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How to Recover From Burnout

Oct 18, 2020
(updated: Dec 5, 2022)
Max 5 min read

As a freelancer, you experience types of stress that employees in the corporate world don’t. You have the pressure of managing your own schedule and clients. You don’t have a steady paycheck or benefits and it’s completely up to you to find sustainable work. On top of all this, you don’t have any co-workers to commiserate with. All these factors, including a heavy workload, may be causing you to feel chronic stress and anxiety about work.

We’ve all heard it - burnout. If you think you may be suffering from it, don’t worry you’re not alone. A recent report by Gallup found that 76% of employees experience burnout on the job “sometimes”, and 28% experience burnout “very often” or “always”.

But how do you know if you’re a victim of burnout and not regular stress? The World Health Organization defines burnout as:

a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and
  • reduced professional efficacy.

When Does Burnout Happen?

There are many factors that contribute to feelings of burnout. So how do you know what factors are negatively impacting your mental health? According to science writer Alexandra Michel, “Ultimately, burnout results when the balance of deadlines, demands, working hours, and other stressors outstrips rewards, recognition, and relaxation.”

You decided to become a freelancer for all the advantages that come with the freedom of setting your own rates, schedule, and choosing your clients. But has the stress of managing everything started to outweigh the benefits?

Does it feel like an endless cycle of worry and stress? How do you get back on track and reclaim your life?

Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Read our tips to learn how to recover from burnout quickly and get back to what you love about freelancing. Note, that everyone’s experience is different and there is no one way to beat burnout, so use the list below as a guide and find out what works best for you.

Find the Source of Your Burnout to Begin Your Recovery

Before you can plan your recovery from burnout, you first need to identify the cause of your chronic stress and anxiety. Sometimes this is easy to identify, like a particular client that is demanding and unreasonable to work with. Or it may be the sheer volume of your workload that causes you to feel like you’re drowning and can’t keep up. 

Other factors might be harder to identify right away. To help, look for any feelings of resentment you have about work, that will point you in the right direction. Or, you can keep a stress journal and each day write down all the things that are causing anxiety.

Identify Immediate Changes You Can Make and Focus on Recovery From Burnout

Once you have your list of stressors, you can then start to explore changes you can make to get on the road to recovery quickly. Psychologist Sherrie Bourg Carter suggests, when going through each item on your list: “write down at least one way to modify that situation to reduce its stress, and then begin implementing them in your routine...Consistent implementation of positive changes in your routine is the best way to see improvement.”

Below are some things to consider that might be impacting your stress levels, and are areas you can start to make changes right away

  • Exercise, diet and sleep - These are the foundation of our mental and physical health. If you don't have these basics taken care of, then that is a good place to start. Studies have shown that exercise helps boost mental health.
  • Plan a budget - If your finances are stressing you out then the best way to deal with financial stress is to outline a monthly budget you can stick to. This will reduce the strain of living from paycheck to paycheck
  • Get organized - If the amount of work on your plate is causing you stress, start getting more organized. Simple things like creating a to-do list for the day can help reduce overwhelm. You’ll start to feel good once you start checking things off your list. Indy can help with great tools to keep yourself organized and boost productivity!
  • Take a break - If your circumstances allow you to have time off whether it’s a long weekend or a couple weeks, give yourself some time to relax and recharge your batteries. You’ll then be able to come back to your work feeling reinvigorated to tackle some of the bigger stressors causing your burnout.

Talk to People You Trust, Don’t Isolate Yourself When Working Through Burnout

As a freelancer you don’t have the luxury of having co-workers to share your frustrations. Human interaction is vital. While you’re feeling the effects of burnout it's important to surround yourself with people who can help aid your recovery. Talk to your friends and family. If you’re worried they won’t understand what you’re going through, try talking to them anyways, they may surprise you and be more supportive than you think.

Reach out to other freelancers in your network. Though it may be scary to open up, they likely have been in your shoes before and can offer support and advice.

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Consider Making Some Bigger Changes to Keep Burnout Managed

After you’ve identified your stressors, and you’ve made some changes to your routine, it’s time to work on changing your perspective.

Burnout is caused by feeling a lack of control in a particular area or multiple area’s in your life. This leaves you feeling powerless in the face of stress and anxiety. To combat this, author and time management coach Elizabeth Grace Saunders recommends “Adopt[ing] an ownership mindset”. You decided to be a freelancer to have control over things traditional employees don’t. Take back control in some of the areas you feel like you’ve lost it. 

Changing your perspective and adopting an ownership mindset may lead you to consider making bigger changes to completely eliminate burnout from your life. This may be letting go of a particular client or project that is causing too much anxiety. It’s important to make sure you focus on nurturing good long-term relationships, not ones that will drag you down. Or perhaps your business is too widespread and you’re taking on more than you can handle, establishing a niche and redefining your freelancing business can help narrow your scope of work.

Remember, as a freelancer, you are in control of your life and your work.

To help you accomplish some of these bigger changes, check out our articles on How to Stay Motivated as a Freelancer, How to Find Fulfilling Work, and Top 5 Tips For Building and Maintaining Client Relationships.


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