What does burnout look like?

It isn’t a sudden shift, like food poisoning from that poor decision you made last night. It creeps up on you over time, because it took time to create. Sadly, it also takes time to return from it and, as a business owner, the last thing you have is time.

The signs that bring many business owners to my door, seeking medical assistance, include:

  • Chronic fatigue, low energy, and exhaustion
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Gastrointestinal distress
  • Lowered immune system and increased illness
  • Loss of appetite, weight gain or loss
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Reduced enjoyment in life (not exactly the same as depression)
  • Increased irritability
  • Forgetfulness and impaired concentration, foggy head, or reduced clarity of thought

The entrepreneurs I see are so driven, and so self-motivated, that they’ve managed to keep the fires burning despite the fact that often, they’ve run out of fuel. Rest and downtime are nearly nonexistent, and they often feel an overwhelming sense of guilt if they do try to take it.

On a cellular level, I’ll see it in the lab work that I review. Often the business owner will feel confident that the blood work will come back without any signs - they’ll be “fine.” They’re certain it’s simply age catching up with them.

Yet, when the results come in, particularly in markers such as c- reactive protein, homocysteine, CBC (complete blood count), and hemoglobin particularly part of a CBC panel, their body is screaming: I am under high levels of stress!

Physiologically, they may not be getting enough oxygen to the brain. Their bodies may be overwhelmed with inflammation, which can increase their risk of a heart attack. They may have nutritional deficiencies, and dangerously low immune response.

Coming back from burnout and chronic stress, which does require time and effort, does not mean that you have to walk away from all the responsibilities in your life, and destroy the business you’ve built. Instead, you can begin to change your cells on a mitochondrial level with small, incremental changes that add up to increased health and vitality.

I teach my patients about creating boundaries in their life, to allow the stress to dissipate, and increase their ability to actively engage in and enjoy their lives. Here are just a few that can create massive change for you.

Release Physically

Finishing your work day just one hour earlier can make a huge difference, especially if you can get to the gym, the tennis court, or yoga class. There’s something for everyone - it doesn’t have to be yoga if that’s just not your thing - but find an outlet where you can physically release. Entrepreneurs especially need to find a way to let go of the stress that has been built up throughout the day. Even if you have to go back to work that evening, as so many of us do, taking the time to definitively break from your regular stress can allow you to go back with a clear head.  You’ll be more focused, and be able to get more done in just an hour than you would have in several, if you hadn’t taken that time to clear your head.

Release Mentally

Find a friend who might go for a walk with you, maybe once a week, or every other week. We all need to talk with someone we trust, who cares for us, and release that mental pressure as well. Make it a permanent date, where you both have carved out the time to really take care of each other. If you don’t have a friend who can fulfill this role, a therapist or counsellor can easily assist with this part in your life, allowing you to let go of your mental and emotional pressures.

Eat Regularly

Do you find yourself skipping lunches because you just don’t have time to eat? You’re not alone. Preparing food can be one more thing you don’t have time to do before you head out in the morning. Consider spending one night in the week just cutting up veggies and putting them in mason jars or other containers in the fridge, so that you can quickly grab it on your way out the door each day. Keep nuts and seeds in your car, in your desk drawer, in your pocket or purse, so you always have access to those healthier fats that feed your brain to do what it does best. It doesn’t have to be fancy - it just has to be good, nourishing food.

Get Your Fat

We all want to be mindful of the fats we eat. Depending on our genetics, we may need more or less fats to be physically healthy.  Many people are afraid of eating any fats at all, thanks to the low-fat epidemic that started in the 1950s, which led to increased strokes and heart attacks throughout North America. The healthy fat amount you require is really dependent upon your own body.  If you’re living on a very low-fat diet, a small increase can positively affect your insulin levels and reduce sugar cravings.

Your brain - often the organ that works the hardest for business leaders - is 90% fat. It needs both fat and carbs in order to operate effectively.  Good fats, like those in cashews, pecans, walnuts, etc., can help lift the fog from your brain, and keep you feeling satiated throughout the day.

Lower Your Caffeine Intake

We all love our caffeine, and this may seem wild but… try to limit it to just one cup a day.  If you’re a heavy user, take your time in reducing this, as you don’t want headaches on top of everything else. Have water near you all the time, and try decaf tea (counts as water intake!). Spice up your water with lemon juice, or cayenne pepper - whatever will make it easier for you to drink UP.

Why? Caffeine is a direct adrenal gland stimulus, which affects your gut, and your brain. If your brain is constantly “on” because it’s being stimulated with caffeine, when does it have time to shut down, and to process? Over the long term, high levels of caffeine intake can trigger the pancreatic secretion of insulin, which has to go somewhere in your body. For many women who see increased fat on their waistline, despite a healthy diet and exercise (business leaders are often incredibly diligent about this), extensive use of caffeine can actually be the culprit.

While it can take anywhere from 1 to 5 years to create, you’ll be happy to know that only 3 months can turn this around, provided you’re not diabetic.

Take One Day

Just one. One day a month, just for you. No appointments, no phone, no email. No work around the house. No parenting. No emotional labour. Make that day strictly about you. You will feel a lot better for it.



Dr. Seema Kanwal

Dr. Kanwal is a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine and a graduate of SFU’s Chemistry & Biochemistry program. She is one of the few naturopathic doctors in British Columbia to hold pharmaceutical prescription rights, and one of the few in Canada to be trained in the Apo E Diet. She focuses on disease prevention, and on working with individuals who have rare genetic disorders as well as those who suffer from stress related conditions. At Admin Slayer, we like her terrifyingly forthright approach and complete lack of “woo woo.”