Small Business: Avoiding burnout

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Dr Frances Pitsilis, a personal and corporate physician, relaxes at home with some yoga stretching. Photo /  Janna Dixon
Dr Frances Pitsilis, a personal and corporate physician, relaxes at home with some yoga stretching. Photo / Janna Dixon

Dr Frances Pitsilis, personal and corporate physician, speaker and expert on stress and burnout - having experienced burnout herself twice.

What sort of lifestyles do small business owners have which lead them
to burnout?

Small business owners work in the business themselves alongside a small number of staff. This is often necessary because their income often ends up being little more than a wage. They work long hours, take work home and take few breaks. If they get sick, they soldier on. If a staff member gets sick, the owner works even more to cover this.

What sorts of symptoms will these people have when they come to you?

The first symptom is problems with sleep - not being able to get off to sleep, not being able to stay asleep, or waking very early. The second symptom is fatigue that tends to start in the morning with difficulty getting up.

After that, anxiety, depression, not being able to think properly, irritability, short fuse and other symptoms. Ultimately, overworked, overstressed people can get really sick and completely "burn out" and be unable to work. Taken further, serious diseases like heart attack, stroke, rashes, pain and fatigue conditions can occur.

What sorts of lifestyle changes do you recommend to people who are overdoing it at work?

Adequate work - life balance so there is time for rest and recreation to recharge batteries. Taking regular breaks rather than one big one once a year. Stress management also includes understanding why they overwork and taking steps to prevent this. Regular exercise, healthy diet, relaxation techniques and going to bed before 10.30pm to allow the brain and body to recover.

What sorts of changes can they make in their business which can help?

Try and make it so the business can run without them. Understand why they may not delegate. Encourage team members to take responsibility and be creative. Trust your staff to do the job - you may be surprised.

What sorts of medical and other treatment do you prescribe to bring their stress levels back to normal?

I focus first on lifestyle changes. I help restore sleep with natural therapies rather than sleeping pills and correct any vitamin and mineral imbalances - a multivitamin and fish oil are mandatory. I also correct any hormone imbalances and give stress and performance herbs for support while recovering. If necessary, an antidepressant drug can save a life if the person is deeply depressed.

Often entrepreneurs will burn out numerous times during their working lives, how does this happen?

The drive to achieve and work hard is wired into these "Type A" personalities. These are the ones who achieve highly but burn out often. This is because the stress feedback mechanism fails to slow down 'the winding up" of the system and the person cannot detect this until they suddenly cannot keep compensating then "crash and burn". Each burnout will be worse, and the recovery less complete.

To be successful, you have to have a certain amount of drive and tenacity. How can you avoid burnout altogether?

Understand what makes you successful but what your vulnerabilities are. There is always a price to pay. Burning out means several months off work that you don't want. Keep reminding yourself about these vulnerabilities and schedule rest, recreation and holidays. Remember that you will tend to ramp up your work, so pick that up each time it happens and keep scheduling in those breaks. Consider professional development if you have any difficulty with it.

Better Night's Sleep
Relaxation techniques

There are many thriving small businesses set up by immigrants to New Zealand and the country is all the richer for these.

How easy is it to set up a business here as an immigrant, to create the network of contacts needed to make it thrive?

Tell us your stories and the people who have helped you along the way. Why did you choose New Zealand to start your business?

Email me, Gill South here, or at the 'email Gill' link below:

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