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Despite the perks, running a small business often produces more stress than working for someone else.

While most business owners know it's good for the bottom line to manage staff effectively, they can sometimes slip when it comes to managing themselves. And that can be a fast track to burnout.

Sydney University's Catherine Raffaele says small business owners experience higher levels of stress than people who work for a salary, and it can be important for business owners to focus on their own wellbeing.

"An American study by Pew Research found that while self-employed [people] were more satisfied, they were actually far more stressed than those who were not self-employed," says Ms Raffaele, a senior research analyst at the university's workplace research centre.

Ms Raffaele says high satisfaction levels are related to the sense of control and autonomy a business owner feels, but this can be eroded when things feel beyond their control, such as during difficult financial times. During these periods owners need to manage themselves well.

Psychologist Emily Scanlan, from Sydney's CBD Psychology and Wellbeing, says small business owners should actively think about being a good boss to themselves.

Small business owners wear many hats and Ms Scanlan says one way to reduce stress levels is to name each of these ''personalities'' - such as ''the accountant'', ''the marketer'', ''the consultant'' or ''the chef'' - and set aside blocks of time to get different types of tasks done, as switching too quickly between them can be exhausting. Ms Scanlan says the overarching ''boss'' personality is the one that business owners need to learn to regulate.

"You want your 'boss personality' to be kind, to be wise, maybe you want your boss personality to have a sense of humour, to enforce breaks."

Ms Scanlan says small business owners are usually highly skilled across many areas, but they don't have anyone reminding them to take breaks, or stay balanced in their life, and if their inner voice is driving them too hard, it can lead to burnout.

"A lot of perfectionists have severe internal dialogues that say, 'Only the best is good enough.' They're terrible at rewarding themselves because they're so focused on the perfect outcome,'' Ms Scanlan says.

''We know that when you have an internal dialogue that is a bully - 'you're not good enough, that's not good enough, you'll never get there' - that really creates a very similar chemical in the brain as an external bully.

''You've got to think, 'Would I say that to someone working for me? Would I work for someone who spoke to me like that?' And if the answer is 'no' then you might want to take a check on that personality or thinking."

Ms Scanlan says many people relate to burnout, but don't realise it may have serious implications.

"We know we're burnt out, but we might not know we're anxious or depressed," she says.

Ms Scanlan says counselling or therapy can help to change the tone of this inner dialogue.

Sydney University's Ms Raffaele says research is continuing to show that happiness and wellbeing at work is good for business. "What's coming out of cognitive psychology is that when people have downtime, your brain is still doing stuff, and allowing that downtime allows a whole range of functions including encoding the learning and allowing your brain to make the connections to be more creative," she says.

But if business owners don't set a good example by working reasonable hours, and taking regular lunch breaks and holidays, it can be difficult for staff to follow suit.

"If highly ranked people in the organisation take that on and provide a model for their employees, employees are more likely to follow that."

Signs you may be at risk

  • Nothing brings you pleasure, even your relationship or hobbies you used to love
  • Because you're not enjoying work, your skills drop
  • You start taking things personally; for example, if someone pays an invoice late, it's because they didn't like the service
  • Self-doubt creeps in: maybe this was a bad idea after all?
  • You feel overwhelmed. It's hard to get up in the morning because you don't know where to start