomplished in your business, then keep listening. I’m your host, Sally Miller.
Hi everybody, this is Sally and it’s so good to be back on the podcast now. You might not even know what I mean by that. It depends when you’re listening to this episode, but I have been gone from content creation, from publishing podcast episodes for close to five months. At the point of recording this, it was exactly four months ago when I last published a podcast episode.
That was back in August of 2022. And today I’m gonna be talking about why and what happened. Cause I’m calling this episode Burnout Recovery. It’s actually first in what’s gonna be a two-part series around burnout. So this week I’m gonna talk about what happened with me. I’m gonna share a lot about my personal experiences and give you some solid tips and strategies you can take away to help you recover if you think you are in burnout. And then next week’s episode, I’m gonna really dive deeper into the lessons learned. Okay?
Now, the lessons learned if you’re in burnout usually come after you’ve recovered. In fact, I love to give my listeners a takeaway for every single episode. And if I were to ask you just to remember one thing from this Burnout Recovery episode, it’s do not make any significant decisions in your business until you are well on the path of recovery. And this is the same if you are in any sort of high stress state or if you’re struggling with anxiety or depression. Okay. Any of those diagnoses.
In fact, burnout is not actually a medical diagnosis. I’ll come that in a moment, but you know it, right? As entrepreneurs, we know when we’re in any kind of high stress state, or if we’re struggling with anxiety or depression, if that is you, that is not a time to make a big decision, and I’ll explain why that is today, too. Okay, so to recap, today is gonna be about burnout, recovery, and I’m gonna share a lot about my experience.
And then next week is going to be about lessons learned and how in fact, I’ve come to see burnout as a gift. And if this is happening to you or ever happens to you, I’m hoping I can encourage you to also see your burnout as a gift. I’m really excited about next week’s episode.
Okay, so let’s rewind a little. What happened to me and what is burnout? I’m gonna start with what exactly is burnout? Like I just said, it’s not actually, I believe a medical diagnosis, and actually I have to put the usual medical warning in here. I’m not a doctor. I’m not a trained therapist, so anything I share today are strategies, tips, and ideas for you to take away. But I really encourage you to seek help if you are struggling in any way, and by help, I mean properly qualified medical help. That might be a psychologist, a psychiatrist, a therapist. You can start with your gp, your doctor, but reach out from help from people who are qualified to recognize the symptoms and to help give you a path back to recovery. But I will be sharing how I did it. And I didn’t actually seek medical help, but I did have a lot of very qualified support around me when I went through my burnout experience.
So back to what is burnout? It’s not a medical diagnosis. However, the MBI, I hope I pronounce this correctly, that stands for the Malac Burnout Inventory. It was created back in the 1970s, I believe, but it is still used today by psychologists to recognize the symptoms of burnout, and there are three dimensions that they measure in order to recognize potential burnout in the workplace.
And those three dimensions are one, feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion. Two, increased mentle distance from your job or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to your job. And then three, reduced professional efficacy. So basically one energy depletion, two, mental distance, checking out, three efficacy, like how well are you doing?How are you performing in your job? So those are the three dimensions.
Now, I wanna pause here and share how it showed up for me. Cause I suspect that entrepreneurs are a little bit different to those in the helping professions. And incidentally, burnout was initially identified in the helping profession. And guess what, if you, like me, are a coach, we are in the helping profession, aren’t we? Yeah. But as an entrepreneur, I think it can show up a little bit different or maybe show up in other areas first because, we actually, as entrepreneurs do have a lot of control over our work.
So there’s a lot of discussion in the conventional burnout space around how burnout occurs in the workplace cuz people don’t feel like they have control over their work, over what their tasks are doing. They have a boss and they need to do what they’re told effectively. We entrepreneurs do have a lot of that kind of control. So I didn’t really have problems personally in that.
But the way it showed up for me was very notably a lack of motivation, like an extreme loss of motivation in my business. In fact, I also identify very much with the idea of negative and cynical thoughts about my work. I was having negative and cynical thoughts about the entire coaching industry, about the online business world, about entrepreneurialism. I’m gonna talk a lot more about this in next week’s episode about lessons learned because some very beautiful lessons have come to me through this experience. All right, so more coming on that. But that was how it mostly showed up.
I didn’t have many physical symptoms. I was still sleeping, okay. I was seeing it bubble over in my life, in mood swings, some anxiety, some depression. Even some anger from time to time. But for the most part, and this was so surprising for me cuz I have never struggled with motivation. Not like this. I mean, I have ups and downs of motivation. Every entrepreneur does. But as far as inspiration and creativity, that has always flowed for me. I’ve always been able to easily create lots of content, whether that’s books, podcast episodes, blogs, training materials, workshops for my clients.
I’ve always felt in my work like there is a non-stop source of inspiration and creativity inside of me, but that just stopped. I just lost all motivation, and as a result, I lost access to that creativity, and that was the main way it showed up for me. So I also want to share, now, it could show up differently for you, but just be very aware as an entrepreneur, if you are really struggling on the creativity, just look into why.
