Freelancer burnout happens. And the demons that fuel it differ from workplace worries because they compromise the mental assets that are your livelihood. Given the inevitability of the occasional crash, let’s be realistic and acknowledge it will happen at some point. So, what will you do when your stress demons rear their ugly heads?
Were you were lured here by the promise of more control? While novice solo workers worry that paying bills will be the one big worry, you soon discover there’s no shortage of other novel sources of freelance angst. Who knew that too much work might be an issue, or sleep compromised by pressing deadlines, or waning motivation, or rogue clients, or that solo could mean lonely, or days off could be few? But the big one that never goes away is The Great Unknown. Freelancing will ALWAYS come with its unique overarching uncertainty that one day this wonderful jig will be up, and your cherished freedom will be snatched from you. But in the meantime, our overactive brains will always find something immediate to stew about. Happily, you can tackle these peace robbers when they arrive.
Just Say No
Is it ever okay to walk away from a prospective project because you are crunched for time, or if it feels wrong? Who throws cash away? “Make hay while the sun shines” and other such adages can float through your mind like the nagging voice of a parent.
Remember why you’re here, but I’ll bet the key motivation is control over your time so you can do all the other stuff you really care about. You short-change your original vision when you accept every gig that comes along, and that self-sabotage can produce anxiety. Too much work means less time for other priorities, and the self-loathing that comes with abandoning your vision.
Blocking time for both work and your cherished pursuits can offset the stress of veering off course. Stick to your freelance guns! Is one more project worth the price of compromising your values and self-care?
Set Business Hours
Whether you’re a digital nomad, a café regular, or love the office nook in your bedroom, establishing workday hours can be liberating. Without a schedule, the freelance lifestyle can resemble the college lifestyle where work and leisure blend with the to-do list always sneaking into your thoughts. When work feels 24/7, you feel guilty for stepping out even for a healthy pursuit. Who needs that stress? Those college nightmares about missed exams or incomplete assignments come from the constant sense that you should be working.
Setting work hours that align with your circadian rhythms, time zones, and client availability is a great freelancing advantage but only if you stick with them. While there will be days when you cannot avoid infringement on your “me” time, if you uphold the schedule even 80% of the time, you are in good shape.
One Mile at a Time
When conflicting demands overwhelm, you don’t have the luxury of fretting about volume or deadlines. Focusing on increments will get you there. There might be an occasional all-nighter, but the marathon will be less painful if you just focus on the mile you’re running. And remember, marathons end.
What do you miss most about the workplace? Is it quick lunches with co-workers, spontaneous chats about work or your “real” life? Build similar events into your freelance schedule. Can you “meet” another freelancer or WFH friend regularly for a virtual lunch or a meetup for a walk or coffee? And if it’s virtual, change the surroundings and get out of your workspace. Switching gears can be as restorative as deep breathing because it focuses your attention on something or someone else.
What Restores You?
When you first embarked on your freelance life, what were you planning to make time for? A hobby, a new skill, family life, travel? Likely, it was something that brings you joy, and you wanted more of it. Revisiting and upholding this commitment can damp down stress. Remember the joy of something to look forward to and then actually doing it? And bonus points if that pursuit involves other people so you can also satisfy the need for connection.
Your brainpower is your key asset as a freelancer, and it requires regular maintenance and upkeep for optimal performance. Recognize what your engine needs to tame the unique monsters that can torment the solo worker before they leave you in overdraft or burnt-out.