Overcoming Stress & Burnout for Creative Entrepreneurs

Not sure how it is with you, but every now and then I find myself burnt out…Yes, even after years of working in and on my business, learning all sorts of tools to manage stress, working out every day, meditating, journaling, taking walks, being in nature, taking time off, you name it. I feel like I did it – do it –  all, and still.

There are times when I feel like dragging myself to the desk, feeling dread instead of excitement about the work I normally love. My passion for design has not faded; it feels more like being buried under layers of exhaustion and stress.

Does this resonate with you?

I must admit, I thought becoming my own boss and an entrepreneur would fix all these for me. But it keeps coming back.

And the worst, it comes in different shapes and forms.

Signs of Stress & Burnout

There are countless symptoms of how stress can affect our lives and I had them all throughout my life – still do to be honest until today.

Like when I had to stop my car immediately on the road because I felt like I was going to faint and couldn’t see the road. Or when I ran into the bathroom in the corporate office to lay on the cool floor to stop the dizziness. Even when I had weird coughs, making me cough so hard that I almost threw up. And not to forget about the horrible twitching sensation in my stomach that went on every couple of minutes and didn’t let me work, sleep, or focus just recently.

I thought, that once I was out of the corporate world, where all seemed to weigh on me, all my symptoms would go away. The truth is, it came back in different ways and kept – better said – keeps surprising me till today how amazingly diverse my body can react to stress and burnout.

What can you do?

Take a moment and pause. Is there any weird symptom that you have, that you know deep down is not normal but nobody seems to know what’s causing it?

Could be a simple underlying issue, an upset stomach, brittle nails, or hair falling out. These are never normal and can be caused by stress itself.

Think further, what could cause this stress?

Is it maybe the fact that you feel behind all the time? That you have too much on your plate? You feel disconnected from others and don’t get any support from your family, let alone be able to talk to them.

Maybe it’s your inbox, that never seems to empty, or your to-do list that just grows and grows, or your website having technical issues and orders being handled with mistakes and you get angry comments from your customers?

Could it be that you haven’t prioritized yourself lately, spent too much in your office, not having time for a nap, a walk or just taking a nice bath with your favorite book in your hand?

I could go on and on. I’m sure you know what I mean.

Change will come if you understand that stress comes in different forms – I, for example, never had the same reaction to it, and took me a while to figure out what was causing it. This can happen to you too.

Yes, it is scary, but also very empowering, because now my first reaction to any type of symptom is to ask questions – like the ones I wrote earlier. I want to understand what happened, and what could have triggered my body.

How to handle Stress

You could think, ‘What is the point of doing all those things, like journaling and meditation if you still feel stressed and burnt out?’.

Well, I’m glad you asked.

First of all, I was feeling waaaay worse during my corporate jobs and had very serious symptoms. I went to doctors, did all sorts of checks and nothing was found. They prescribed some kind of medication – just to see – which I initially took, then as nothing helped, stopped taking it overall.

I asked them, what can I do to make this go away. They looked at me like I was an alien. You see, it is not so common in my culture for someone to change their lifestyle. Everyone would rather go for a quick fix, a pill instead of understanding the root cause.

Luckily, I’m the exception who would do the diggin’, do the hard work, and find the reasons before I medicate myself. (For the record, I’m not against any medication and I know that some illnesses require it. This is my own experience with stress and my symptoms).

Second, as soon as I started working on myself, developed boundaries, learned how to love myself, nourish and treat my body in a way that she deserves, my symptoms went away.

Guess what?

Still, until today, the only reason (so far) why I would start to develop any new ones is if:

  • I have no clarity in my life, purpose, or vision
  • I spend too much time in front of my screens
  • I put my own needs aside
  • I stop working late – which messes with my brain and would not let me sleep
  • I sit too much, which causes aches, pains, and numbness – preventing me from sleeping well
  • I don’t speak up when hurt, feeling injustice or being let down
  • I let others control my life and what I do
  • I have weak boundaries
  • I go back to being a people pleaser
  • I expect quick fixes when I know things will take time

These alone or together. And depending on the complexity, my stress levels would rise and my symptoms would come again.