Now I also wanna pause here and talk a little bit about introverts and burnout, because of course I am a deep introvert and this is a podcast for introverts and helping you thrive in business. A little ironic, right, that on a podcast about introverts thriving, I stopped thriving myself.
All right, so I’ve got some good news and some bad news for introverts when it comes to burnout. I’ll start with the good news. And I looked a little bit into the science and the studies, but I won’t go deep into this. I haven’t read all these studies in detail, but I will link to them in the show notes for this podcast episode for anyone who likes to go read the scientific research. But I found several studies around introversion, extroversion, and burnout. Now, the good news for introverts came from a couple of studies, and this did not surprise me. One was a 2017 study that concluded introverted employees can face stresses resulting from telecommunication, so that’s remote work, more easily.
So we can handle remote work more easily than extroverted ones. And common sense will tell you that. Because as an introvert we have less need of social interaction. And I think this has really shown up through the pandemic when more and more people have been working remotely. The extroverts tended to be the ones that struggled the most in the beginning, cuz they weren’t getting that much-needed social interaction. So good news, we have a benefit there.
In fact, another study in 1994, so going back further. That looked at nurses in particular, because of course, burnout is very much recognized as a problem in the helping industry, and it noticed that extroverted nurses required more work related peer support than introverts in order to avoid emotional exhaustion. Again, that kind of makes sense, right? So that’s the good news. In general, when everything’s ticking over, we can work remotely more easily and we introverts actually need less peer support than extroverts in order to avoid emotional exhaustion.
However, there is a little bit of bad news. And I’ve long expected that introverts, especially if you’re highly sensitive like me, we struggle in the caring professions like we care so deeply and that we can be a little bit more at risk of high stress and potentially burnout. And I did find one study a 2017 study that looked specifically at medical students. And of course, medical students, they’re in the caring profession and they’re under a lot of stress with the entire process of what they need to do as medical students. And this study reported that extroverted medical students had greater positive wellbeing, self-control, professional efficacy, and lower levels of depression when compared with introverts.
Now, I haven’t got into depth into that study, and this is purely anecdotal. It’s not scientific, but it’s my instinct that if you’re a highly sensitive introvert, then you could well be more at risk of in your work, if you are in a caring profession in particular, of depression, of low-wellbeing. So a little bit of a good news, bad news there, and just something to be aware of. It doesn’t matter. I see my introversion as a strength. But you also want to be aware of your sensitivity levels and how your work is affecting your body.
So let’s talk about burnout, recovery in particular, and I’m going to reference a method that I’ve taught before on this podcast, actually. Something I created based on what I’ve learned from multiple other sources and teachers, and it’s called the C-A-L-M method.
If you wanna hear the original teaching that I did on this method, you can go back in the archives of the podcast and look for the two episodes called Transform Stress with the Calm Method. And over a series of two episodes, I walked through C A L M, the four steps in the Calm method and how to use it to manage stress.
And the four steps basically are comfort. C for comfort. A is allow. L is listen and learn, and M is move on. So comfort, allow, listen and learn, move on. And effectively what I did in my own burnout, and what I suggest you do if you are struggling with stress, or even possibly burnout, is consider following these steps. And it’s so important you take your time.
So for stress, like minor stress, the CALM method is very effective and can work in a matter of minutes. In the case of burnout, it turned out that I spent about four, five months working through the four steps in the calm method. And I believe I say back on the original episodes when I shared this method with you guys, I said, this can take minutes and it can take weeks.
Well, in the case of burnout, it can also take months. Because the difference is with burnout, you need to spend a lot longer in the first two steps. Calm and allow, and this is what I’m thinking of as the burnout recovery period. So you want to calm, you wanna comfort yourself, and then allow the feelings. Those are the first two steps. And you wanna do that for as long as necessary before you even consider moving on. Please don’t push anything. If you’re in burnout, don’t try and force your way through it.
So how do you do these two steps? How do you comfort yourself and how do you allow the feelings? Well, let’s talk about comfort, and again, I’ll share what I did as well specifically. So the reason I always start with comfort in the calm method is if you think about it, when you’re in a high stress state, you are in that fight or flight state. Your whole nervous system is on alert. Your reasoning powers go offline. That is the reason why I said don’t make any decisions in your business, any significant decisions in your business whilst you are still in a burnout or a high stress state.
Your reasoning brain is shut down. And not only that, you also lose touch, I believe, with your heart, your truth, which is another concept I talk about a lot and I will be diving into deeper in next week’s episode, is really understanding what is true for you. You lose touch with both of these sort of important parts of what it is to be human and you become reactive. And any decisions or anything you do when you’re in a reactive state, which is basically fight or flight, are probably not gonna be for the best in your business.
