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Erica Diamond

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Are You Struggling With Burn Out?

Posted: 11/07/2012 12:18 pm

The year was 2001. I was 26, newly and happily married. I had managed to turn my passion into my paycheque. My business was flourishing. I had just been featured on the cover of the business section, and numerous other publications and TV shows. Life was rockin' -- I had the world by the balls.

Except, one little thing. I wasn't sleeping. I was anxious. I was consumed by obsessive thoughts. I was crashing. I was on the brink of a burnout.

I have never blogged about this dark period, I have only loosely touched on it. I have blogged many times about the incredible birth of WomenOnTheFence.com but never about this time in my life.

I am telling my story today in hopes of a few things. One, to explain the warning signs of burnout, and two, to tell you how to turn things around. I thankfully turned it around with help and support.

What a burnout or onset of a breakdown feels like, is the inability to feel at ease, happy, and restful. It feels like constantly being agitated. Everything pisses you off -- traffic, lines at the bank, phone calls. You get into bed at night, and your thoughts come at you a million miles a minute and consume your brain, and you are unable to shut them off.

Because of this, you do not get restful and restorative sleep, which leads to more anxiety and worry. I became so fixated on growing my business, that what happened was, the more I grew, the more I stopped appreciating it. Every high became no big deal. I was monopolizing our marriage with talks of both daily work stresses and accomplishments. Everything was do or die, life or death. I mapped out and planned every minute of every day, and managed to become a highly functioning and successful MESS.

I thank my mother who saw the wackadoodle I was becoming. She told me that maybe I should speak to somebody professionally, and not her (despite being a wonderful therapist herself). I was working out at the gym at the time with a lovely psychotherapist. I loved her aura... we got to know each other as we pushed through our workouts every week. I asked her if she'd see me.

Slowly but surely, with her help, and the support of my amazing husband and family, I started to return to myself. I have shared a few of the symptoms above of burnout (and imagine, I hadn't even had my kids yet). But, sometimes, the pressures of work, motherhood, marriage, finances, and everyday life become too much. Too overwhelming. So, if you feel you're headed down a dark path, here is what brought me back.


  • Get help. If you find yourself on that slippery slope, find a therapist or someone you can speak to. An objective ear, and a shoulder to unburden my thoughts was the first step for me. Getting into therapy for one year was the greatest gift I could have given myself. I even started to LOVE and enjoy it. Yup, I did.

  • Don't diminish your gifts, but rather balance them. One of the greatest things my therapist said to me, was not to diminish my talents. She told me I didn't have to stop doing what made me successful in life. She said, "Don't eliminate your gifts. Be your authentic self, but complement it and balance it with a calmer lifestyle." My aha and light-bulb moment. I didn't have to change who I was, I just had to balance my hectic pace, with calming activities. That was the birth of yoga for me. For you, it may be the gym, meditation, walking, a nightly bath, a massage. But something that calms your mind, body and spirit.

  • Create a "Worry List" and leave it on your nightstand. My Worry List worked as follows: When my thoughts kept me up at night, the idea was to transfer them from my head and onto paper, to worry about them at another time (not during my sacred time, when I deserved to sleep). I still do it today. Off your head, onto paper to worry about tomorrow.

  • Learn your limits and know what you need. And that doesn't mean what your friends, or neighbour, or society needs. It means what YOU need. It means that I listen to myself, not to what is the "norm," or "standard." It means that lunch is sometimes at 10:30 a.m. 'cuz I'm starving, or it means I got to bed at 8 p.m. with my kids, because I'm fatigued. I give myself what I need and not what the rest of the world is doing. It has made all the difference.

  • Sleep is your biggest immunity booster and stress fighter. Arianna Huffington, founder of The Huffington Post, recently started advocating for sleep. But I know, good restful and restorative sleep is my secret weapon. If you struggle with sleep, obviously the basics -- no caffeine after 1 p.m., exercise so your body feels physically tired at the end of the day, and go to bed early -- you'll have to Tivo Letterman! You'll function better for it. I have, for sure.

So, I thank my mother for suggesting that I needed help. I thank my therapist for carrying me and preventing me from crashing and fully burning out. And yes, I thank myself, for respecting my needs and limits and not pushing myself too far anymore. I ain't doin' that shit again! Nuh uh.

"It may seem admirable to work yourself sick, but the longer you burn the candle at both ends, the faster you'll burn out." - Martha Beck

Have you ever been close to burnout, or burned out? What were your strategies and survival tips that helped you come back to yourself? Please share with our community.

