The first workshop of a four-part series on Mental Resilience for Entrepreneurs on November 19 discussed stress and burnout with a focus on how to recognize it and support yourself and your team. Karen Lai, CEO of KPM Power, shared her personal story of struggle and how she was able to move through her challenges. Paul Radkowski, a registered psychotherapist and CEO at Inward Strong, then explored practical methods that workshop participants might use to recognize these signs in themselves and others.
Lai’s story touched on a wide array of emotions including grief, anxiety, joy, and anger. She explained her journey in dealing with loss and how it affected her mental health as well as her work life and shared what she learned about herself throughout the process. Lai explained that she began to overwork herself. She described feeling irritated all the time and felt as though she was spiraling, so she decided to quit her job.
After taking six months off to focus on her family and her mental health, she returned to work and made changes to her work life to ensure this wouldn’t happen again to herself or her team. Lai hired a personal trainer to come to the office twice a week to offer yoga and stretching and made sure to have a hard stop at 5 pm because she found it can be hard to press the brakes when she is really focused on her work. She also shared the importance of having a good support system. “Have others around you who will remind you when to stop, and who will be honest with you,” she explained. “Burnout is like driving really fast and losing control. It’s important to know the signs of burnout so that you can hit the brakes before that happens.”
After Lai shared her experience, Radkowski followed with a presentation focused on learning the signs of burnout and how to prevent it. He explained that burnout is characterized by three dimensions:
“For some people, stress is a badge of honour,” he explained. Some people feel as though stress is a good thing because it means they are working hard, although too much stress can lead to burnout. Radkowski clarified that it’s about balancing and regulating your stress levels. Too little stress could mean that you are not performing at your best; you may be checked-out from your work, while too much stress could also mean you are underperforming as you may be overwhelmed and lacking focus. For peak efficiency, you want to be right in the middle; but to be there, you have to pay attention to and regulate your stress levels. Regulating stress levels is only possible when you can identify what causes your stress. So, it’s important to reflect on what stresses you out, whether it be a heavy workload, or feelings of underappreciation at work; identifying these things is the first step to preventing burnout.
The next step is knowing the signs of oncoming stress. This could be feelings of tenseness or nervousness, maybe your palms start to sweat, or your stomach starts to hurt. It’s also important to differentiate these signs with the levels of stress associated with them. For example, you may notice when you are slightly stressed your chest feels tight, while when you are moderately stressed your palms start to sweat, and when you are really stressed you may feel anxious or nervous. Being able to recognize these signs of stress can help to prevent them from getting worse. If you can recognize these stress indicators, you can learn to hit the brakes before losing control.
Radkowski’s overall message was that you matter! In order to take care of your professional life, you have to take care of yourself, because if you don’t take a break, you break!