So the first thing you wanna do is create a lot of space for yourself and comfort yourself. Practically, this looks like removing any sources of stress, both internal and external, or as much as you can. So in the case of my business, I didn’t shut it all down. I didn’t switch it all off permanently. I didn’t do a pivot. I just turned down the dial on as many stress creating activities or activities that at that point in time were stressing me and just focused on the minimum.
Practically, the one way you can do this, and this is what I did, is just make a list however long it needs to be of what you’re doing in your business. And then for each thing on that list, ask yourself, does this feel heavy or does it feel light? Or does it feel doable? And eliminate anything and everything you can that feels heavy. So what I did is I turned off all marketing and sales. That was the first thing I was really struggling the most in showing up and selling whilst I was experiencing burnout.
I also turned off content creation because my creativity just wasn’t happening. So I stopped recording this podcast. I stopped even sending out my weekly newsletter, the first time I’d done that, I think, in over five years. I stopped creating new books. I stopped creating new content. I’m putting out any type of like creative content in my business. In fact, it’s probably easy to say what I kept, cause I turned off everything. I pressed pause on everything except working with existing clients. And I felt really good about that decision and that created a lot of time, space in my calendar time where I could look after myself, nurture myself, comfort myself.
But it also removed sources of stress, things that I was seeing or that was creating stressful thoughts in my brain and a stressful reaction in my body. It turned off as many of those things as I could. Also, absolutely, and I said this right at the beginning, whilst you’re in the recovery and you’re in that first step of comfort, please seek help. Depending on how far you are, go see a specialist, a doctor, a therapist, a psychologist. At the very least, talk to your friends. Also seek help so that you can cope with life more.
Don’t be shy telling your spouse or loved ones around you that you might need a little extra help at home If you’ve got kids like me, okay, but ask for help. Seek help. Get help for yourself in terms of medical help, if necessary, but also help just to manage life. Reduce commitments as much as possible. For me, that was really important, but I think it’s true for almost all of my introverted audience, we don’t do well with a lot of social commitments. Let’s be honest, and I don’t have that many on my calendar, but I went through and reduced as many as possible.
So those are my tips for how to change your environment, to give yourself the opportunity to comfort and then what you do in that comforting phase, it’s gonna depend on you. It might look like a lot of just long walks outdoors. It might look like meditation or prayer. It might look like slow breathing. It might look like a lot of sleep. You might just need rest. Your body might just need rest. Lots of ways, and you can go back, like I said, and listen to the episodes on transform stress with the calm method. I give some specific ideas of how to comfort yourself in the first of those two episodes.
Allow is also important. And these two kind of go hand in hand is not necessarily sequential. You’re comforting and allowing, comforting and allowing hand in hand. But what do I mean by. allow? This is allowing the emotions. Now, people resist this step. In fact, what can put you into burnout is pushing down and not facing emotions.
So it’s feeling them. It’s crying when you need to cry. It’s screaming if you need to scream. It’s letting the emotions out of your body, but doing it in a way that you don’t feed the emotions, you don’t indulge in them. Now, this is tricky, so I’m gonna try and explain what I mean by talking about little kids.
I’m a parent. I’m very familiar with this. If you’re a parent, a grandparent, if you work with kids, notice what happens when they’re crying. I can see in my kids, there’s two types of crying. There’s two types of upsetness. There’s the genuine crying, the ones when they really just want your comfort. They want your presence. They want your silent presence. They want your hugs. There’s the genuine tears, and then there’s the crying where it’s a little forced. Perhaps it’s for attention. Perhaps they’re just trying to keep it going. Perhaps they’ve worked themselves up and they’re just indulging in the tantrum.
If you watch closely or you have kids, you’re around them all the time, I’m betting, you know the difference between the two types of tears your kid has. You just know instinctively as a fellow human, when they just need comfort. They need a big hug, and you just need to allow them to cry it out. And then you can also tell when there’s tears, when perhaps you just need firmness of, okay, that’s enough. We’re moving on now. Or maybe they just need to be ignored a little bit whilst they work it through.
It is a definite different feeling. So this is what I mean when I say allow. Allow the tears. And it doesn’t have to be literal tears. It’ll depend on who you are. You know, for me it was crying, it was literal tears at times. And it feels good and therapeutic when you’re doing it cuz you need to feel them. However, it’s not forcing the emotion, it’s not being self-indulgent, it’s not indulging in the “Woe is me”. And having thoughts that keep feeding into the emotion.
I hope that helps you see the difference, but you just wanna stay in this place of comforting and allowing for as long as necessary. This is so important. In fact, I’m going to end this episode shortly, but I wanna bring us back to the big takeaway. Please don’t make any decisions whilst you’re in burnout recovery. You wanna be well on the path to recovery before you start making decisions in your business.
If you make decisions from that fight or flight place, the chances of self-sabotage, the chances of making poor decisions that are just not gonna help you and your business further down the line is very high. And I will be talking a lot about when you are ready to listen and learn and when you’re ready to move on and sharing some of the gifts I have taken away from my burnout experience in next week’s episode.
So I’ll see you then.
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