As a freelancer, you experience levels of stress that employees in the corporate world don't. You have the pressure of managing your schedule and clients. You don't have a steady paycheck or benefits, and finding sustainable work is up to you. On top of all this, you don't have co-workers to communicate with. All these factors, including a heavy workload, may be causing you to feel chronic stress and anxiety about work.
In this lesson, we’ll dive into the symptoms of burnout and how you can overcome it.
What is burnout?
We've all heard it – burnout. If you think you may be suffering from burnout, 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, feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and
- Reduced professional efficacy.
Burnout is a physical and mental exhaustion caused by stress that feels heavy on your mind and body. It can leave you tired, disconnected, exhausted, and worn out. Freelance burnout is what happens to independent workers due to their work-related stress.
Besides, burnout can impact your physical and mental well-being, making you demotivated and reducing your sense of accomplishment. However, the number of freelancers experiencing burnout is increasing.
Burnout has not been categorized as a medical issue. The International Classification of Diseases labels it as an "occupational phenomenon." However, you must still learn coping strategies to maintain a work-life balance.
When does burnout happen?
Many factors contribute to feelings of burnout. So how can you identify which factors negatively impact 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 rates, scheduling working hours, and choosing your clients. But does the stress of managing everything start to outweigh the benefits?
Does it feel like an endless cycle of worry and anxiety? 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.
How to recognize burnout?
Recognizing the classic symptoms of burnout is the first and essential step of the burnout recovery process. If you can identify the signs, dealing with the problem will become easier.
But some freelancers find it tricky to figure out the problem, as everyone's experiences are different. Here is a list of six common burnout symptoms:
1. Feeling emotionally exhausted
This is a state of extreme mental deterioration. Since freelancers work alone, you can't share your responsibility, stress, and emotion with others. This feeling of isolation can overwhelm and drain you emotionally and make you feel exhausted.
2. Mental and physical signs
Some mental and physical symptoms of burnout are caused by high stress. For example:
- Mental symptoms: Inability to relax, feeling depressed, disconnected from family and friends, having anxiety, and struggling to focus.
- Physical symptoms: High blood pressure, headaches, muscle pain, digestive issues, and insomnia.
3. Inadequate motivation
When you've been working non-stop and pushing yourself really hard, it can take a toll on your energy level. As a result, it can be difficult to stay focused and productive. You might find that you're feeling stressed and lacking the required motivation.
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4. Less productive
As a freelancer, you must remain productive to earn money. But sometimes, finding the energy and drive to get work done can be challenging. You might feel stressed out and unable to perform at your best, which can lead to burnout if not addressed.
If you're finding it hard to get things done and your productivity is slipping, it could be a sign of underlying burnout issues.
5. Low self-esteem
Sometimes, when you're feeling burnt out, it can affect your perspective and cause you to doubt yourself. You might feel like your work performance isn't up to par, leading to low self-esteem and imposter syndrome.
Imposter syndrome is caused by such extreme self-doubt that you start fearing being exposed as a fraud.
It's important to recognize these feelings and take steps to address them.
6. Feeling alone and disconnected
According to Harvard's research, people feel lonelier when mentally exhausted. High stress can trigger loneliness and make you feel isolated and disconnected from society.
3 Types of burnout recovery
Let's look at different ways to recover from burnout. Since every freelancer deals with stress differently, the path to recovery can vary from person to person.
If one method doesn't work for you, don't worry, there are other options to explore. Depending on whether you're experiencing physical or mental burnout, you may need to try a different approach to feel better.
Here are some common ways to recover:
Taking care of your physical health is essential in the burnout recovery process. External recovery is restoring your body from the adverse effects of exhaustion. This recovery method is beneficial for freelancers who experience physical symptoms, such as fatigue, headaches, or muscle pain, due to burnout.
You can regain energy by focusing on activities that promote physical well-being, such as:
- Doing regular exercises
- Getting enough sleep
- Eating a healthy diet
- Maintaining self-care
When burnout hits you with mental symptoms like poor memory, fractured focus, and exhaustion, it's time to turn to internal recovery methods.
One way to start the process is by keeping a journal. This can help you identify patterns in your thoughts and emotions, track progress, and express your feelings in a safe space.
