How to Avoid Burnout as a Freelancer

Freelancing can be very exciting. The idea of making your own schedule, spending more time with your family and friends, and being free to explore different routines and hobbies sounds amazing! But freelancing does come with some drawbacks, and a common downside experienced by many across all industries is burnout. So, how do you avoid burnout as a freelancer?

The 6 steps to avoid burnout as a freelancer are:

  1. Socialise
  2. Switch off
  3. The Three Es
  4. Find a support group
  5. Stay organised
  6. Seek professional help

Below, we go through these steps in more detail, along with a discussion on how to identify signs of freelancer burnout. But first, what is freelancer burnout?

What Is Freelancer Burnout?

Freelancer burnout is essentially a feeling of exhaustion or negativity associated with overworking or mismanaging your time. The World Health Organization defines burnout as:

“Chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed, characterised by feelings of 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”

If you’re struggling to carry on your freelancing business, even though you’re doing something that you love, you’re likely suffering from freelancer burnout. Let’s take a look at some of its main causes.

3 Main Causes of Freelancer Burnout

1. Over-Committing

Overworking yourself is extremely easy to do, especially if you’re just getting the hang of things. At the beginning of your freelancing career, getting work can be hard, and you’ll feel the need to take on as many jobs as you can. But that will eventually wear you out.

It’s very important to know your limits and when to say “No”. So, if you see that work is starting to pile up, take a step back, accept only the projects that interest you, and focus on providing quality over quantity. Not only will this help you avoid burnout as a freelancer, but it also ensures your clients get the best work possible.

2. Isolation

Some freelancers start their careers with hopes of having more time for friends and family. However, it’s really easy to lose yourself in your work, especially if you’re not organised.

Plus, freelancing is a one-man job. It can be a lonely business. There are (usually) no offices, no co-workers, and it’s often just you and your computer. That can be pretty lonely. Isolation can lead to productivity issues, but the biggest concern is its effect on your mental health.

3. Lack of Self Care

As cliché as it may sound, you need to be at your best to give your best. The more freelancers bury themselves in work, the easier it gets to let go of self-care practices like exercising, eating well, staying hydrated, and even simply taking time to work on pet projects and other hobbies.

5 Symptoms of Freelancer Burnout

1. Exhaustion

Feeling physically and mentally drained is very common for freelancers experiencing burnout. You’ll constantly feel tired and unable to perform the easiest of tasks, and it can be hard to get out of bed or feel creative.

2. Anxiety

It’s not hard to imagine how freelancing can lead to anxiety. You constantly have to think about getting more clients. You worry about the instability and, if you’re a full-time freelancer, there’s always that fear of not meeting your financial needs. You’re very likely to experience higher levels of anxiety when suffering from burnout as a freelancer.

3. Work Aversion

Suffering from burnout may lead you to constantly postpone your assignments to the point where you actually start believing that you hate doing something that you once enjoyed. If you’re put off doing the work you normally like doing, that’s a sign you’re suffering from burnout.

4. Reduced Productivity

Maybe you’re not avoiding work yet, but you feel that you can’t get things done as easily as you used to. Or you might find it very hard to concentrate on your work. Work might feel stagnant. That is also a tell-tale sign of freelancer burnout.

5. Physical Symptoms

Burnout can lead to more severe damage than you might think. It may manifest itself through headaches, or through neck, shoulder, and back pain. It could even lead to stomach and intestinal issues. If any of these physical symptoms are recurring, making you feel completely drained all the time, then you might be facing a serious case of freelancer burnout.

So, how do you avoid burnout as a freelancer?

6 Steps to Avoid Burnout as a Freelancer

1. Socialize

Freelancing can be lonely, and isolation comes with a lot more than just productivity issues. So, it’s very important to make an effort to try and make time for hanging out with others in order to avoid burnout as a freelancer. Spend some quality time with your friends and family.

If office interaction is what you’re craving, why not try out some coworking spaces near you? Places like these are always filled with like-minded freelancers who are often more than willing to share great ideas and brainstorm.

2. Switch Off

Don’t feel guilty about taking time off, as you need it more than you realise. Yes, freelancing is supposed you give you more freedom. But sometimes you end up working more than you did in your previous job. Take a day or two off every week and focus on life outside of work.

3. The Three Es

Exercising, eating right, and getting enough sleep are all very important aspects of a balanced life and they’re critical for staying healthy as a freelancer. It’s easy for us to forget to move around enough, have a snack-based diet, and work until the early hours. But that doesn’t give us the energy we need to work at the top of our game.

If you want to be in your best physical and mental shape, you need to take good care of yourself. This involves setting a regular bedtime, planning and preparing the right meals, and taking some time to exercise every day. You don’t need to sign up for a gym membership if you don’t want to. Simply going for a quick walk outside, dancing to your favourite songs around the house, or doing some stretching is all it takes. Your body will thank you, and so will your mind!

4. Find a Support Group

There are lots of freelancing communities on Facebook where you can find plenty of like-minded people to connect with. There, you can share all of your ideas, brainstorm, and ask for advice about any burnout issues you face. Lots of people are eager to help, and you won’t feel alone in your struggles. Plus, you can also find motivation in helping others with their problems too.

5. Stay Organised

Working as a freelancer can sometimes blur the lines between your personal and work life. You might feel like there’s no end to your daily tasks, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. The best way to stay on top of things is to organise your workspace and your workflow.

First, organise your workspace. Decluttering your place of work is a great step towards productivity and de-stressing. Next, write everything down. At the end of each day or week, write down all of your ideas, goals, and tasks. With everything in front of you, instead of just bouncing around in your head, it’s easier to figure out how important everything really is and when you want to tackle each task.

Finally, plan everything ahead of time. Now that you know all the things you need to do, you only need to schedule and plan ahead. Some people use daily or weekly planners, but there are also lots of apps and programs out there that you can use instead.

Having your most important tasks scheduled ahead of time forces you to stick to the time limits and reduces distractions, minimising any room for procrastination.

6. Seek Professional Help

If you can’t seem to overcome your freelancer burnout on your own, there’s no shame in asking for professional help. A dedicated therapist can help you figure out the roots of your issues and work through your burnout symptoms.

Further Resources for Avoiding Freelancer Burnout

If you want to read more about burnout and strategies to manage it, here are some helpful resources:

  • Burnout: How to avoid it and look after yourself (NHS)
  • Job burnout: How to spot it and take action (Mayo Clinic)
  • Mental Health Resources to help prevent creative and professional burnout (UC Berkeley Extension)

Avoiding Burnout as a Freelancer

Freelancer burnout is a serious issue that you shouldn’t ignore. It’s important to listen to your body and monitor any feelings of exhaustion or lack of motivation, as well as physical symptoms. By understanding burnout, you can implement strategies to address it and even prevent it from happening in the first place. Doing this ensures both you and your business can thrive.

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