Burnout is something that many professionals experience during their careers. When you're experiencing burnout, it feels incredibly challenging to self-motivate and get work done.
You might feel like you don't want to go to work or you need to leave your job, and you may find that your performance decreases. Burnout doesn't go away on its own. If not addressed, it can and probably will get worse. In this lesson, we'll share tips for understanding and overcoming burnout.
What is burnout, and what are the symptoms?
Burnout strikes when you're under a ton of stress for a prolonged period. It can seriously wear you down physically and mentally, causing you to feel overwhelmed, exhausted, and completely disinterested in everything around you.
Back in 2009, the WHO (World Health Organization) recognized burnout as a syndrome caused by work-related stress. According to a 2022 global survey by WTW (Willis Towers Watson), a whopping 44% of workers have dealt with enough stress at work to even consider seeking new employment.
Burnout is often linked to jobs in high-stress environments, like medical professionals, law-enforcement officials, freelancers, or teachers. However, anyone can experience it, irrespective of their line of work.
Components of burnout
Burnout has three main components, which contribute to emotional exhaustion, reduced performance, and cynicism.
1. Emotional exhaustion
When you're dealing with chronic stress, it can drain your physical and mental health to such an extent that it can reduce your ability to deal with your emotions and stay motivated to tackle your work. Plus, emotional exhaustion can lead to feeling more annoyed and frustrated with yourself and the people around you.
In this stage, you feel disconnected and see your relationships with others from an impersonal perspective. You can become cynical and disinterested in what's going on in other people’s lives.
When you stop caring about other people's feelings and problems, it can cause major issues in your relationships with your family, friends, and co-workers.
3. Reduced work performance
Sometimes, you might feel like you need more energy just to get through the day and gain the motivation to complete your daily work. This lack of energy and motivation can leave you feeling pretty down and unproductive, even though you're really trying your best.
Symptoms of burnout
If you're starting to feel like burnout might be hitting you hard, it's important to recognize the symptoms and address the issue before it worsens.
Here are some of the common burnout symptoms:
- Feeling tired and fatigued all the time
- Altered sleep habits
- Headaches and pain throughout the body
- Muscle weakness
- Digestive issues, such as irritable bowel problems
- Rapid heart rate or palpitations
- Difficulty concentrating and focusing on tasks
- A feeling of being overwhelmed or having too much to do
- Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Increased anxiety and irritability
- Feelings of hopelessness
- A lack of motivation and reduced productivity
- Reduced self-esteem and confidence
- A lack of enthusiasm and joy in life
- Loss of motivation
- Suicidal thoughts
- Avoiding social life
- Using alcohol or drugs to cope
- Change in attitude
- Missing deadlines and making more mistakes than usual
Why freelancers are at risk of burnout
The mere thought of freelancing comes with an aura of freedom and independence. After all, the appeal of working remotely, on your own time, and with financial freedom is alluring.
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However, there is a downside to the freelancing lifestyle. It can also be a quick path to burnout if you fail in effective time management and work-life balance.
Here are some of the reasons why freelancers are at risk of burnout:
Feeling unappreciated and lack of support
We all need recognition and appreciation for the work we do. When you work as part of a team, and your colleagues hype you up and appreciate your effort, it boosts your morale and satisfaction.
On the flip side, as a freelancer working solo, it can be harder to feel like you're part of a team, leading to feeling isolated and disconnected. When you feel like you’re not getting the props you deserve, it can be easy to start feeling resentful, which is a recipe for burnout.
Managing projects and deadlines
Juggling tasks is a skill that all freelancers must learn, but it can quickly become overwhelming.
Tracking what needs to be done for multiple assignments with different deadlines and requirements can become challenging. When this focus feels too much to handle, it generally results in sloppy work or missed deadlines.
The erratic and unpredictable nature of freelancing can lead to financial hardship. Since the income is not stable or permanent, freelancers often hold multiple jobs and work long hours. This can result in stress and exhaustion.
Unlike traditional employees, freelancers don't have health care, retirement planning, or other perks. This aspect can put them in a tough spot and make it even harder to deal with stress, especially if they're dealing with financial hardship.
And speaking of economic hardship, freelancers don't have job security to keep their heads above water. Sometimes, clients don't pay on time, or the economy takes a hit, and work starts to dry up. When that happens, the decrease in income further affects financial stability.
So, burnout is almost inevitable with so much stress and uncertainty to deal with.
Working alone for extended periods can be isolating. The isolation can cause freelancers to experience higher levels of stress, anxiety, and depression than those working in teams. It's easy to become overwhelmed and burned out when they don't have, or cannot maintain, the same work-life balance as employed professionals.
The lack of meaningful social connections with co-workers has been linked to multiple psychological, physical, and emotional issues, including burnout.
Not taking vacation
Without a break—even a short one—it's easy to start feeling exhausted. Your inspiration may take a dive, your performance may suffer, and the potential of making mistakes increases significantly.