Building social bonds is another effective method. Connecting with friends, family, and like-minded people can help you feel less isolated and boost your mood.
If you need more support, therapy can be an excellent option for healing emotionally and mentally. A therapist can provide valuable insights, guidance, and tools to help you manage stress, overcome burnout, and improve your overall mental health.
When you're not experiencing extreme burnout or can't afford to take a break, you can still recover from it by adjusting your lifestyle. It involves breaking your bad daily habits and implementing new, healthy ones that can help boost your mood and energy levels.
For instance, you can try taking a brisk walk in the morning, doing some meditation, reducing your caffeine intake, and much more. These small changes can make a significant difference in changing your distressed mental state.
How to recover from burnout (strategies)
Burnout can happen to even the most dedicated and organized freelancers. And who can blame them? They often face overwhelming stress due to long hours, little job security, and constant pressure to perform.
Fortunately, there are stress management techniques to save you from physical and emotional exhaustion.
Let's discuss the burnout recovery process to restore your work-life balance and positive emotions.
Find the source of your burnout to begin your recovery
Before you can plan your recovery from burnout, you need to identify the cause of your chronic stress and anxiety.
Sometimes this is easy to find, 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.
Setting unrealistic goals could be another valid reason for burnout. You must know your skills, capability, and dedication before setting targets. Sky-high expectations will make you feel like an underachiever when you fail to meet them repeatedly.
Other factors might be harder to identify right away. To help, look for any resentment you have about work that will point you in the right direction. Or, you can keep a stress journal and write down everything causing you anxiety.
Identify the immediate changes you can make
Once you have your list of stressors, you can then explore the changes to be made to get on the road to recovery quickly.
When going through each item on your list, follow the suggestions of psychologist Sherrie Bourg Carter. She recommends:
"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 changing right away:
Exercise, diet, and sleep are the foundation of our mental and physical health. If you don't have these basics taken care of, that is an excellent 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 daily to-do list can help reduce overwhelm. You'll 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 of weeks, allocate time to relax and recharge your batteries. You'll then be able to come back to your work feeling reinvigorated enough to tackle some of the bigger stressors causing your burnout.
Don't isolate yourself when recovering from burnout
Working 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 essential 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 anyway. 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.
Go outside, move, and plan an exciting vacation
When you keep handling all your stresses of work alone, the chances of experiencing burnout increase. Taking time off and going on vacation can be an excellent way to recover and feel rejuvenated.
Unfortunately, many freelancers neglect their needs and prioritize work over rest, leading to burnout. But how can you go on a vacation when you need to work?
Here are a few ways to enjoy a break if you don't want to leave work:
- Hire someone to work for you for a few days. Once they complete the task, check, edit, and submit the work.
- Communicate with your clients and scale the amount of work. Then, ask if it's possible to complete your project before vacation.
- Request small projects during your vacation so you can complete them while traveling.
Consider making more significant changes to keep burnout under control
After identifying your stressors and changing 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 areas in your life. It 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 control things traditional employees don't. Now you need to take back control in the areas where you feel like you've lost it.
Changing your perspective and adopting an ownership mindset may lead you to consider making more significant changes to completely eliminate burnout from your life.
This may lead you to let go of a client or project, causing too much anxiety. It's crucial to ensure you focus on nurturing good long-term relationships rather than those 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.
How long does it take to recover from burnout?
Remember that you can't recover from burnout overnight. You have to stick to the recovery steps and give yourself enough time. There's no estimated time frame for recovery; some may need a month others may need several months.
Here are the steps determining how long it may take to recover:
- Find the stressors.
- Create the scope to take a break from work.
- Make time to shift your focus to your well-being.
- Figure out your authentic self and redirect your attention to your life goals.
- Gradually bring about the changes that you need to recover from burnout.
As you can see, this is a long process; therefore, it's safe to say you may need several months to recover.
High stress is inevitable for freelancers as they work alone and have no colleagues to communicate with and share their anxiety. And this high stress gives birth to feeling burnout. But you now know how to recover from burnout and how long it may take. Remember, as a freelancer, you control your life and work. You shouldn't risk this work freedom and mess up your physical and mental condition in the process.
Help yourself by making the necessary life changes and avoid burnout problems. 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.