10 Steps for Beating Freelancer Burnout

June 11, 2019// Category: Agencies // Author: Omari Valentine

Owning a business and being a freelancer can be very rewarding. The flexibility of setting your own hours and the personal sense of achievement that comes from building a successful enterprise is often a welcome respite from the corporate world. But it is also a job that requires maximum effort, constant focus and true grit, and sometimes can leave you feeling emotionally drained to the point where it becomes difficult to find the joy in it.

tired woman sitting at desk

Whether you are overworked, or you become stuck in a rut, it’s easy to feel like you’ve hit a brick wall. Like overtraining in the gym, working too hard can eventually become counterproductive, leading to physical and mental signs of wear-down. This goes not only for digital marketing freelancers but professionals juggling stressful careers with home life at any level.

Earlier in my career, I cherished my daily walks to clear my mind and think through problems. Being stuck at a desk with the same scenery caused my mind to get caught in a feedback loop. The fresh air helped gave me a fresh perspective as did the added blood flow.

But for some reason, when I started working for myself, I gave all that up. I tried to push through mental blocks, which led to heightened anxiety levels, leading to depression and physical symptoms. From that experience I learned a valuable lesson: It’s vitally important to maintain balance in our lives, and losing that will only make problems worse.

Mr. Miyagi has it right. Our emotions ebb and flow like the tides, as does our ability to process information. When we sit and stew in our problems, we are fighting the natural biological rhythms. Like fighting the waves of the ocean, this can start to take a toll, mentally, emotionally, and physically.

  1. Recognize the Signs

The first step is to recognize the signs that you’re burned out.

Sometimes this is the hardest part. It’s difficult to look at yourself objectively. But there are a few tell-tale signs that say it’s time for some much needed “fresh air”.

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • When you become less productive, it can be a sign that you’re mentally checked out. You are missing deadlines, failing to respond to clients, and not taking care of your housekeeping tasks. If you notice your concentration is affected, it’s possibly a sign that you’re overworked.

  • Lack of motivation
  • You have a hard time getting going in the morning and push your priorities uncharacteristically.

  • No perspective
  • You aren’t seeing the forest through the trees. Small problems become big problems, and you lose your sense of perspective to see the big picture.

  • Lack of joy
  • You are missing joy in your life. You don’t see the positive in situations and become mired in negative thoughts.

  • Mental and physical fatigue
  • When you’re overworked or feeling prolonged stress, you will find yourself feeling more fatigued than usual.

  • Irregular sleep patterns
  • You struggle to get restful sleep or have a nagging feeling of unease.

  • Using food, drugs or alcohol to cope
  • People will often look to external sources for a quick fix to prolonged stress.

  • Other physical symptoms
  • Headaches, indigestion and ulcers are often physical symptoms of burnout arising from stress.

  1. Do your Housekeeping

Leaving tasks unattended creates stress. Clear all of that by identifying the source of the stress and doing your housekeeping and giving yourself some breathing room.

For example, if you are feeling the pressure have some deadlines bearing down on you and you find yourself feeling burned out, reassign the tasks or buy yourself extra time by extending the deadline with the client. Taking care of these items will remove the immediate pressure to perform and give you the needed space to get your head in the right place.

  1. Step Away

man listening to music while siting at the beach

You don’t need to physically go somewhere, but you do need to step away from working on the problem. If you’ve done step 2 correctly, you are now free to get out of your bubble and hit the reset button.

In the data-heavy field of digital marketing, this is an especially challenging feat. The problems are quite complex, and sometimes piling through data or research while burning the midnight oil can leave one just a little frayed at the edges.

You need to be able to step away from the job. Remove all electronic tethers to that part of you, at least for a day. Your impulse will be to cheat. Don’t.

The Power of Nature

I love nature and being in it helps me to find myself. But like many business-minded people, it’s hard to do so without feeling like I’m just burying the issue temporarily.

It’s important to be able to unplug for a short while. Close the laptop. Go outside. Living in LA, it’s never too much of a trek to get to the beach or the mountains (sometimes you just can’t beat LA).

This part is critical: Don’t stew in your problems while you are away. When you do that, you just heap more pressure on yourself. You have to really get away.

