Freelancer burnout and what you can do about it
It was all so exciting. You set up your office, “hung out your shingle,” launched your marketing campaign, developed your personal brand, and began to get actual, warm-bodied clients.
You worked long hours and gave up weekend nights out for a long time. Nothing was more important than your work and success.
Now you find yourself less excited and, worse, less productive. You’re not sure why, but you are finding ways (excuses) to do things other than your job tasks. And you may be doing and feeling other things too. Have you considered that you may be suffering burnout? Here are five signs that you may be, and some tactics you can use to get over it and back in your groove.
1. Difficulty concentrating
Often, this condition is the result of long-term stress. And stress is something that freelancers know only too well. When there is an overload of work, they are stressed; when there is a slow period and work isn’t coming in steadily, there is the stress and worry of not enough income.
According to the American Psychological Association, short periods of stress are not harmful and, in fact, can spur people into high levels of productivity. When stress is chronic, however, people lose the ability to focus, to pay attention to the work at hand. They will find any number of other things to do that have no relation to work productivity – surfing the web, playing video games, even laundry and other housework. Some call it procrastination, and rightly so, but the cause of that procrastination is stress.
You are not productive and you know you should be (due to stress). And this brings on feelings of guilt – you are not doing right by your clients; you might be missing some promised deadlines or failing to do the things you said you would; you are not even doing the simple things, like making phones calls, sending emails, or responding to clients, family and friends when they make contact. And when you don’t do these things, you feel guilty. And that guilt can paralyse you even further.
3. Changing moods and isolation
Burnout can cause you to lose your sense of accomplishment. This, in turn, can result in forms of depression and alienation. At other times, it can result in spurts of anger and even aggression. If you find yourself dis-engaging from friends and family or becoming over-irritable at small things, then you may very well be suffering from burnout.
4. Coping in abusive ways
Some people turn to drinking, to food, or even to drugs. These are methods of “self-medication,” accompanied by the assumption that these will make you feel better and will get you back out of your rut. In fact, this type of self-abuse only makes the burnout worse. You feel more guilt; you become even less productive.
5. Physical symptoms
Physical symptoms of burnout are easy to ignore. That recurring indigestion is just because of your diet or crazy eating habits; that back and shoulder pain is because of the way you slept last night; those headaches must be sinuses acting up. If you are experiencing physical symptoms and they have not been diagnosed as coming from physical ailments, then they are from stress and burnout.
Obviously, it would be lovely to just take an extended time-off period. To do that, you would have to be financially fixed and pretty confident that you could find new clients when you return. Most freelancers do not have this luxury. There are other things you can do, however:
- Get support, even if it is only emotional. Being around family and friends more can raise your endorphin levels and give you an increased sense of well-being.
- Join a gym and force yourself to go at least every other day. Barring that, set aside two 30-minute periods each day for some form of exercise – walking, biking, dancing, etc.
Once you have improved your attitude and regained some mental energy, you can then take the practical steps to get out of your rut and stay out of it. Only you know yourself so those steps will be quite personalised. In general, however, they will include:
- Scheduling your work days so that you have short breaks for any type of non-work activity that interests you. This may be a hobby, exercise, or another interest
- Finding time for family and friends – they will re-energise you
- Taking on only the number of clients that you know you can handle with an 8-hour day.
Letting burnout overtake you and doing nothing about it will kill your business and bring both emotional and physical harm to you. If you recognize these symptoms in yourself, take steps now to correct the situation.