It's also possible for your productivity to take a hit, making it more challenging to keep up with daily tasks, let alone keep up with new and more complicated projects your clients may throw your way.
How to overcome freelance burnout
Burnout is a genuine concern for freelancers with a heavy workload, lack of sleep, and minimal breaks between the grind. So, how do you overcome it before it's too late?
Create a routine
To keep up with the daily grind of freelancing, find a schedule that fits your needs and lets you work at your own pace. You don't want to be all over the place and feel like you're not getting anything done.
Take things one step at a time and prioritize your tasks, so you know what needs to get done first. Write to-do lists and use reminders to keep you on track and organized.
Setting specific hours to work each day helps the balance, and never work more hours unless absolutely necessary. Try to stick to that fixed schedule.
Don't forget to take breaks while you work, so you can refocus and prevent mental exhaustion. By sticking to a schedule and creating a routine, you'll be better equipped to handle the challenges of freelancing.
And for an extra boost, why not try Indy's Time Tracker? This nifty tool can help you organize your tasks and track progress.
Find your flow state
Flow states—a mental state when we're focused and engrossed in what we're doing—are essential for creative productivity.
The feeling of being in this peak state is a great motivator to keep going and think outside the box. This state of heightened focus and concentration is achieved when there are no distractions and the mind is solely focused on the task at hand. In short, being in the flow state can lead to our best work and results.
Self-care is all about taking the time to nurture and prioritize your wellbeing. It can involve simple steps, such as eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, and exercising regularly.
But self-care isn't just about physical health; it's also about taking care of your mental and emotional health. It can include journaling, meditating, and engaging in uplifting activities that bring joy and fulfillment.
Switch up your projects
Burnout occurs when you've taken on more than you can handle. To maintain your mental sanity, you should not work at your maximum capacity for prolonged periods. So, what can you do?
Stop overworking. Change your current projects to some smaller, short-term gigs if possible. Also, trying something completely new can provide much-needed rest and boost your creative juices.
Seek professional support
When you're feeling overwhelmed, it's tough to recognize this and make the necessary changes yourself. That's where a mental health professional can help.
They can offer a fresh perspective and expert guidance to help you understand why you feel burnt out. They'll work with you to develop a plan, so you can manage your stress.
Begin to set boundaries at work
It's really easy to be a 'yes man' and consistently do everything your boss or clients ask of you. Sometimes when you're always saying yes instead of no, it can lead to overwhelming workloads and workplace burnout.
Learning to say "no" is one of the first ways to give yourself the space to reset and regroup. We recently wrote an article on saying "no" at work if you need help learning these skills.
Besides saying no, boundaries can also be created by capping the time you spend at work. Some company and industry cultures insist upon working long hours and overtime.
Jobs that are regular 9-5 can slowly creep up to 9, 10, or 11 hours a day.
Sometimes this is something you have to do or choose to do, but if it is a consistent pattern for months or years on end, it's time to set up boundaries of when you are and aren't willing to work extra hours.
Take time off the grid
Don't forget to take breaks. We haven't adopted longer vacation policies in the US like the rest of the world, but there's no reason not to take time off to get away, recover, and reset. Freelancers deserve vacation time too.
Start by picking some days in the future that you’d like to take time off. Open up a separate savings account where you can begin adding vacation funds. As the vacation date nears, you can let your clients know a few weeks out that you will be off the grid for a few days or weeks.
Then plan your work accordingly and wrap major projects up ahead of time so that you can unplug while you’re gone.
Everyone needs a day off from time to time (even if you plan on staying home). “Staycations” are extremely popular too and can be just as good for the mind as a trip away from home.
Understand your motivations
Earlier, we discussed that motivation could play a role in burnout. If you're doing utterly demoralizing work, it's much easier to burn out. If some aspects of your job are more motivating than others, discuss the possibility of including more of these projects within your job.
What else is a motivating factor besides the actual work you’re doing? If you respond well to being appreciated for what you're doing and aren't currently getting this, talk to your boss about what kind of feedback would be helpful to your morale and wellbeing.
Many clients want to work with you to keep you motivated because they know that a happy, motivated freelancer is productive. When freelancers are doing well, it brings a positive company culture and boosts revenue and productivity.
Burnout can hit hard, but there are ways to combat it. Taking a breather, setting realistic goals, and practicing self-care can help reduce stress and keep you inspired and passionate about your work. Don't forget to lean on your support system too. Reach out to friends and family members for a chat when things get tough. To keep the risk of burnout at bay, establish good work habits and stick to a routine timetable for your work.
Don't worry about being an inconvenience. This is your life and your career, and you have power. To learn more, we created articles on How to Find Fulfilling Work to help you better understand your motivation and How to Stay Motivated as a Freelancer to help you on your journey!