How To Prevent and Overcome Burnout, With Gabriela Flax

Entrepreneur's Guide: How to Prevent and Overcome Burnout

Burnout is a significant issue that many entrepreneurs face at one time or another. Long hours, high stress, and demanding roles make founders and business owners more susceptible to burnout and other mental health issues.

This interview with burnout resilience + NLP coach Gabriela Flax is an incredible resource for anyone who may be struggling with burnout. She provides a wealth of insight, plus practical tips to implement in daily life. It’s a must-read for any busy professional.

👇 Key Takeaways

  • Gabriela struggled with mental health issues that led to an unsettling numbness toward life
  • After her recovery, she got training and started coaching others
  • She shares the exact warning signs of burnout
  • Gabriela provides practical tips to strike a balance between ambition and self-care

Overview

Business Name: Gabriela Flax Consulting
Website:  Gabriela Flax
Business Location: London, UK
Year Started: 2023
Number of Employees/Contractors/Freelancers: 0

Tell us about yourself and your business.

I’m Gabriela, a Career Wellness Coach based in London, UK. I help burnt-out corporate women rediscover their professional passions, pivot their careers with purpose, and powerfully claim their space in the world of work.

As a coach, my goal is to empower women through the 5 R’s: 

  1. Regulate the nervous system
  2. Re-energise the mind and body
  3. Raise internal frequencies
  4. Reveal core life values
  5. (Re)Build an aligned career path

My signature coaching approach, The RPP Method, is rooted in energetic practices and utilizes nervous system regulation, neurolinguistic programming, personal branding, and strategic career planning to master the complexities of burnout recovery, career transition, and personal growth.

What was your inspiration for starting the business?

After nearly a decade in corporate environments, I saw how pursuing misaligned career paths—driven by a sense of obligation and sunk cost fallacy—can damage mental health and lead to burnout. 

My story was no different and served as the inspiration behind my business. By my mid-twenties, everything looked great on the outside: a respected job as a Product Manager, savings for travel, a dog, and amazing friends. However, this time period was defined by daily anxiety, chronic exhaustion, unrelenting stress, panic attacks, GI issues, constant brain fog, and an unsettling numbness toward life. 

I knew deep down that this state was not healthy; however, I thought admitting my sneaking suspicion that I was burnt out could be perceived as a weakness. So, I kept myself busy and pushed harder to avoid addressing what was going on inside of me.

Ignoring these signs of burnout ultimately was not sustainable. After months of neglecting the very real signals my body was sending me, I had The Capital “P” Panic Attack while out having coffee with a friend. 

That moment revealed that my relentless obsession with ‘success’ and disregard for self-care were leading me down a dangerous path. Equally, my self-worth and happiness were built upon my job with no room for self-care, boundaries, or community. Fed up with life feeling dull yet chaotic, I began addressing the beliefs and lifestyle habits fueling my burnout. 

Over time, I upgraded my emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual health to a place where I finally felt safe in my body. Feeling safe within your body is the cornerstone of burnout recovery. It’s a profound state where healing begins, as it signals to your nervous system that it’s time to shift from high alert to restorative rest.

The more self-love and understanding I showed myself, the safer and more at peace I felt—whether at work, with friends, or in solitude. Within a few months, I was feeling myself again. However, I’d gained clarity on one big area: I was pushing myself down a career path out of obligation, not desire. 

I knew I was not alone in this experience, so began sharing my approach to burnout recovery and career change online. The feedback highlighted one core problem to be solved: As a burnt-out corporate employee who wants to build a career I am proud of but that does not deplete me, how do I move forward?

I became determined to help others answer that question. 

How did you transition from the corporate world to a full-time entrepreneur? 

My transition from full-time corporate to full-time entrepreneur occurred gradually. Once I had recovered from burnout myself, I was able to more clearly see the warning signs in others. As a firm believer that no job is worth your health, I started mini-coaching sessions during lunch with colleagues to share techniques that had worked for me. Within a few weeks, I was helping friends at other companies and getting referrals to their colleagues. 

The more I spoke with others, the more my fascination with the science of stress management, burnout recovery, and career coaching grew. On the latter, I’d been a career mentor for several years focused on personal branding. Excited to bring these disciplines together, I resolved I would help stressed-out employees get good at stress, find calm in the chaos, and build careers that resonated with their values. Stress will always be a factor in our lives; there is power in making peace with it. 