If you’re nodding along, know that you’re not alone.

We pour everything into our work, juggling countless tasks, wearing multiple hats, and striving to keep our creative spark alive. Often, this relentless drive comes at the expense of our well-being.

While I am completely aware of all my stressors, and the tools that help me ease them, I still find myself working late, doing too much, offering more help than I should, taking on too much, not speaking up, etc…

That’s about being human. We try, we fail, we try again.

The key here is that we have the choice to do it differently.

Here are some of the things I started to do – on top of the others – you can start implementing today to combat burnout and reclaim your energy:

1. Reevaluate Your Expectations

Phew, this was a big one for me.

I used to have high expectations of myself and others. Until I realized that most of my disappointments, feelings of depression, and loneliness came from these expectations and not being able to live up to them. Neither me, nor anyone else.

Take a moment to step back and reassess what you’re demanding of yourself. Are your expectations realistic, or are you setting yourself up with an unmanageable to-do list? Focus on what truly matters and let go of the rest. Simplifying your workload can help you focus on what’s genuinely important.

Do you expect people to read your mind? Do you think that they should understand you from 1 single sentence? Probably I won’t break the news, it is not going to happen. First, because nobody can read minds (as far as I know the current state of tech) and second, because everyone is too busy with their own lives. They have no time to figure you out.

2. Discover Your Unique Rest Needs

Rest isn’t one-size-fits-all. While some find rest in meditation and silence, others recharge through activities like reorganizing or light exercise. Experiment with different types of rest to find what truly calms your nervous system and schedule an hour each week during work hours dedicated to this rest.

10-15 minute naps do wonders for me but it might require more time for me to fall asleep as well as to get back to work, so 15 min. can get to 40-45 which is hard to factor in if you have a busy schedule.

Moreover, if this pushes work to end later that day, then you can’t sleep, then you feel sluggish the next day and need another nap, there goes your cycle…You see the pattern, right?

3. Practice Self-Compassion and Release Self-Blame

As I mentioned, I’ve been journaling for years now and my “style” has changed a lot over the years. It used to be a list of things I did – kind of to remember them if I wanted to read them later. Then it became a therapy session, between me and me :).

This is the time when I honestly write down all the anger, fears, worries, and angst in me, and with that, I already feel a lift in my chest. Then I soothe myself with writing as if it were my higher self, a more experienced version of me who knows the answers and can give advice.

Burnout is not a sign of weakness or failure. It’s easy to fall into self-blame when things don’t go as planned, but burnout is a natural response to prolonged stress. Recognize that reaching this point is simply a signal that you’ve been pushing too hard for too long. Practice self-compassion and treat yourself with the same kindness you would offer to a friend in a similar situation.

And let’s not forget the importance of a supportive community. Navigating stress and burnout alone can be incredibly challenging. Find a buddy or join a group where you can share experiences, hold each other accountable for self-care, and offer mutual encouragement.

For me, this means being part of a networking group, joining co-working sessions with fellow designers, and having regular calls with my business bestie.

Now what?

I know this post has been different than others, not related to branding or design, but it’s part of business and part of our lives as entrepreneurs and is something we deal with on a daily basis.

I am far away from having it all figured out. I constantly look at solutions, listen to other’s advice, try out new things, and adjust based on my current mood and needs.

Some days the smallest things can make a huge difference, other days it seems like none of them are working.

But I keep going and trying and sharing with you all my findings because I believe in supporting one another. We are in this together :)

I’d love to know what tools have you tried and what worked for you so far in managing stress and burnout. If you feel like sharing, send me a message at info@designyouneed.com

Orsi

Product, Brand & Web Designer

I help businesses create great websites that attract more customers and increase sales. I use my skills in consulting, design, and e-commerce to tell your business’s story and improve customer service. We’ll work together to understand your business and create a website that meets your goals.