  1. Take Care of Your Body

Your body is a machine, and your mental condition follows your physical one. If you are sleep-deprived, malnourished or experience hormonal imbalances, your mind will be affected. Therefore, the number one goal should be to get your body right.

Respect your body’s natural rhythms

Like the cycles of the moon, your ultradian performance rhythm places your body’s energy into patterns of heightened and waning energy, typically in 90-minute cycles. If you receive a burst of energy in the early afternoon, it will often fall off in the late afternoon. If that’s you, don’t schedule important meetings during that time (though if there’s a meeting you can snooze through, go for it). It is important to understand the rhythm and to work with, rather than against it.

Source: Mental Health

In addition to your ultradian rhythm, plan your routine around a normal eating, sleeping and workout routine.

  1. Take Care of Your Mind, And Your Business

Once you’re back to normal physically, find something that invigorates you but doesn’t take you completely away from your work. If your job is what you love, find new ways to engage with it.

The advantage of this approach is that you don’t have the needless guilty feelings creeping back while you do something purely for the fun of it. Yes, escapism is fun, but if you can feed your passion while you feed your business, you will be reinvigorated along with feeling accomplished.

For me, that thing is surfing. I can surf, photograph, and write about surfing all day. It’s a passion project. If you don’t have one, find your passion project and tie it to your business in a unique way. Perhaps what you love is learning new things, or teaching, or charity. Find a way to make that a part of your business and feed it.

Hopefully you can find something you love about what you’re doing. If so, focus on that. If not, well, that’s a topic for another day.

  1. Get Some Perspective

When your mind is back to normal, it’s not a bad idea here to try and make up for some of the lost time with family and friends. They are the ones who will be there for you when you need them most. And if you’ve been obsessing over your job, they probably miss seeing and hearing from you.

When you spend time outside of your bubble and speak to someone who isn’t in your world, it gives you the chance to put things into perspective a bit. Children, family, loved ones, even pets – they are the things that matter, not your workload or making an arbitrary deadline.

  1. Slowly Reacclimate

You don’t need to jump right into a boatload of work face-first. If you’ve been away, you will likely need to address issues that have come up since your absence began.

I find it helpful to work towards a simple goal, like clearing out the inbox. Something that doesn’t require too much mental energy, but gets you back into work mode. The key is pacing yourself, and dealing with a few additional housekeeping issues so that you’re free to tackle the problem anew.

  1. Utilize your Theta waves

When stepping away from problems, your mind doesn’t go completely on hiatus. I find that giving your brain a little R & R gives you the chance to try new possibilities subconsciously. I have even solved difficult problems in my sleep!

Of the four brain wave types: Alpha (relaxed state), Beta (alert state), Delta (deep sleep) and Theta (unconscious state), Theta is the state of your mind when you are doing activities where you are mostly on autopilot. These are also when you are able to come up with some of your most creative ideas.

From Scientific American:

Individuals who do a lot of freeway driving often get good ideas during those periods when they are in theta. Individuals who run outdoors often are in the state of mental relaxation that is slower than alpha and when in theta, they are prone to a flow of ideas. This can also occur in the shower or tub or even while shaving or brushing your hair. It is a state where tasks become so automatic that you can mentally disengage from them. The ideation that can take place during the theta state is often free flow and occurs without censorship or guilt. It is typically a very positive mental state.

Use your Theta waves by working on complex issues when you are occupied with other tasks, like driving. Don’t sit and stew over a problem. If you become stuck, unstick yourself by tapping into your Theta.

  1. Find Another Approach

Now that you’re clear-minded, it’s time to get back to solving the problems that got you into the vortex in the first place. But this time, you will hopefully have the energy and focus to pull through without those dreaded guilty stressful feelings.

  1. Reassess

Once you have overcome whatever issues were bogging you down, reassess your condition and see if you are truly past the feelings of despair and anxiety that landed you on this article in the first place. If so, congratulations! If not, perhaps a longer hiatus is in order.

In the end, we run businesses because we love them. But when we don’t like them very much, it may be due to a stress response. When you’re getting pounded on the inside, sometimes it’s best to paddle in, soak in the sun and wait out the swell. Before you can take care of your business, you have to take care of yourself.

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