I began using my weekends to attend workshops and trainings in modalities that had transformed my relationship with stress including breath work, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), and nervous system regulation techniques and began a year-long coaching certification program in Mindset, Success, and Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) to ground me in the principles of behavior change. I dove deep into the research on stress and burnout, wanting to uncover how to improve our tolerance to stress. 

Leveraging these collective learnings, I began to develop my own techniques that helped my clients transition from burnt-out, unfulfilled employees to energized and empowered women on a career path that resonated with her values.

In October 2023, I knew staying in Product would be solely out of obligation – I’d been a PM for 7 years and thought I would continue down that path despite never quite feeling that sense of excitement I hoped I would.  I was becoming my own case study: holding onto a career that had burned me out and did not offer the stimulation I knew I craved. My weekends had been filled for months with coaching sessions and I knew it was time to take the leap, so I did. 

Gabriela Flax

What challenges did you face in the beginning—and what are you facing now?

The biggest challenge I faced was mastering time management as a solopreneur. In the corporate world, the collective momentum hints at where to channel your efforts. Transitioning to entrepreneurship, I faced the task of determining where to invest my time, often leaving me feeling overwhelmed.

In these moments, I reminded myself I’d spent years as a PM prioritizing roadmaps that delivered high-value returns. I began applying the same planning tools I used in my corporate job to my business, helping me clarify where the best ROI of my attention would be to hit the monthly goals I’d set. 

Isolation is a challenge that still persists. Reflecting on my journey, I understood that flexibility and time were my most valued currencies and knew that self-employment would afford both. However, I underestimated the isolation that comes with leaving an office for a solitary home office and building a product where you are the only person dedicated to its success.

With that being said, the passion I have for helping people get good at stress and reorient their career paths toward peace fires me up every day. This mission is personal to me. In recent months, I’ve expanded my network of other London-based solopreneurs and made a point to invest in those relationships not only to learn from others but more importantly to simply commune and be. Community is not something to take for granted. 

What are the common signs and symptoms of burnout, and how might they manifest differently in entrepreneurs compared to individuals in traditional employment roles?

Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged exposure to stressors. For both traditional employment roles and employees, typical signs include:

  • Chronic fatigue (even after sleeping for hours on end)
  • Irritability
  • A marked decrease in productivity and job performance
  • Headaches
  • Stomachaches
  • Muscle tension
  • A sense of failure
  • Nervousness
  • Feeling inadequate
  • Detachment
  • Feeling constantly out of control
  • Loss of motivation

While these symptoms can make us feel like our bodies are failing, this is not the case. Stress is your body’s natural response to changes or challenges. While it often gets a bad rap, it is a universal human experience designed to prepare us for action.

The issue is when our internal security system misfires due to ongoing stress and stays perpetually on guard, it wears us down. Considering our lives are filled with potential stressors—from work demands and traffic to personal pressures and home responsibilities—it’s easy to see how we can quickly spiral towards burnout.

Entrepreneurs, while often finding joy and fulfillment in their autonomy and achievements, may experience burnout differently due to their unique work dynamics. Their work and personal lives often intersect, intensifying the impact of burnout. This can erode their self-esteem and spark existential doubts more acutely than in traditional jobs.

Entrepreneurs should watch for these signs:

  1. Ignoring exhaustion and hesitating to share responsibilities or delegate 
  2. Increased anxiety over previously minor concerns
  3. Diminishing passion for the business, accompanied by thoughts of wanting to quit
  4. Difficulty in separating work from personal life, feeling caught in endless work cycles
  5. Relying on work for self-esteem
  6. Noticeable shifts in eating, exercise, and sleep habits without a clear medical cause

Entrepreneurs often feel pressured to constantly hustle and work long hours. How can they strike a balance between ambition and avoiding burnout?

This is my favorite topic to work with clients on. Feeling safe within your body is the cornerstone of preventing and recovering from burnout. It’s a profound state where healing begins, as it signals to your nervous system that it’s time to shift from high alert to restorative rest.

This sense of safety is not just about physical well-being but an emotional and psychological sanctuary where your body understands it can let go of the constant fight or flight response, allowing for deep relaxation and rejuvenation. From this place, entrepreneurs have the mental capacity and clarity to do what they do best.

