Articles - 7th May 2019

Avoiding Burnout When You’re Self-Employed

Words by Ellie Pilcher

Burn out is an unfortunate and somewhat inevitable state of being when it comes to freelancing.

It is an emotional, physical and mental variety of exhaustion, often bought on by prolonged stress, and prolonged stress is just another way to describe self-employment.

As someone who is self-employed you have to motivate yourself through all of it, the good times and the bad, and sometimes the bad times last longer than the good.

If you’re going through a creative dry spell, which many of us will have at some point in our freelancing careers you have to find a way to power through or better yet avoid burning out altogether.

My best advice for avoiding burn out comes down to four things.

Take time off

Time off is not a luxury when you’re a freelancer, it is simply self-allocated. Time off allows your mind to recuperate and form new pathways of information which will keep you feeling fresh and creative for longer. If you don’t take time off, you’re going to exhaust yourself physically and mentally and possibly begin to resent your self-employment.

If you’re feeling guilty about taking time off, or feel unable to afford it, check out this article on how to take time off efficiently, so as to not damage your career or your mental health.

Maintaining a healthy work/life balance with time to focus on other things is imperative to avoiding burn out. If you’re constantly working then you’re more likely to become stressed and resentful of your work, leading to severe burnout, as your work/life balance will be almost non-existent.

Take time off for the little things, as well as the big, and put together some structures that will help you to turn on, or turn off, after a long day. This could be as simple as deciding that you will not start work until 9am and only work weekdays. You will get dressed in smart, yet casual clothing and not lounge in bed all day whilst working. You could even aim to eat your lunch outside or with a friend rather than at your work station. These extra hours allow you to focus on you and your personal life, which is great for stopping burn out in its tracks.

Get creative

Whenever I feel myself slipping into burn out, I find that the best way to stop it is to create a vision board. It’s meditative because if you’re old-school like me you’ll spend time flicking through magazines and newspapers in order to cut out pictures, phrases and articles that inspire you.

When you find them, stick them down to a piece of paper or pin them to a corkboard. Alternatively, you can make a vision board online via Pinterest or simply in a word document.

Having a vision board is not only a form of relaxing arts and crafts though. It is also helpful in reminding you about your goals and dreams and getting you back on track to achieve them.

Talk to other people

This may seem obvious but going out with someone, be it another self-employed freelancer, a friend or a family member is great for recharging your batteries. You get to take your mind off work for a while, or alternatively, you could also use the time to vent about it.

One of the worst things about being self-employed is not having another team member to vent to about the company, or your job. This is a natural and sometimes helpful tool in avoiding burn out, as you’re not bottling up any unresolved issues and getting frustrated.

A little bit of bitching is healthy, within reason. So long as you talk about other things besides your job when talking to other people. I see no reason why you can’t discuss something that you’ve been frustrated with lately or even something you’re really happy about. Sharing is caring after all. And just because you’re self-employed that doesn’t mean you have to keep your work and pride for your work to yourself.

Ask for help

Whenever I’m feeling burn out, I turn to social media and to the amazing self-employed communities that have developed online in order to ask for help. For me, as a freelance journalist, my top social media communties include the #WritersCommunity hashtag on Twitter and #JournoRequest when I need assistance with articles. You can use these online communities for different reasons, from simply asking a question, to admitting to feelings of burn out and receiving a digital hug.

There is a lot of information online, such as this article, about ways to get out and avoid burn out and I recommend you read them. Sometimes knowing you’re not alone can help immensely and be the ladder you need to climb out of the burn out chamber of your mind.

Whatever happens, know that stress is normal and is to be expected but it can also be managed before turning into burn out.

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