7 Insanely actionable self-care strategies that will help you beat burnout

Taking care of your mental health as a freelancer is about more than just practicing meditation or scheduling days off.
7 Insanely actionable self-care strategies that will help you beat burnout

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You better bookmark this, because someday you may need it.

Taking care of your mental health as a freelancer is about more than just practicing meditation or scheduling days off.

Especially when freelancers have SO many mental tabs open. And it’s not just freelancers suffering:

  • Iin May 2019, the World Health Organization announced it would start classifying “burnout” as an official malady, referring to it as an “occupational phenomenon.”  
  • A recent New York Times article reported a, “Microsoft survey found that more than 40% of workers globally were considering leaving their jobs this year.  
  • CNBC quotes Dr. Marra Ackerman, a psychiatrist at NYU Langone Health, as saying [burnout] "it's more of a problem now than it's ever really been."  

You'll get better results when you tackle the root of the problem. That's how you can beat burnout - or at least recognize it and recover if you fall victim. 

But as anyone who's ever tried to take care of their mental health can tell you, it isn't easy. Whether you’re a seasoned freelancer or a beginner with no experience, it can be tough to stay on top of things. Sometimes you need a few useful tips to help you on your way. 

So here are seven self-care strategies that can set you on your path to better mental health. 

Let’s dive right in...

Why burnout is dangerous and how to spot the signs

Burnout is a real danger for freelancers. 

The fact that you have all the control over your business makes it easy to work 24/7 and spread yourself thin. But, if you don't take care of yourself, you'll burnout which is bad for your career and your health.

Burnout Syndrome is a term coined by psychologist Herbert Freudenberger in the 1970s. The symptoms impact a person’s entire system: physical health, mental health, social and family relationships, work productivity, etc.

Although burnout as a phenomenon first came to public attention in the 70s, burnout is on the rise. In fact, 71% of workers experienced burnout at least once in 2020 according to Asana’s Anatomy of Work report.

When people experience the symptoms of burnout their productivity usually suffers. They may also lose their passion for work and life in general.

Burnout also negatively impacts your health, potentially causing loneliness and health and mental conditions that lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and anxiety.

Studies have shown that Millennials experience burnout at higher rates than previous generations. Not to mention, in a survey of more than 500 independent workers, 46% said freelancing negatively impacts their health

That’s why it’s important to spot the onset of burnout early and take steps to address the issue.

How to recognize the signs, symptoms, and side effects of burnout

It’s difficult to diagnose burnout because it’s not a medical condition. Plus, some studies suggest more than 100 symptoms for burnout so freelancers should be aware of their own signs and tendencies. Here are some common warning signs to look out for.

  • Feeling exhausted -- both emotionally and physically.
  • Cynicism -- a lack of interest in your work. 
  • A sense of incompetence -- a feeling that you just aren’t effective.
  • Job dissatisfaction -- a feeling of discontentment with your career. 
  • Depression -- Studies suggest if you're prone to depression, you're more vulnerable to burnout.

These are just some of the warning signs. A Winona State University study and other research say there are five stages of burnout: Honeymoon; Balancing Act; Chronic Symptoms; Crisis; and Enmeshment (other sources like psychologist Herbert Freudenberger -- who coined the term "Burnout Syndrome" --and his colleague Gail North say there are 12 distinct phases of burnout syndrome.).

As freelancers, our goal is to be actively involved in positive self-care with an eye towards prevention.

Most conventional wisdom about "burnout" is well-intentioned but doesn’t actually address the root cause

Most common advice says to prioritize rest, relax, and everything will be OK but that won't fix the root of burnout.

Burnout stems from chronic stress at work. It also has serious consequences on people's mental and physical health.

Truly addressing the root causes of burnout will take work, but it must begin with looking at the root cause — and doing the hard work to make necessary changes. Anything else is akin to putting a band-aid on a bullet wound.

According to Dr. Jessi Gold, a psychiatrist at Washington University in St. Louis, “Burnout is a risk factor for depression. It's a risk factor for substance use. It's a risk factor for suicidal ideations or suicidal thoughts. And so if you are burnt out, you should deal with it.”

How do you make sure you’re addressing the cause of burnout? Here’s what won't help your burnout: 

  • Taking a vacation
  • Doing a quick social media detox
  • Enjoying a massage, face mask, bubble bath, etc.
  • Convincing yourself "Next week will be better

<tweet-link>These things may make life more enjoyable and relaxing but they won't fix the root of burnout. <tweet-link>

Here is what will help your burnout: 

Making tough decisions that lead to real changes. 