In that regard, striking a balance between ambition and self-care is not just wise; it’s the recipe for creating a state of safety in the body and essential for sustainable success. Here are some approaches I use with my clients:

  1. Redefine Success: Challenge the idea that success equals endless work and constant availability. This mindset falsely links longer hours with higher productivity and, thus, greater success. Instead, here is a definition of productivity that I offer my clients: true productivity is about creating a space where you feel secure and inspired to innovate.This mindset fosters creativity and flow, allowing work to stem from ease. Embrace a success that values happiness, health, and meaningful impact over mere output.
  2. Prioritize Ruthlessly: Not all tasks are created equal. Use the Pareto Principle (80/20 rule) to focus on the 20% of tasks that yield 80% of the results. Set your metrics to measure this. This doesn’t mean doing less work; it means doing more of what matters.
  3. Embrace Strategic Laziness: This might sound counterintuitive, but there’s profound power in strategic laziness. It’s about taking deliberate breaks and allowing for periods of non-productivity to foster creativity and problem-solving. 
  4. Cultivate Your Non-Work Identity: Invest time in hobbies, relationships, and activities outside of your business every day. These not only provide a respite from work but also enhance your identity beyond being an entrepreneur. They can be sources of joy, stress relief, and even unexpected inspiration. If you don’t have a hobby you’re passionate about, a challenge I give to my clients is: you have $15 to invest into 60 minutes – what are you going to do? You’ll surprise yourself with how creative you get.
  5. Practice Intentional Recovery: Active recovery isn’t just sleep; in fact, there are 7 types of rest that every person needs: physical rest (sleep, stretching, yoga, walking), mental rest (meditation, hobbies that let the mind wander), emotional rest (allowing yourself to feel your feelings), sensory rest (digital detox, time in nature), creative rest (engaging in art, writing, music), social rest (time with positive people, community investment), and spiritual rest (connecting with things that expand you like prayer, community, and nature). Explore the different kinds of rest that nurture you.
  6. Mindful Automation and Delegation: Leverage technology, build systems, and delegate tasks where possible. This frees up mental space and time, allowing you to focus on work that truly requires your unique skills and vision.

The line between personal and professional life can be blurry for entrepreneurs. How can they establish healthy boundaries to prevent burnout and maintain a fulfilling personal life?

For entrepreneurs, the blend of personal and professional life often becomes so seamless it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. This has been a huge passion area of mine as I navigate deeper into my own journey with entrepreneurship. 

Here’s my simple framework for creating healthy boundaries. 

  • Identify Your Needs:
    1. Assess Your Priorities: Take stock of your personal and professional life. What areas are currently suffering due to lack of boundaries? Where do you feel most overwhelmed or overextended?
    2. Determine Your Non-Negotiables: Identify what you absolutely need to maintain your health, relationships, and productivity. This could be regular exercise, uninterrupted family time, or dedicated periods for deep work.
  • Define Clear Boundaries
    1. Be Specific: Clearly articulate what your boundaries are. Instead of a vague “I need more personal time,” specify “I will not answer work-related emails after 7 PM or on weekends.”
    2. Communicate Your Boundaries: Share your boundaries with your team, clients, and family. Clear communication prevents misunderstandings and sets expectations.
  • Implement with Consistency
    1. Enforce Boundaries: Stick to your guns. It might feel uncomfortable at first, especially if you’re used to saying yes to everything, but consistency is key. If not actively respected and enforced, a boundary becomes merely a suggestion and lacks the strength to protect your well-being and work-life balance. 
    2. Use Tools and Systems: Leverage technology or organizational systems to help maintain your boundaries. This might mean setting up an autoresponder for emails received outside of work hours or using an app to block access to work accounts during personal time.
  • Monitor and Adjust
    1. Evaluate Effectiveness: Periodically review how well your boundaries are working. Are you feeling less stressed? Is your personal life benefiting?
    2. Be Open to Adjustment: As your business and personal life evolve, so too will your needs. Adjust boundaries as necessary, but always with intentional thought and purpose.
  • Surround Yourself with Support
    1. Seek Understanding: Surround yourself with people who understand and respect your need for boundaries. This support system can reinforce your efforts and help hold you accountable.
    2. Delegate and Outsource: Recognize that you don’t have to do everything yourself. Delegating work tasks or outsourcing personal chores can help you maintain your boundaries without sacrificing productivity or personal time.