I've also included a Burnout Self Quiz where you can check yourself.

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  • Follow the 90 Percent/10 Percent Rule

    Spend a solid 10% of your time working on something you love other than your startup, whether this means pursuing a side hobby, freelance project, or brainstorming another idea. Forcing yourself to switch gears will reactivate the other parts of your brain/heart that you've perhaps been neglecting. Chances are, you'll begin seeing new areas of opportunity in your startup too! --Annie Wang (<a href="http://twitter.com/annie_wang " target="_hplink">@annie_wang</a>), <a href="http://www.hercampus.com " target="_hplink">HerCampus.com</a>

  • Take A Sabbatical

    I have learned to delegate and outsource the nonessential functions that became part of my role simply because I was the owner. Feeling burnt out myself, last year I moved to Italy for four months a worked no more than an hour a day and on many days not at all. Maybe 4 months is too long for you but taking time for yourself and getting away should help recharge your creativity. It did for me. --Nicolas Thomley (<a href="http://www.twitter.com/nthomley" target="_hplink">@nthomley</a>), <a href="http://www.pinnacleservices.org/" target="_hplink">Pinnacle Services, Inc.</a>

  • Outsource What Sucks

    Chances are, the burnout sets in when the day-to-day doldrums of entrepreneurship set it. Accounts payable, recruiting employees, finding office space, dealing with Comcast - these all suck. Find someone else to handle them so you can focus on why you started your business in the first place. Rediscover the passion that led you to set out on your own. --Sam Davidson (<a href="http://www.twitter.com/coolpeoplecare" target="_hplink">@coolpeoplecare</a>), <a href="http://www.coolpeoplecare.org/" target="_hplink">Cool People Care, Inc.</a>

  • What Turns You On?

    As entrepreneurs we have to do many things in our business, and some are more fun than others. Sometimes we find ourselves feeling tired, bored and even burning out from all of the work we have to do. The beauty of having your own business is that you can choose what you want to do. So when you are burning out, do the thing that turns you on. You should focus on activities that give you energy. --Louis Lautman (@louislautman), <a href="http://www.YoungEntrepreneurSociety.com/" target="_hplink">Young Entrepreneur Society </a>

  • Get A Business Partner (If You Don't Already Have One)

    This advice is for solo founders. If you're pursuing a venture alone, it's VERY easy to burn out. All the weight of your decisions and risks lie on your shoulders. A great way to avoid burnout is to find a business partner with complementary skills to your own. You can pick each other up when you're down and keep pushing forward! --Eric Bahn (<a href="http://www.twitter.com/beatthegmat" target="_hplink">@beatthegmat</a>), <a href="http://www.beatthegmat.com/" target="_hplink">Beat The GMAT </a>

  • Read Rocket Science

    Here's what helps me break out of the burnout: Hit the nearest Library or bookstore, go to any section but business & read a few pages of a random book. You'd be surprised at how powerful Arts, History, Literature, or even Cooking books can be and not just to change your mood but to help you get a totally new perspective or knowledge about something that you may or may not have known otherwise. --Devesh Dwivedi (<a href="http://www.twitter.com/Break9to5Jail " target="_hplink">@Break9to5Jail</a>), <a href="http://www.breakingthe9to5jail.com/ " target="_hplink">breakingthe9to5jail.com </a>

  • Get To The Root Of The Issue First

    You may be attacking this situation backwards. You've identified this burnout feeling as a problem, and want to move forward by finding a solution. Try moving forward by moving "backward" first--find the root of the problem. Why are you burnt out? If it's temporary burnout from overworking, that's totally different than if it's permanent because you are no longer interested in the project. --Jesse Davis (<a href="http://www.twitter.com/entreprecurious" target="_hplink">@entreprecurious</a>), <a href="http://www.entrustet.com/ " target="_hplink">Entrustet</a>

  • Help Another Entrepreneur

    I believe that the entrepreneurial spirit is contagious. If you are feeling burnt-out volunteer to mentor another excited entrepreneur. Helping them, feeling their motivated energy and talking about how you got started will re-ignite your internal fire and remind you why you started your company in the first place. --Vanessa Van Petten (<a href="http://www.twitter.com/vvanpetten" target="_hplink">@vvanpetten</a>), <a href="http://www.scienceofpeople.org " target="_hplink">Science of People</a>

