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Entrepreneurship and burnout – can it be treated?

by John Saunders
11th Aug 21 1:00 pm

“Burnout” is no longer just a term used to describe feeling tired; it is now a legitimate diagnosis that is recognised by the World Health Organization.

In the 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), it is defined as:

“Burnout is a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterised by three dimensions:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
  • reduced professional efficacy”. Quote source

Stress is a normal part of life, but it’s when it becomes overwhelming that it starts to become a problem. Prolonged, heightened levels of stress lead to burnout.

Being aware of the symptoms of burnout is a good starting point when it comes to the treatment of the condition. The negativity, the cynicism and as an entrepreneur – the feeling of not wanting to go to work anymore, should be a warning sign that you are working too much and too hard. If you are tired all of the time and not enjoying running a business, but you did previously, chances are, you have burnout.

Treating burnout  

Once you recognise the symptoms, you must talk to your doctor. Burnout may well cause you to feel tired, exhausted and pessimistic, but it is important to discuss other possible diagnoses with your doctor.

Stimulate your vagus

The vagus nerve is key to wellbeing, and it can help you stay calm when you start to experience feelings of stress and anxiety. The vagus nerve is exceptionally long and travels from the brain stem to the colon, and also branches off to the ears. It has a role in reducing inflammation, regulating blood pressure and balancing hormones. The vagus nerve is key to stress recovery.

Socialising is one way to activate the vagus nerve; socialising with people who make you feel safe and secure is another. You can also stimulate the vagus nerve by singing or humming, splashing cold water on your face, meditation, and consuming omega-three fatty acids.

Splashing cold water on your face in the morning and before bed can activate something called the mammalian dive reflex, which is designed to slow our bodies down when we dive into water. Learning to breathe slower and deeper can also increase “vagal tone”. Shallow breathing is often a cause of physiological stress, especially if you sit down a lot. Sitting down has been shown to promote chest rather than diaphragmatic breathing, which leads to shallow and short inhales and exhales.

Finally, you can also stimulate the vagus nerve by massaging your inner ear. For more information on this, please see this YouTube video. Remember to talk to your doctor before trying any new exercises, foods or supplements.

Rest and recreation

The “stress cycle” that we evolved to deal with involves the perception of a threat, dealing with it and then an end, where your body receives a signal that the danger has gone. With modern-day stressors, such as work, there may be no perceived end – and that’s the problem.

The most obvious and possibly the most effective way to treat burnout is to take time off. If you run a business, however, this can be pretty daunting and might not be practical.

If you can’t take any time off, try to ensure that you socialise and engage in recreational activities that will take your mind off work.

If you can combine socialising with exercise or some type of mindfulness, then you may be able to improve your mental wellbeing drastically. Socialising is important for vagus nerve stimulation, and many researchers have concluded that strong social relationships are crucial to happiness in general.

Exercise is also a fantastic way to switch off from work and enhance general feelings of wellbeing. Green exercise, or exercising outdoors, is the most beneficial form of exercise to boost wellness and self-esteem.


If you can’t take time off, then try working a bit smarter and more efficiently by taking advantage of outsourcing. If you are a solopreneur, the chances are that you have to wear many different hats and fill several roles during the day.

For example, you may have to be the company receptionist and answer all of the incoming calls. You can use a 24/7 telephone answering service for a relatively small monthly fee to manage your calls. With a provider such as Moneypenny, you can benefit from a dedicated receptionist during regular office hours, handling calls and providing a level of customer service that you’d normally get with a full-time in house receptionist.

By opting for a 24/7 service, you will also find it easier to relax during your time away from the office. With the peace of mind that comes with knowing your calls are being handled around the clock, you will not have to listen out for your phone constantly when you are socialising or enjoying time with the family.

Virtual assistants are also a great asset to many businesses. You can also take advantage of geo-arbitrage by hiring assistants based overseas in countries such as the Philippines. A virtual assistant can help out with many administrative tasks, such as bookkeeping, appointment setting, social media management and even basic graphic design using a tool like Canva.

You can also outsource highly skilled roles and tasks such a programming and Google Ads management by using a website such as PeoplePerHour or Upwork.


Always talk to your doctor before trying any herbs and supplements. Adaptogens are touted by many as an excellent foundation for long term support against overwhelming stress and anxiety.

Adaptogens are said to work a little like a thermostat. If stress is too high, adaptogens can bring stress levels and hormones down; on the other hand, if stress is way too low, adaptogens can help increase levels of hormones like cortisol.

One of the most popular adaptogens is called Rhodiola Rosea. It is backed by science to be a mood booster that makes us more resilient to physical and mental stress. Ashwagandha is another great herb and adaptogen that has a calming effect on the body and can be brewed as a tea or added to food. Be aware, however, that using ashwagandha may impact the thyroid.

Talk to a therapist

Self-care shouldn’t be the entire solution when it comes to treating and dealing with burnout. Seeking professional help from a doctor and a therapist is crucial. Research has shown that cognitive behavioural therapy or “CBT”, for example, can help people manage stress and burnout quite effectively.

If for some reason you can’t get to see a therapist, perhaps because of the huge waiting list in some areas when it comes to getting referred by a doctor – it is essential that you talk to someone who you can trust. Speaking and talking things over with a friend or family member who is willing to listen can be a therapeutic way to vent that can help you create strong connections and relationships, which in turn can help you feel safe and loved.

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