Some of the personal boundaries I implement as an entrepreneur are:

  1. Scheduling unplugged time. My phone is off between 8 am-10 am M-F. This is my uninterrupted writing time which is a nonnegotiable for me in building my business. 
  2. Physical workspace separation. My laptop stays on my desk. This physical separation helps cue my brain into work mode when I’m at my desk and, importantly, out of work mode when I’m not.
  3. 45 minutes of movement every day. This could be a gym workout, a walk in the park, or mid-day YouTube yoga. Movement is medicine. It expands my creativity and leaves me feeling confident to solve whatever problem I am facing. 

You talk about saying “No” to more work and demands on one’s time. Many find it hard to do that. How do you say “No” in a way that isn’t off putting to others?

Saying “No” to additional work and demands can be challenging, especially in a culture that often equates busyness with productivity and worth. However, strengthening the “No” muscle is crucial for protecting your energy and ensuring you can give your best to what truly matters.

It’s not just about rejecting a request; it’s about honoring your limits, respecting your priorities, and fostering healthy, productive relationships. Here are a few strategies to help make a “No” a well-received response. 

  1. Understand the Trade-Off: Recognize that saying “Yes” to one thing inherently means saying “No” to something else. Our energy and attention are finite resources. Every time you agree to a new task or commitment, you’re potentially limiting your ability to focus on existing responsibilities, personal well-being, or long-term goals. Emphasize the importance of this trade-off in your response, making it clear that your refusal comes from a place of prioritizing effectively, not from unwillingness or disinterest.
  2. Vocalize Your Rest Ethic: A strong work ethic requires an equally strong rest ethic. This balance isn’t just about preventing burnout; it’s about creating space for creativity, recovery, and personal growth. Sharing your understanding that to perform at your best, you must also rest at your best with others invites them to view your need to rest (and likely theirs too) with greater compassion. 
  3. Offer a Measured Explanation: While “No” can be a complete sentence in personal boundaries, the professional realm often benefits from a brief explanation. This doesn’t mean justifying your decision, instead providing context that helps the other person understand your priorities and constraints. A simple explanation can foster mutual respect and maintain positive relationships, showing that your decision is thoughtful, not dismissive. Give them the opportunity to show compassion for where you are coming from. 
  4. Suggest Alternatives: When possible, offer alternatives. If you can’t take on a project, perhaps suggest a co-worker who might be looking for such an opportunity, or propose a later timeline that fits better with your schedule. This approach demonstrates your willingness to help and your commitment to the team or project’s success, even if you cannot contribute directly.
  5. Practice Compassionate Assertiveness: I love this concept from Brené Brown on vulnerability and leadership. Adopting compassionate assertiveness involves saying “No” clearly, respectfully, and empathetically. You acknowledge how your refusal might impact others, yet by being assertive and compassionate, you demonstrate respect for your own boundaries and consideration for others’ needs, thereby amplifying trust and respect.
Gabriela Flax

Financial stress is a common concern for entrepreneurs. How does financial pressure contribute to burnout, and what strategies can entrepreneurs adopt to alleviate this stress?

Financial uncertainty, entrepreneur or not, feeds into increased levels of stress and anxiety. Now as an entrepreneur, carrying the weight of your business’s finances, with income that swings and the endless hunt for funds, can make feeling stable pretty challenging. This constant stress can chip away at your mental strength, nudging you toward burnout.

The stress of financial pressure narrows the focus, making it difficult to think creatively or make short-term decisions that might not align with long-term business goals. This makes sense given that in moments of high stress, the part of the brain that makes decisions, the prefrontal cortex, is offline. It’s not that you cannot make a decision, it’s actually that your brain is not in a state that allows for it. Instead, the fear-driven primitive brain –the amygdala– is driving the show, making decision-making near impossible. 

Finally, financial pressures can lead entrepreneurs to sacrifice personal needs for the sake of their business. This might mean skimping on healthcare, neglecting personal relationships, or forgoing leisure, all of which are essential for a healthy burnout-free life. 

So what can we do about it?

  1. Embrace financial literacy. Understanding the financial aspects of your business can reduce anxiety and empower you to make informed decisions. Knowledge is power, and power over your finances is a significant stress reliever.
  2. Prioritize self-care. It’s not indulgent; it’s essential. Balancing financial ambitions with personal well-being is crucial. Remember, a well-rested, healthy entrepreneur is more effective and innovative than one on the brink of burnout.
  3. Seek professional support. Whether it’s consulting a financial advisor to manage business finances or engaging with a coach to navigate stress, professional support can provide clarity, reduce the sense of isolation, and offer strategies to manage financial pressures effectively.
  4. Focus on non-monetary growth metrics. While finances are crucial, measuring success through other lenses can alleviate pressure. Set goals around customer satisfaction, product development milestones, market share expansion, team skills enhancement, etc. These indicators not only provide a broader view of business health but also celebrate progress that’s not tied directly to revenue.

