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Driven women entrepreneurs can be more susceptible to stress and burn out

Posted in INSIGHT by msceonet on March 10, 2010

Certain personality traits put women in business at risk for health issues

How to avoid and stop the cycle of doing too much

By Alicia Ingram

Alicia Sable-Hunt loves her work.  

She is passionate about running Edwards-Hunt medical consulting firm while building Conneticut-based Sable’s Foods, a product line of nutritional bars for cancer patients, but Sable-Hunt says managing two companies simultaneously has left her with little time for anything else. 

Alicia Sable-Hunt experienced burn out while managing one business and building another.

“I’ve always had difficultly with work-life balance,” admitted Sable-Hunt who left her full time job in March 2007 to grow Sables Foods. While putting more time into launching her food company, she continued to serve as a consultant with her former employer and also picked up new consulting clients. 

Within months, Sable-Hunt’s 18-hour work days resulted in an emergency room visit where she was diagnosed with a severe case of burn out. At the advice of her doctor, Sable-Hunt slowed down temporarily. Within a few weeks, however, she was back at her regular pace.  

Three months later she was also back in the emergency room. 

“It was the same emergency room doctor. He grabbed my hand and said, ‘You’re heading for a heart attack and you’re going kill yourself. You have to make changes. And they have to be drastic.’ That was a wake up call.” 

According to Atlanta-based psychologist Dr. Mary Gresham, burnout among women entrepreneurs is common and best described as a state of fatigue that is often caused by prolonged stress over a period of time.   

Dr. Mary Gresham says burn out is brought on by prolonged stress and is common among women.

“The cycle comes because you don’t have good stress management routines and that’s what creates the [recurring burnout]. It’s kind of like yo-yo dieting.  You need to have a daily program,” said Gresham. 

 For Sable-Hunt and other entrepreneurs who find themselves constantly doing too much, Gresham notes that certain personality types are more at risk for burnout. The traits of such personalities  include competitiveness, detail-orientation with perfectionist tendencies and an inability to delegate. 

Despite these personality traits, Lorin Beller Blake, owner of business development firm  Big Fish Nation, in Austin, Texas, provides hope and advice for ambitious entrepreneurs seeking to avoid a constant cycle of burnout in the fast pace world of self-employment and business building. 

“There’s a way to maintain the momentum without getting caught up in the emotional energy [of feeling like you have to sacrifice everything to run your business], says Blake. “Create the space for yourself in the routines of building the business.” 

Lorin Beller Blake helps entrepreneurs, especially women, build a business without burn out.

For entrepreneurs on the road to burn out and for those recovering, Blake recommends consistently doing the following: 

  1. Take time to breathe:  “What breathing does is create space in the moment. Burnout is the lack of space — lack of thinking space, the lack of space to take care of ourselves and the lack of being conscious.”
  2. Walk away:  “Walk away from the speed at which you are functioning in order to change the tone of your day.  Take the time to incorporate the more important things so that life is more abundant. It may be working out, reading or spending time outdoors. It’s about getting yourself in a more relaxed space.”
  3. Ask for help: “Whether it’s personal or professional, having a support team is key.   Have support in the place where you’re not feeling strong and in an area of your life where you are feeling overwhelmed. Get creative in delegating and asking for help.”

Blake also notes that permanently stopping burnout requires a lifestyle change of better time management along with behavioral changes. 

As for Sable-Hunt, her permanent lifestyle adjustments remain a work in progress. Changes included relocating from Connecticut to the Gulf Coast to improve her quality of life.  She has hired a personal trainer to her help maintain a consistent exercise routine and now spends more time away from her home office. 

“I know changing my life, slowing down,  recovering from the burnout will take time and I am committed to succeeding. I have a sign hanging above my desk that says: Does it really need to be done and does it have to be done now?”


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