With many modern jobs having at least an element of ‘working on-the-go’, and with more of us than ever before opting to work from home, it can be difficult to switch off effectively at the end of a workday. But when does being ‘a bit stressed’ turn into burnout, and what are the tell-tale burnout symptoms?
According to Psychology Today, burnout is “a state of emotional, mental, and often physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged or repeated stress.” More often than not, work is the main culprit.
Since I started working from home, I have noticed how incredibly difficult it is to ‘switch off’ from work when I finish for the day. As a Fiverr seller, my job is literally in my back pocket at all times, and it’s very easy to stay logged in and replying to messages all evening. As I’ve gained more work, I have realised that this is completely unsustainable.
This weekend just gone, I noticed myself feeling very out of sorts. By no means do I think I was to the point of being burned out, but I was definitely on a path that may have led that way if I didn’t step in and readjust! Here are a few of the tell-tale burnout symptoms and signs:
- Your sleep schedule has gone out the window. As a former insomniac, I know the value of sleep. Unfortunately, when I’m feeling very stressed my self-care practices (including going to sleep at a set time) tend to be the first things to go. If you’re finding yourself overly tired all the time or have noticed your bedtime getting pushed further and further back, this may be something worth taking a look at. Good sleep lays the foundation for every other healthy practice.
- You feel grouchy or irritable. When I get stressed out, I am definitely prone to getting moody. It’s as though my head is so ‘full’ of ‘stuff’ that if someone even dares try to speak to me or to get me to do something, it feels like the final straw!
- You feel uncharacteristically sad and can’t pinpoint why. This was one of the things that raised a real red flag for me last weekend, and I think this is one of the more common burnout symptoms. Nowadays, I rarely feel ‘sad’ or criticise myself, but I suddenly found myself feeling a bit down about everything for no particular reason.
- You can’t stop thinking about work or your head feels ‘full’. Since I went full-time on Fiverr, I got into the habit of replying to messages on the platform during every waking hour. Originally I thought this was ok, because on an evening I’d often just send a “thanks for your enquiry, will get back to you in the morning” type-thing. The problem is, when you’re logged in, you’re still reading those messages/reviews/anything else whether you want to or not. The only way to completely free yourself from a headspace filled to the brim with work is to physically distance yourself from it – learn to ‘leave work in the office’ as you would do if you went to a physical job.
- You’re doubting your abilities. This was me all over recently. Despite having a tonne of great reviews and happy customers, I really lost my confidence in my abilities. For the majority of last week I could be found reading over articles obsessively and worrying about whether they were up to standard. Doubting your abilities does not mean those doubts are correct – it’s more likely that you simply need to take a break and get back in the right headspace!
So, if you think you may be on a one-way road to Burnoutville, what can you do about it?
Luckily, there are a few strategies you can put in place that may be able to stop you in your tracks and prevent those initial burnout symptoms from becoming a more significant issue! Here are a few of my favourite coping mechanisms:
- Set a ‘work time’ and stick to it. I like your classic 9-5 sort of workday, but the beauty of freelancing is that you can tailor this to your most productive windows! Having a regular schedule allows your mind to get used to when it needs to be switched on, and when it is time for relaxation.
- Outside of your work window, LEAVE work. Log out of your accounts, don’t check your emails. Leave your work behind and come back to it the next day.
- Set a go to sleep/wake up time for workdays and stick to it. Yes, you should technically have the same sleep hours each day, but we all love a lie-in at the weekend.
- Get outside. Stretch, walk, even just sit. Getting fresh air is a great way to wind down from staring at a screen all day.
- Commit to having at least one day each week completely work-free. For me, this is Sundays. I tend not to work as much on Saturdays, but might do a few hours and reply to messages. On Sundays, I am strict with myself. No logging in to my accounts, no work, no expectations. Sunday is a day to do whatever I want and whatever brings me happiness and relaxation.
Burnout can be caused by all sorts of issues, but I think working on a freelance/from home basis comes with added risk factors. Setting boundaries is absolutely key to avoiding overwhelming stress or exhaustion, and both you and your clients will thank you for it in the long run!