With over 15 years leading workplace mental health, Chartered Psychologist, Dr Jan Smith explains the steps you should be taking to ensure you don’t get burnt out as a freelancer as we head into 2022.
Chances are you took some time off over the holiday period. The working pace slowed down; perhaps you were more boundaried, didn’t check emails, and spent more time with family and friends. This is often the expectation over the holidays. However, while work might have slowed, visiting relatives, ensuring everyone has a good time, and navigating family dynamics might have increased. The threat of the coronavirus might also have been an additional unwanted strain. So, returning to work this new year, you might not be as rested as you would have liked. The flurry to plan work projects, ensure you have a steady work stream, and organise your workload might be a pressure you’re grappling with currently.
Undoubtedly, there are many advantages to working as a freelancer, like, flexible working, being involved in exciting projects, and not having to manage the unwanted dynamics that being an employee can bring. However, working independently can also bring challenges, like not always having a secure income stream and limited contact with colleagues. Therefore, it can feel an isolating and lonely place at times. There are no colleagues necessarily to check in how you’re doing, pick up heavy workloads and dilute overwhelming feelings you sometimes have. So, this might elevate your risk of experiencing burnout.
What is Burnout?
This is more than just feeling tired. Instead, it is characterised by physical and emotional exhaustion, where your drive, enthusiasm, and motivation have diminished. You feel entirely worn out, which is probably experienced when you are at the higher end of the burnout scale. Feelings of burnout gradually develop over time, which creates opportunities for you to catch subtle signs that burnout might be developing. Some of these could be increased headaches, self-doubt, feelings of cynicism, and lack of motivation. These feelings can then affect your level of engagement with others and withdrawal from some of your responsibilities and commitments.
Unfortunately, feeling worn out emotionally and physically can negatively impact your mood because your mind will be telling you unhelpful things, like “you can’t do this,” or “you’ll never be a success.” This compounds feelings of being physically and emotionally drained, which exacerbates burnout symptoms further.
Regularly checking in with how you feel will help monitor these signs, particularly because they develop gradually. Having people around you who you trust that will provide feedback with any changes they notice in you will also be helpful.
Preventing Burnout as a Freelancer
There are many strategies to implement that can stifle the development of burnout further or prevent it from happening.
This might sound relatively easy to do; however, it can be challenging to put into practice if you’ve been working a similar way for a while. One of the most significant factors to burnout is not having a work-life balance. This isn’t a goal to be attained; instead, it is always to prioritise, monitor, and evaluate its progression. Take a few moments, and either write down or imagine how you would like your working and home life to be. It might be not working evenings or weekends. If that is the goal, what needs to be in place to support you to achieve this. It might require structuring your day with an external prompt to indicate your working day is finished. It could be locking your laptop away somewhere not as easily accessed, or having separate work and personal phones.
Isolation is often something that can go hand-in-hand as a freelancer. Being able to collaborate with others on projects, joining a business network that meets regularly, or scheduling regular time with like-minded colleagues, could significantly support your mental health and wellbeing. Also, if making changes feels difficult, consider who you have that can support you personally and professionally to implement them.
Small Changes Add Up
“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” If you want your life to be different, it necessitates doing something different. This doesn’t have to be radical changes because many small adjustments add up. It could be you have a lunch break, away from where you work, or if a task or meeting finishes earlier than expected, finish work and try not to fill this time with another job. Change is uncomfortable, start small, which will minimise the likelihood of you becoming overwhelmed.
Have times that you have scheduled off throughout the year. Everyone is expected to have a break, and you are no different. Inform your clients in advance when you are planning to be away. Also, add additional time to projects to offer you flexibility and ease potential pressure on you.
Working as a freelancer can be immensely fulfilling and enjoyable. It doesn’t have to come at the cost of your physical and psychological health.