Being your own boss is awesome – you get to choose which 13 hours of the day you want to work! – Anon

 Being an entrepreneur comes with big rewards but also carries big burdens, and big burdens often lead to burnout. We know that working more than 50 hours per week has been proven to reduce productivity. In this context, findings from a recent survey which suggest that entrepreneurs are working an average of 63 hours per week are particularly concerning.

 What Leads to Entrepreneurial Burnout?

The entrepreneurial path from idea to commercialisation is certainly a bumpy one. 

There are many things that make the entrepreneurial path unique and therefore more vulnerable to burnout. 

  • Entrepreneurs face specific pressures given the unpredictable and uncertain nature of trying to take a new idea from seed to commercialisation. 
  • Entrepreneurs are required to exert energy to develop new strategies for the shifting landscape and contingencies they face, in comparison to more stable industries. 
  • Entrepreneurs have to put in those extra hours to meet their tight deadlines as they often work alone or have few employees to assist them. Long hours of social isolation are not a great combination!
  • There is also a misguided notion amongst many entrepreneurs that the more time they spend working, the better off they will be, leaving many feeling guilty and stressed when they take even a short break. This kind of “innovator self sacrifice”, idealised in movies and social media has real individual costs.

When entrepreneurs are depleted, their cognitive function and emotional energy are impacted, which can compromise their ability to succeed. Importantly, the exhaustion of burnout may serve as a risk factor in the development of anxiety and depression related disorders. Research has also found that entrepreneurs are twice as likely to struggle with depression and three times as likely to face substance abuse issues.

Unfortunately, the ongoing stigma surrounding mental health disorders has created a paradigm of silence, which has led some entrepreneurs feeling that they cannot speak openly about their struggles without feeling that they are less competent. Despite this stigma, investors are seen to be incredibly supportive of entrepreneur’s mental wellbeing by encouraging them to seek help, as they are aware that healthier entrepreneurs are more likely to achieve start-up success. Some entrepreneurs are also challenging the paradigm by being more open about how they tackle their own battles with burnout.

The Impact of a Global Pandemic

Amid the 2020 global pandemic, entrepreneurs, like everyone else, have had to adjust to a new normal of continuing uncertainty, compounding the already ambiguous and stressful context of entrepreneurship. We are living through uncharted and challenging times where ‘working from home’ and ‘living at work’ are blurring. Days are rolling into one another, and it has become easy to fall into the trap of working at all hours of the day and night without sufficient breaks to rejuvenate. Taking into account the already concerning mental health statistics of 2020, entrepreneurs are likely to be feeling ‘foggier’ and more unmotivated than ever before.

To avoid negative long term mental health consequences, it is important to deal with the warning signs of burnout before they escalate. The following strategies take into account the obstacles brought about by COVID-19 as well as the financial and time challenges facing many founders and entrepreneurs. These strategies are focused on mitigating burnout and encouraging positive mental wellbeing.

Being “Mindful” – not just something you do in yoga class

Why Mindfulness-Based Strategies?

bounce backMindfulness is the quality of being present and fully engaged with whatever you are doing in the current moment. This awareness is about remaining free from distraction or judgement, and allows us to be aware of our thoughts and feelings without getting caught up in them. Being present is associated with many benefits including positive psychological effects such as increased subjective well being, improved behavioural regulation, and a reduction in psychological symptoms and emotional reactivity. Research has demonstrated how mindfulness strategies can assist to decrease managers’ and entrepreneurs’ level of emotional exhaustion and cynicism (i.e. burnout). These strategies may assist anyone who is looking to reduce their stress levels, but always talk to your GP before undertaking any new exercise or wellbeing program and/or if you are feeling generally overwhelmed.

1) Mindfulness Apps.

There are a variety of ways in which technology can be used to support the mental health and wellbeing of entrepreneurs during this chaotic time. Research has found that smart phone-based health interventions delivered via apps decreased levels of stress and sleep difficulties, and improved subjective wellbeing and resilience over a period of four weeks. Other research has found that mindfulness-based apps helped to reduce depressive symptoms. For lasting benefits, it is crucial to have the genuine intention to improve mental wellbeing and to choose the right intervention for your situation. Popular apps include Calm, Smiling Mind and Ten Percent Happier. Calm offers a range of helpful resources such as free guided meditations, stretches and ‘calm body’ exercises to care for your working-from-home back, calendars to print out with daily mindfulness exercises/ideas and bedtime stories for adults to quieten the mind.

2) Mindful Physical Exercise. Mindfulness or presence can also be achieved through physical exercise. Both “blue” (water based) and “green” (outdoor based) exercise have been found to increase positive mental well-being. Going for a swim in the sea or a nature walk in a nearby park/reserve can be a restorative experience. These interactions have been shown to promote a sense of wellbeing and spiritual fulfilment. To find out about national parks/bushland near you, check out NSW National Parks and Wildlife Services. Doing any sort of outdoor physical exercise will help break up your day, get some fresh air and give you time to switch off. If you are someone who needs a little more encouragement to get outdoors, you can join running, walking and cycling virtual communities on the app, Strava. Strava allows you to share your route with trusted contacts, photos of your adventures and watch and encourage others in your local or virtual community or friendship group.

3) Quick Mindful Activities.

There are multiple mindful activities that can be done when you are working around the clock either at home or at the office. Although it’s easy to stay tethered to a screen, resist the urge by taking a quick mindful break when making your coffee – pay attention to the coffee’s smell, colour, texture and taste. Alternatively, listen to a podcast whilst walking around the block. You will be surprised to see what even 15 minutes of fresh air and movement will do for your mental health. If you are working at the office, an effective mindful activity to help down regulate is practicing grounding and breathing techniques whilst stuck in traffic or sitting on the train. 

Key Takeaways 

“Burnout happens when you avoid being human for too long”

Founding a business or getting your idea to actualization is a demanding pursuit and an intense endeavour. Entrepreneurs face unique challenges related to the required personal and professional investment, tolerance for uncertainty and risk, and sheer workload. The pressure of the 2020 pandemic has meant the risk of entrepreneurial burnout across the ecosystem is even more significant than ever. Understanding the early signs of burnout instead of waiting for long term psychological and physical consequences to appear, is vital to any entrepreneurial success. Now, more than ever, entrepreneurs need to take care of themselves by harnessing mindfulness strategies to bounce back before they burnout.


Author: Kayla Diamond

Editor: Shireen Bernstein, Insights Manager, North Sydney Innovation Network