From 2021 to 2022, the percentage of people who reported experiencing burnout rose from 13.5% to an astounding 59%. This mental health crisis has affected more than half of the world’s professionals, from CEOs to interns.
Experts cite many potential reasons for people experiencing burnout, with one of the most common being a lack of work/life balance. This is an issue that many freelancers and self-employed professionals struggle with, which may be why independent workers are experiencing burnout at a much higher rate than their salaried counterparts.
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What is Freelance Burnout?
Freelance burnout can be categorized as a myriad of symptoms that affect the mental well-being, energy levels, and self-esteem of self-employed professionals. The original meaning of burnout is “the reduction of a fuel or substance to nothing”, which is a good metaphor for what overworked professionals are experiencing.
The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies burnout as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”, and gives examples of three major characteristics of this phenomenon:
- Persistent feelings of fatigue or exhaustion
- Decreased motivation for one’s job, or negative feelings surrounding one’s profession
- Reduced levels of professional efficacy.
Burnout can also lead to other issues in one’s life, such as:
- Feelings of sadness, anger, or irritability
- Alcohol or substance abuse
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Type 2 diabetes
- Vulnerability to other illnesses
As a freelancer, burnout can cause a multitude of professional issues, as self-employed workers do not have colleagues to act as a support system when things become difficult. This is why it is especially important to watch out for symptoms of freelance burnout, and take extra care of your mental and physical wellbeing.
Recognizing the Signs of Burnout
Freelance burnout may not look the same for everyone, but freelancers may experience some common symptoms when struggling with burnout. It is crucial to know what the symptoms of burnout are, as prevention is always the best treatment. Signs of freelance burnout to look out for include, but are not limited to:
Negative Feelings About Work
It is normal to have a bad work day every once in a while, but if you notice that the majority, if not all of your work days are leaving a negative impression, then you may be experiencing freelance burnout. Feelings of hopelessness, cynicism, self-criticism or self-doubt, and a dislike for clients and projects can all be signs of freelance burnout.
One of the main symptoms of burnout is persistent and unrelenting fatigue. Freelancers commonly experience issues balancing work and their personal lives, especially as there are no set office hours. Demanding clients may also expect constant communication from you, regardless of the time of day. This can cause extreme levels of mental and physical exhaustion that no amount of sleep can fix.
Lack of Motivation
If you usually find it easy to get yourself motivated for work, but suddenly find yourself struggling to stay focused, then you may be experiencing freelance burnout. Burnout can make it difficult to start working and can cause chronic procrastination throughout the day. This can cause you to miss deadlines, put minimal effort into your work, and even give up on projects.
Struggling to Relax
40% of remote workers report an inability to unplug from work as one of their biggest challenges. Because of their lack of set work hours, freelancers may find it difficult to switch off after a work day and relax completely. If you find that your mind is always on work, even on weekends or late at night, then you are likely burnt out. This can also make it difficult to sleep due to constant work stress, which can add to your fatigue.
Symptoms of Depression
If freelance burnout is left unmanaged, you may experience symptoms of depression. Depression can cause a negative change in your mood, difficulty taking care of yourself, loss of appetite, among other symptoms. If you think you may be suffering from depression, it is important to contact a mental health professional or confide in a loved one, so as not to suffer alone.
Preventing Freelance Burnout
As with all illnesses, preventing freelance burnout is the best treatment for it. There are some steps that you can take, to minimize your risk of suffering from workplace fatigue and to take care of your mental and physical wellbeing.
✅ Set Boundaries: In your very first meeting with your clients, clearly define the boundaries of your availability and working hours. Avoid taking on more projects than you can handle, and learn to say no when necessary.
✅ Prioritize Self-Care: Make self-care a priority in your routine. This includes getting enough sleep, eating well, and exercising regularly. Engage in activities you enjoy outside of work, such as hobbies or spending time with loved ones.
✅ Take Breaks: According to this report, 9% of freelancers never take leave, and 78% admit to working during their vacations. Take periodic breaks from your job, whether it be a weekend away every few months, or a month’s vacation once a year.
✅ Create a Schedule: Create a strict schedule for yourself, and stick to it. Outline specific working hours, as well as a designated time for personal matters and relaxation.
✅ Practice Better Time Management: Learn to manage your time efficiently by prioritizing tasks, setting deadlines, and breaking down larger projects into smaller, manageable tasks. You can use time management techniques like time-blocking or the Pomodoro Technique to stay focused and organized.
✅ Build a Support System: Connect with other freelancers or professionals in your field to share experiences, seek advice, reduce loneliness, and find support. Confide in loved ones about your mental well-being, and reach out when you feel overwhelmed.
Preventing freelance burnout is an ongoing process that requires self-awareness, discipline, and active management. By implementing these strategies and making your well-being a priority, you can maintain a healthy work-life balance and sustain a successful freelance career.
Recovering from Burnout
Take a Break
Allow yourself to step away from work for a designated period. Take a vacation or a few days off to rest and recharge. Use this time to engage in activities you enjoy, spend time with loved ones, or simply relax. Disconnecting from work and focusing on self-care can help alleviate burnout symptoms.
Reassess Your Workload
Evaluate your current workload and identify any factors contributing to burnout. Determine if you’re taking on too many projects or if certain clients or tasks are particularly draining. Consider reducing your workload, renegotiating deadlines, or letting go of clients or projects that are causing excessive stress. Remember: your mental health is more important than your job, and there is no shame in cutting off clients who negatively affect your well-being.
Reach out to friends, family, or fellow freelancers in your network who can provide support and understanding. Discuss your feelings and experiences with someone that you trust. Additionally, consider seeking professional help, such as therapy or counseling, to address any underlying issues contributing to burnout.
Practice Stress Management
Incorporate stress management techniques into your daily routine. This can include activities like meditation, deep breathing exercises, yoga, or mindfulness practices. Engaging in activities that promote relaxation and stress reduction can help alleviate burnout symptoms, and improve your overall mental and physical health.
Choose Your Clients Carefully
Some clients are simply difficult to work with, regardless of boundaries that you set. When discussing a project with a potential client, look out for red flags that may be indicative of a difficult working relationship. Some examples of warning signs include having issues with previous freelancers, trying to negotiate your rates, micro-managing, or a disrespect for your time and boundaries.
Improve Your Workflows
Take advantage of workflow automation tools to clear up your schedule. Identify repetitive tasks and use the Eisenhower Matrix to sort out your priorities, so that you can find ways to automate or get rid of those tasks. Workflow management can improve your time management, and allow you to focus on work that you’re passionate about.
Freelance burnout is a significant challenge that many freelancers face in their careers. The demanding nature of freelancing, coupled with long hours, high stress levels, and multiple responsibilities, can take a toll on one’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being. However, by implementing certain strategies, it is possible to prevent and overcome freelance burnout.
Ultimately, it is vital for freelancers to prioritize their well-being and consistently monitor their physical and mental health. By setting clear boundaries with clients and making self-care a priority, freelancers can cultivate a sustainable and fulfilling career while avoiding freelance burnout.