  • Go Workout

    Working out will not only de-stress you, I find I get my best ideas while on the elliptical machine so I always bring a voice recorder. Seriously. And unlike taking "a break" or a vacation, working out will help you become physically stronger so you can work longer and harder than non-fit entrepreneurs. --Timothy Sykes (<a href="http://www.twitter.com/timothysykes " target="_hplink">@timothysykes</a>), <a href="http://www.timothysykes.com" target="_hplink">TimothySykes.com</a>

  • Research Another Company You Like To Rediscover Your Own

    Pick one company who you think really gets it right, and find out more about it. Read a book, or an article, or even reviews posted by customers of that company. Doing so will give you fresh perspective on what you can do with your own business, and will also remind you why decided to get in the entrepreneurial game to begin with! --Vanessa Nornberg (<a href="http://www.twitter.com/metalmafia1" target="_hplink">@metalmafia1</a>), <a href="http://www.metalmafia.com/" target="_hplink">Metal Mafia </a>

  • Never Stop Challenging Yourself

    Even entrepreneurs can get in a rut but sometimes it happens when you stop challenging yourself. Take a break and do something you've always wanted to do or even conquer a fear. Go skydiving, climb a mountain, swim with sharks or whatever you consider a challenge, just do it. When you stop challenging yourself that's when lack of motivation sets in. --Ashley Bodi (<a href="http://twitter.com/businessbeware" target="_hplink">@businessbeware</a>), <a href="http://businessbeware.biz/" target="_hplink">Business Beware </a>

  • Spend Some Money

    You can spend some money on a small project you would never do if you were looking to maximize efficiency and costs. Think of this as a budget for new innovation. You can spend some money to do something different with the business, develop a new product, or just test, and you'll be able to express your creative self and learn a lot from that project, even if you lose money in the end. --Danny Wong (<a href="http://www.twitter.com/blanklabel" target="_hplink">@blanklabel</a>), <a href="http://www.blanklabelgroup.com/ " target="_hplink">Blank Label Group, Inc.</a>

  • Brainstorm With Others In The Business

    Whenever I'm in a rut and my creative juice gauge is running low I look to the mentors or companies that I aspire to be. Whether listening to one speak about how they made it or their business in general, speaking face to face with this contact and bouncing ideas back and forth, or simply observing this person in action or walking around their company to see how it works. --Michael Sinensky (<a href="http://twitter.com/msinensky " target="_hplink">@msinensky</a>), <a href="http://www.villagepourhouse.com" target="_hplink">Village Pourhouse</a>

  • Talk To Someone In A Different Industry

    Lots of entrepreneurs are a staff of one, so they work a LOT of hours and spend a lot of time on one industry. I find that having lunch with a friend in a completely different field or going to a conference about a topic not related to my business not only helps the wheels start turning again but it also reminds me that there is a whole world beyond my business. --Caitlin McCabe (<a href="http://www.twitter.com/caitlinmc " target="_hplink">@caitlinmc</a>), <a href="http://www.realbulletsbranding.com/" target="_hplink">Real Bullets Branding </a>

  • Grab A Few Sheets Of Paper And Just Write

    Burnouts will always happen even when you are having multiple successful moments. It's just natural. We do so much and don't spend enough time on just us. Take the time for yourself when you are feeling overwhelmed and just write. Write about anything: your life, dreams, family, vacations you want to take, why you are an entrepreneur. Sometimes all it takes is just a few sheets of paper. --Fredrick Nijm (<a href="http://www.twitter.com/addoway" target="_hplink">@addoway</a>), <a href="http://www.addoway.com/ " target="_hplink">Addoway.com</a>

  • Take The Dog For A Walk

    The best way to recharge your creative batteries is to change your routine. Take your dog for a long walk, skip out on work one afternoon and meet a friend for a beer or play some golf, work on something unrelated to your business for an afternoon, or work different hours one day (9pm - 5am vs. 9am - 5pm). Change your routine. --Todd Garland (<a href="http://twitter.com/toddo" target="_hplink">@toddo</a>), <a href="http://buysellads.com " target="_hplink">BuySellAds.com </a>

  • Think of The Universe

    Many times when I have a problem or get burnt out I think it is so significant and it starts to effect me until I think of the universe. First I think about my issue and then how small it is compared to everything going on in the country and the earth. Then I think about the universe and how insignificant the earth is too everything else. At that point I do not feel do overwhelmed anymore. --David Schnurman (<a href="http://www.twitter.com/DavidSchnurman" target="_hplink">@DavidSchnurman</a>), <a href="http://www.lawline.com " target="_hplink">Lawline</a>

 

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