Empowering the Freelance Economy

How to spot and beat burnout before it beats you

Balancing burnout may mean getting help before a major health scare arises
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A new report by Mental Health UK paints a grim picture: burnout is on the rise, with 91% of workers reporting “extreme stress” in 2024. But for freelancers and contractors, there’s a potential silver lining: autonomy.

Mental Health UK’s 2024 Burnout Report reveals a significant rise in workplace stress, with 91% of workers reporting “extreme stress” compared to 46% in 2021. A quarter of workers feel unable to manage this stress.

The report highlights the growing problem of burnout and its negative impacts on individuals and organisations. Here are the key triggers for burnout:

  • Persistent fatigue
  • Cynicism or detachment from work
  • Reduced work performance
  • Physical and emotional symptoms

Burnout differs from regular stress due to its chronic and pervasive nature. Constant overwhelm, exhaustion and lack of control are key factors. We highlight the common causes for these triggers:

  • Unrealistic workloads
  • Poor work-life balance
  • Toxic workplace culture/Always-on culture (this still comes through even with remote working)
  • Lack of control or autonomy
  • Unclear expectations

The report highlights a lack of control as a major burnout trigger. This is where freelancers have a leg up. By choosing your projects, setting your hours, and managing your workload, you have the power to combat burnout from the start.

Here we go into more detail to help guide you through steps you can take if you are experiencing one or even all of the triggers listed above.

Here’s how to leverage your autonomy:

  • No More Micromanagement: Feeling micromanaged is a recipe for frustration. As a freelancer, you get to define your process. Choose projects that allow you to showcase your expertise and work style.
  • Goodbye Unrealistic Deadlines: Unrealistic deadlines are a burnout express train. As a freelancer, you have the freedom to negotiate deadlines and set realistic expectations with clients. You are a business just like them, nit their employee.
  • Work-Life Balance? You Define It: The constant blur between work and personal life is a burnout killer. Freelancing allows you to create a schedule that works for you. Block out personal time and stick to it.

But remember, with autonomy comes responsibility. Here’s how to stay focused:

  • Set SMART Goals: Without a clear roadmap, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Set Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound goals to stay productive.
  • Prioritize Ruthlessly: Not all projects are created equal. Learn to say no to projects that don’t align with your goals or create an unhealthy workload. You can always inform clients when you are more capacity, which might allow for pre-allotted work.
  • Create a Support Network: Isolation can fuel burnout. Connect with other freelancers, join online communities, or find a mentor to share experiences and strategies.

Freelancing offers the freedom to be your own boss, but it also requires self-awareness and discipline. By leveraging your autonomy and taking control of your work environment, you can build a successful and sustainable freelance career that protects you from burnout.

What to do if you think you are in burnout mode?

That said, if you are smack in the middle of burnout and are experiencing health issues do not ignore them. Serious illnesses can be born from stress, lack of exercise and sleep, unhealthy eating habits and lack of downtime. Make an appointment with your GP to discuss your symptoms and health concerns. There’s only one you and when you don’t have your health, you can’t work to your full potential. That’s not good for you, your loved ones or your business.

Here are some resources for burnout, depression and health concerns

  • Mind: Mind is a leading mental health charity. They provide information and support for people with mental health problems, as well as campaigning to improve services. You can find information about specific conditions, including burnout and depression, on their website. They also operate a helpline (0300 123 3393) which is open 9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday (except for bank holidays).
  • Mental Health Foundation: Mental Health Foundation provides information and support for anyone with mental health problems or learning disabilities. Their website has information on a variety of mental health conditions, including burnout and depression.
  • CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably): is a charity that provides support to anyone but was initially created to cater to men aged 15 to 35. They offer a helpline (0800 58 58 58) which is open 5pm to midnight, 365 days a year, as well as webchat and email support.
  • Samaritans: Samaritans provide confidential emotional support 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You can call them on 116 123 or look here for other ways to talk to someone.

More resources:

  • NHS resources: The NHS website has a section on mental health which includes information and advice on a variety of mental health conditions, including burnout and depression NHS mental health.
  • Your GP: Your GP is a good first point of call if you are experiencing burnout, depression or any other health concerns. They can assess your needs and refer you to appropriate services. Depression, for example, can be caused by your environment but we are also finding that our hormones, the food we consume and how we avoid self-care can all contribute.
  • Speak to a friend: If you need a listening ear, call a friend or a trusted co-worker. They may help you see things from a different perspective, give you a laugh or help you through a challenging dilemma.
  • Workstyle Revolution: Backed by the Hoxby Foundation this community is free for people to join. Most people are freelancers and they have an open-ask-anything policy. They are from all over the world, so someone may even be able to help from across the pond or further afield. Whether it’s about not keeping to your personal and professional goals as a freelancer, understanding new tech or needing some freelancer-to-freelancer advice on how to handle a client issue, someone should be able to not only be a listening ear but also offer some tips.

Please remember that this is not an exhaustive list, and there are many other charities and organisations that can help with burnout, depression and health concerns. The best organisation for you will depend on your individual needs.

Please remember: It’s important to talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about your mental or physical health. They can help you get the support you need. It will take time to heal, but just knowing you are doing something about it is the right next step.

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