Hi 👋 It’s been a while. I’ve missed you! In today’s post, I will be sharing why I have been gone for so long (spoiler: it’s in the title 😉) and how I am shifting my priorities to ensure that I am prioritizing myself so that I can actually get better. I hope that by talking openly about what has been going on, I can help anyone else struggling with stress, anxiety, or burnout.
In the last post on this blog, I shared a reflection on 2022 and my goals for the year moving forward. What I didn’t share were the struggles I had been dealing with in my private life, because they are private and it didn’t feel appropriate to discuss. But to let you in, 2022 was really difficult in my personal life, and I got into the habit of putting work before everything else. While this can be manageable for a short period of time, I definitely caused myself to spiral (and I’m still learning how not to do this). I finally broke in December 2022, during a trip “home” to see my parents, which opened a lot of childhood trauma wounds that I have been trying to heal since. While I do believe that I had unhealthy working habits, not knowing how to set boundaries for myself is what sent me over the edge, and I am still learning how to heal.
What is burnout?
There is a lot of talk about burnout these days, as a lot of people are dealing with the aftermaths of being isolated during the pandemic, inflation, and just the overall state of the world. While it can present itself in various ways, burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged periods of stress. This can be due to private or professional stress, and it can be crippling. Signs of burnout include a sense of overwhelming fatigue, reduced motivation, and feelings of ineffectiveness or cynicism, to just name a few. It can be difficult to treat, as people experiencing burnout generally will need to take time off, rest, and recover to finally get back to their baseline where they are no longer feeling this heightened emotional state. Of course, as a freelancer, it can be extremely difficult to take long periods of time off as our income is usually tied to our deliverables.
When I reached my breaking point in February, I took one week off to do nothing. This was my lowest point, and I felt that I couldn’t move, and I was a shell of myself- it was awful. While I mostly laid in bed, I did force myself to try sports to get rid of some of the stress that had built up in me. One week was not enough though, and after returning to work, I quickly got sick with a cold and had to stay home for another week. Just a couple of weeks after returning to work, both my partner and I caught covid and I was house-bound once again. To me, this just shows how much of an impact your mental health has on your physical health as well- it’s crazy.
Treating burnout while freelancing
I wish that there was a clear cut way to get over burnout and that I could give you a guide. But the truth is that I am still learning how to manage. There are a few things that I have done to improve my mental health though:
- Set clear boundaries. Because my stress was closely tied with my private life, I am practicing saying “no,” and learning that it is ok. If you are a people-pleaser like me, you will know how hard this is. This also spills over to my professional life. Instead of promising deadlines that I cannot meet, I give a realistic timeline of when things will be done, knowing that I am not at 100% yet.
- Understanding that not everyday is 100%, and that is ok. Some days I operate super efficiently, other days I have a hard time leaving the house. So I try to give 100% of what I can that day, and sometimes that means just having 1-2 hours of focused work.
- Schedule time off. This one is tricky, but oh-so necessary. I now plan to have Fridays off at least once a month, and I have booked my vacations for the rest of the year. This gives me something to look forward to and ensures that I am not constantly feeling like I am living through Groundhog day.
- Make exercise part of the weekly routine. I was never a sporty person, but I’ve started booking my exercise in advance. Sticking to the schedule helps give me some release for the stress that can build up throughout the week. I’ve also started making sauna and cold showers after a part of my week. The cold exposure can help with both energy and focus, and releases dopamine to enhance overall mood. This is my favorite new routine as it gives me such a rush.
- Practice gratitude. This sounds easy, but can be hard when you feel yourself spiraling. However, in those moments, try to think about or write down, three things you are grateful for. I guarantee that there is always something, even if it feels small.
- Go offline. This sounds easy, but in practice is hard. I no longer use Instagram on the weekend, because I realized that seeing everyone happy online made me feel like I was missing out or falling behind. If you feel this way too, I can only recommend scheduling time off and reminding yourself that Instagram is not reality. Nobody feels good all the time, and people tend to not share when they are struggling.
How to move forward
Now you might be thinking, “OK cool, this happened to you, but how will I make sure I don’t get to this point?” Good question. There are a few things that I think are super important when working freelance.
- Have an emergency fund set up. This might be a no-brainer for some, but it is a necessity for all freelancers. Make sure you have at least a couple of months salary saved in your account in case of emergency. Whether you catch a cold, or need to take a break, this will ensure that you will not suffer financially.
- Recognize the signs of stress and burn out. Trust me, you do not want to ignore the feeling of burnout. If your body is telling you to take time off, take it. Some of the signs I experienced included: restless nights and trouble sleeping, irritability and anger, lack of interest in social life and making plans because it felt too overwhelming, stomachaches, just to name a few. I ended up at the doctor when I was so overwhelmed that I could not stop crying. If you start to feel any of these (or any of the other symptoms of burnout) take them seriously!
- Set yourself up for success. Not all freelancers want to work alone, and it might help to build out your network of people you work with. To relieve the pressure on my shoulders, I have built out my team which ensures that I can keep working, even when I am not. If you are feeling like you have too much to do, and not enough time to do it, it might be a good time to build out your team and get some help.
- Don’t neglect your private life. It can be easy to put career before everything else. But friends, family, and extracurriculars are just as important! Don’t lose your sense of self because you are an entrepreneur. Try a new hobby, or schedule a monthly catch-up with your friends. This is what makes life rich 😉
Being a freelancer with burnout is hard, especially when taking time off is a challenge. However, it is extremely important to normalize the ups and downs of business ownership. Not every day is perfect, and life is full of ebbs and flows. If you find yourself struggling as well, you should tell your friends, family, or send me a DM. Nothing is more important than enjoying the life we have, and it’s ok to ask for help when we feel ourselves not enjoying it 😉
This month I am highlighting burnout over on my Instagram, to try and normalize talking about mental health. If you want to learn more, make sure that you are following for a realistic look into the life of a freelancer.