The definition of burnout is a lack of engagement, a feeling of worthlessness, and the loss of performance ability. Burnout can have both mental and physical symptoms, including headaches and exhaustion, feelings of negativity or cynicism towards your job, and reduced efficiency. If you’ve noticed any of these while working for yourself, the first thing is to not panic. The sooner you notice these symptoms and feel yourself burning out, the sooner you can take steps to reduce the effects – and avoid burnout in the future.
It can be quite difficult to distinguish ordinary fatigue and/or stress from burnout. However, it is essential to understand the differences within yourself between those states so that you can address the issues correctly. In general, regular fatigue can be fixed (more or less) with a good night's rest and/or a relaxed evening. Stress (an overreaction to events) can also be addressed with someone's own personal ways of de-stressing, perhaps a therapy session or an activity adjustment. However, if a person is burned out from work, even after a long rest or change of activity, symptoms can persist and they are unfortunately not always so obvious. As a freelancer or someone who works from home, your surroundings do not change and it can be difficult to switch between work mode and home mode. Symptoms can be subtle and hard to acknowledge.
The following points can help you understand if you are experiencing burnout:
• fatigue, lethargy or drowsiness that persists throughout the day/into the next day
• lack of former initiative and interest in the work process, loss of energy
• negative assessment of one's achievements and underestimation of the level of competencies. Loss of faith in a successful outcome of events
• irritability, "breakdowns", anxiety
• focusing on processes that do not require painstaking study, and ignoring real problems that need to be resolved
• violation of the work schedule and inability to follow it
If any of these symptoms resonate with you, it is possible you are experiencing burnout. We have some tips for combating this below, however we also recommend that you consult your doctor about this.
What do I do in such moments?
First, the factors that increase tensions can range from the amount of personal space within your four walls to a client's reaction to bad news. The lack of usual rituals (for example, a trip or a hike to the office and home, lunches in a café, and meetings with colleagues) exacerbates the picture. These are options that allow you to "breathe out" in the middle of the working day. So, it's important to find and create these rituals for yourself and stick to them.
Next, restore a scattered routine. It can be extremely helpful to attach specific activities to objects and/or locations in your home. Establish internal rules of conduct in your home office. For example, work only at a laptop, dine at the kitchen table, and relax only on the couch, without mixing these locations and activities with each other. A clear distinction between work and personal time will help to avoid regular overwork and subsequent fatigue. In addition, do not neglect the observance of the "black screen mode"; be sure to turn off work notifications on your computer and phone during non-business hours.
Then, come to an agreement with yourself and set aside time for yourself. This will allow you to be completely offline, but without the pressure to be attentive to you work. When you are working remotely, it is often perceived as a duty to be online 24/7; this can be harmful. Set times in your calendar when you will be offline and stick to it.
As a part of making time for yourself, don’t forget about hobby time. Force yourself to go to the gym or go for a walk with your dog. Call a friend to chat or go to a pub or café for a nice drink or meal. It works, really. If you don’t want to be social, then turn on your computer and start playing video games or maybe it’s time to try out that new series everyone is talking about. Whatever it is, find something you enjoy, make time for it in a balanced way and don't feel guilty about it either.
And finally, it should also be noted that it is not worth giving up your vacation for work. Regardless, if you work from the home office every day, fatigue accumulates. This fatigue is not from the place in which you work, but from the performance of specific functions. When you plan and take a vacation, don't bring work with you.
Even if vacation is still a few weeks ago, or you've got a tight deadline and can take bigger breaks for yourself, you can always try smaller breaks to do something you enjoy or maybe take 5 minutes to close your eyes and just breath. Here's a short breathing exercise to try.