Can you share an example or two of clients you’ve helped? Where were they and where are they now?

Definitely! 

When Serena, a retail buyer and aspiring mental health counselor, came to me, she was struggling with severe stress symptoms, including insomnia, panic attacks, and an inability to detach from work. She had been working through the weekends and felt lost and overwhelmed after a shift in management. These symptoms ultimately lead her to take a six-month leave of absence from work.

When we started our sessions in November 2023, we first tackled Serena’s stress response, teaching her body to switch from a constant state of alert to a more relaxed state. With only 6 weeks until her leave of absence was over, we developed a comprehensive toolkit to help manage stress in real time. Her first week back in January I got a text from her saying:

“I cannot believe how different I feel at my office this week compared to 6 months ago. Things that normally would have knocked me are still there, but I’m approaching them with ease. I’m thinking clearer too. When I have a wobble, I stay standing.”

Our next focus was on Serena’s career development and preparing for her future counseling business. She had one year before officially qualifying as a counselor and, as a future business owner, wanted to gain experience in many disciplines. So, we honed her personal brand and explored advancement opportunities within her current company, resulting in an offer that aligned with her goals. As we wrapped up our sessions, we laid the groundwork for her new counseling practice, ensuring she had a robust set of tools to manage stress while juggling her job and new business venture. 

Here is an excerpt from her off-boarding form: 

“The goals we set out at the beginning of our coaching 3 months ago in terms of my return to work, control over my anxiety, and desire to start my new business felt like blue-sky wishes that I would be happy to just get close to achieving. Since, I have completed them all above and beyond what I thought was even possible! I am in a healthier place now, with the tools to maintain my progress on my own. I am able to say that I am now recovered from burnout and confident in my ability to run a business.”

Another one of my clients is Amanda, a private equity associate, who I’ve been working with for 5 months. During our first session, Amanda came with a list of things she wanted to change. 

  1. I need to learn to detach my self-worth from my job. I know it shouldn’t be, but I struggle to find anything valuable about myself outside of work. I do like my job, I find it interesting. But there needs to be more. 
  2. My physical health has suffered considerably in the last 3-4 years. I was a college athlete. I can’t remember the last time I saw a gym or cooked healthy food. I feel lethargic. 
  3. My sleep quality is horrible. I get around 5-6 hours of sleep every night and wake up just as tired as the night before.
  4. I started suffering from pretty bad anxiety before board meetings. This is new for me. I know what I need to do in these meetings, but lately it’s been like an elephant is sitting on my chest before. My performance is impacted and I’ve received feedback about it from my manager.
  5. I’d like to think more positively about myself. I have a lot to be grateful for but feel apathetic toward. 

Amanda’s story is one I see every day in my work. It’s the story of someone who knows they can make changes but is at a level of overwhelm that has them frozen. Here’s what we’ve accomplished together so far:

  1. Amanda reduced her working hours by 20% by releasing fears around delegation and perfectionism, and saying no to work outside his capacity. She got promoted within this timeframe.
  2. Amanda improved the quality of her sleep using visualization exercises and progressive muscle relaxation. Using Whoop to track, her average 1 hour of REM sleep has increased to a 3-hour/night average.
  3. Amanda started mentoring female university students who want to break into investing. She identified that being of service to others through mentoring is incredibly fulfilling and was a missing link in her day.
  4. Amanda negotiated a day of work-from-home to create time for meal prepping, deep focus work without office distractions, and extra time with her dog.
  5. Amanda hasn’t felt that elephant in weeks. Using short simple breathwork techniques, she’s been able to close her stress cycle before board meetings and even taught her team how to too. 
  6. Amanda started weight lifting 2x a week, she feels more clear minded and much stronger!

Her text to me yesterday said, “My brain is firing on all cylinders today. Morning workout was great, did some quick prioritization for the day. Feeling fresh and ready to go!” 

What are some of your favorite books, blogs, podcasts, or YouTube channels?

Books: 

Podcasts:

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