Freelancer burnout: Top tips for keeping professional exhaustion at bay

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Burnout isn’t something that happens overnight. Rather, burnout is something that creeps up on you over time, meaning even the most careful of self-employed people have to be vigilant to not find themselves frazzled.

I witnessed this first-hand when a now-client reached out to me when they felt stuck, lacking in motivation and focus, writes life coach Shwezin Win, founder of Win at Life.

They didn’t realise that these were the signs of burnout. Nonetheless whatever it was they were feeling -- suffering, they were keen to fix it.

For the love of freelancing, keep that sinking feeling at bay

This individual loved being a freelancer. They could use their creative skills, pick and choose the clients they wanted to work with. They loved the variety and the flexibility that came with working for themselves. Yet in the days immediately running up to when they reached out to me, they had found themselves easily frustrated, irritable, exhausted, demotivated and questioning the most basic of decisions.

This sinking feeling, and lack of confidence was showing up not just in their professional work life, but also in their home life.

Through our coaching sessions, they were able to identify what was really going on.

The downward spiral

We discovered what triggered their downward spiral, and it wasn’t work at all, it was something that had happened in their personal life – they just hadn’t connected the two. They felt that they could compartmentalise the personal from the professional.

But by sitting down with me, they were able to pinpoint the situations that were ‘stressors,’ so we could then develop strategies to alleviate them.

We identified burnout, the implications of its onset; how it was impacting them, and where it was affecting their work. In a sense, we did a walkthrough around the foundations of their business, financial and personal life.

If my client’s experience or even their symptoms resonate, and you suspect you’re seeing the early signs of burnout, here’s my five top tips to help you – exclusively for FreelanceUK:

1. See the signs

Don’t brush burnout’s red flags aside.If you’re feeling stuck or mentally, physically drained, if you’re not enjoying what you’re doing (and seemingly all of a sudden, because the work you once liked hasn’t changed), acknowledge that it’s burnout.

Another sign you’ve got the b-word? You’re finding it difficult to sleep and to make decisions.The good news at this early stage is that there are ways to prevent burnout, before it really takes hold of your life.

2. Understand the why

Do you know what really drives you? And in answer to this question, don’t just identify the words like ‘money’ or ‘independence’ – rather, what do those words really mean to you?

How do you know if you’re getting what you want or is life just, instead, happening? Sometimes we find ourselves in a world that’s just evolved and suddenly, we don’t recognise what’s around us and whether that’s really what we envisaged. Reach out to me if that’s troubling you.

3. Reignite your passion

Whatever your skills or specialism in the creative industries, you’ve obviously got to where you are now, professionally, and are invariably pretty great at it!

But are you using your strengths in ‘how’ you’re doing it? Or in letting these go to waste, is your interest being sapped?

Similarly, what strengths are you under-utilising? These could very well be the missing parts that could easily take you from stuck to totally awesome!

4. Re-connect with your self-belief

That self-doubt? It’s very often a sign of burnout.

Don’t dwell on your mistakes, learn from those mistakes thanks to good feedback and move on.

Be kinder to yourself -- it’s about progress, not perfection. That client that got away, doesn’t make you a failure. List all your successes if you’re feeling dismayed at yourself in this way, and remember what makes you wonderfully unique.

5. Reach out

We all need help from time to time and it’s not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength, self-awareness, to know when you need support.

Don’t exacerbate the problem or entrench your burnout, by inaction, or stubbornness masquerading as pride making you think you’ve got all the answers!

Final thoughts (includes fun)

Fun! Sounds obvious, perhaps, but in my client’s situation, inserting just a few moments of fun in their diary (they were a serious sort!), paid dividends.

That positivity can do the same thing that the downward spiral does – spill over into other areas, but this time with results you actually want, and have even been yearning for.

Very finally, burnout effects everyone. So you’re not alone if you’re feeling drained and exhausted, professionally. Especially when you work for yourself, it can be an isolating experience. But help is at hand if you want to take back control of your life and keep burnout on the back foot.

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