First, you should analyze the situation. Next, identify the main source of your stress and work to come up with a solution.

For example, say a demanding schedule is the cause of your burnout. You could limit the amount of time you allot for work (Remember Parkinson’s Law: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”). You could also consider reducing your workload, extending project timelines, and learning to set healthy boundaries by saying "no".

Although you can’t keep stress from happening, you can anticipate it and choose how you respond to it.

7 Insanely actionable self-care strategies that will help you beat burnout 

If you’re experiencing severe burnout, you may need professional attention, but otherwise here are seven ways freelancers can practice self-care and promote good mental health.

  • Set boundaries in all areas of life -- It can be tough to set priorities when it seems like everything is important. It can be helpful to block out time when you’ll take time off social media, switch off your phone, and take a break from screens. Let friends, family members, and clients know when and how they can reach you and establish expectations around your availability. Be ruthless about slashing and delegating low-level tasks.
  • Exercise -- Engaging in regular physical activity is part of living a balanced lifestyle. Exercise not only acts as a stress reliever but it gives you an emotional boost as well. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Exercise can provide stress relief for your body while imitating effects of stress, such as the flight or fight response, and helping your body and its systems practice working together through those effects. This can also lead to positive effects in your body—including your cardiovascular, digestive and immune systems—by helping protect your body from harmful effects of stress.”
  • Prioritize healthy eating -- Matthew J. Kuchan, Ph.D., a senior research scientist at Abbott said, "Eating a healthy diet can reduce the negative effects of stress on your body. A healthy diet builds a solid, more enduring foundation for your body by reducing oxidation and inflammation and by helping to reduce weight gain." Eating foods high in vitamins C and B6 can help reduce stress. And consuming less sugar can’t hurt, especially since sugar intake is a classic trigger for cortisol release (Cortisol is a stress hormone released by your adrenal glands.). 
  • Ask for help -- Overwhelmed? Psychologists and psychotherapists can help you identify and overcome potential self-debilitating beliefs and behaviors. Talking to your fellow freelancers and mentors who can relate to what you’re going through can be helpful as well. Too much work? Refer some to fellow freelancers. Too little work? Reach out to your network and let them know what you’re looking for. The bottom line is you don’t have to handle everything alone.
  • Learn to let go -- Don't bottle your emotions up. Instead, consider keeping a journal to help relieve stress and anxiety. Try to focus on the positive. According to Harvard Health Publishing, writing about emotions may ease stress and trauma. Build more support systems by tapping into Meetup opportunities, communities, and groups (virtual and IRL) that can serve as a resource for you when you need it.
  • Recognize recovery is more than rest -- Burnout occurs in every line of work. The antidote to burnout is recovery. Find the things that recharge your battery and unapologetically pursue them. Taking time to indulge in hobbies and pursuits that uplift you can help you recover from burnout.
  • Keep your home and work life separate -- It’s important to create space between your career and your personal life. Stop trying so hard to integrate “wellness” into your work environment and instead spend more time outside of the work environment. Get out and spend time in nature during the day. Establish a routine that makes it clear when you’re working and when you’re not.

Moxie helps you take control of your career & become unstoppable

Freelancing is not for everyone.

But for those who’ve committed to the freelance lifestyle, it’s important to take control of your career.

You might consider yourself a capable freelancer who can overcome mental hurdles and adversity.

But freelancers are particularly at risk of burning out because we tend to have a less organized work structure. Think: irregular work hours, increased responsibility, less job security, and in many cases isolation, especially if you're working from home.

There's no end to what you can do when you've got a feeling of control and the energy to start, manage and grow a freelancing business.

If you want to become an unstoppable freelancer, you need a way to get in control and stay on top of all your work in one place: proposals, project management, payments, accounting, and business development.

Moxie will equip you with all the tools needed to keep you on deadline and thriving with minimal stress.

Combine that with your initiative and Moxie’s built-in personalized community to help freelancers connect with others, develop and refine their craft, and get help from experts...

Then you will be unstoppable.

Learn more about Moxie, a single digital workspace with all the tools needed to start, manage and grow a freelancing business. 

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Anthony Sills
Anthony Sills
Anthony Sills is the Founder & Content Strategist at Professional Pen. He helps SasS and tech companies create marketing content that measurably attracts more customers using proven strategies, tactics, and frameworks.
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