10 Ways to Handle Burnout

by Tom Ewer 6 Minutes

BurnoutHow are you feeling right now?

Is your back aching? Or maybe your shoulders? No, you haven’t had an injury; it’s just kind of…there.

Or maybe you’ve been losing sleep lately? Or having memory problems? You’ve been feeling empty, helpless, and down for “no reason.” You’ve been procrastinating a lot more, too, haven’t you? (It’s okay. I won’t tell.) But who could blame you? Just thinking about work makes you feel a sense of dread. It’s become downright boring. At best.

Well, friend — it sounds like you’re experiencing burnout. And burnout sucks. Worse yet, if you don’t get it under control, it will start to control you.

Don’t worry. I’m here for you. Let’s handle this.

10 Ways to Handle (and Prevent) Burnout

1. Take a Break

Burnout is a form of exhaustion. It covers all the bases: mental, emotional, and physical. Even if you have a sit-down job with relatively low demands, you can still experience burnout. No one is truly immune. Even people who adore their jobs experience burnout from time to time.

The number one reason? Going too long without a break!

Taking a full-blown vacation might not be an option for you. I get that. But can you take a weekend off to just loaf around your home? Maybe play your guitar? Take your dog to the park? Catch up on the latest season of whatever on Netflix?

No matter how important you are to your job, you’re not as important as you think. If your business isn’t a complete disaster, it can go a day or two without your being there. Relax.

2. Keep Eating (But Hide the Snacks)

There are two types of people:

  1. Those who overeat/binge when experiencing burnout
  2. Those who stop eating when experiencing burnout

Neither type is better than the other. To be honest, both of those reactions are pretty terrible.

Here’s the thing: if you stop eating, you won’t be getting the fuel your body (including your brain) needs to function, which will make your exhaustion just that much worse. On the flip side, if you start over-eating, you’ll start to pack on the pounds (it happens quicker than you might think!), and that will add to your feelings of sluggishness and depression.

Even if you’re not feeling it, try to keep your meals “normal.” Set timers if you have to just to stay on track. Stick with a normal eating routine.

But keep your snacks out of arm’s reach. I love to chow down on a pint of Ben & Jerry’s as much as the next guy, but if that pint is hidden away in the back of the freezer I’m going to be less likely to turn to it the minute I’m feeling “bored” or uncomfortable with my job.

3. Sleep

If you’re feeling exhausted, what’s the one thing your body craves most? Sleep, right? So, give your body what it needs! (Duh.)

Generally speaking, the more burned out you feel, the more sleep you’re probably going to require. And, I know, it might be hard to get into the habit of sleeping again (especially if you’ve given it up in favor of “more important” things), but you’re going to have to force yourself. For your body’s sake. And your sanity’s.

4. Exercise

Exercise always seemed like a chore to me — and sometimes it is! — but it’s also worth it. And it doesn’t have to be as horrible as it sounds.

Simply moving around more can count as “exercise.” Do you usually sit in your chair for hours on end and eat lunch at your desk? Try getting up from your office area and walking around a bit, and maybe having your lunch outside. See? You’re already moving around more than you were. That’s exercise. It’s not much exercise, granted, but it still counts.

Once you start exercising, even the tiniest bit, you’ll notice yourself starting to do more. If you stick with things you enjoy (walking around, bicycling, playing with your cat), your body will start to crave that feel-good feeling and want more of it. Exercise gets easier the more often you do it — make it a habit.

5. Try to Remember Why Your Work Doesn’t Suck

This can be difficult if you’ve been feeling burned out for a while now. If you’ve gotten to the point where everything seems hopeless, this can feel downright painful. But try to think back…

What do you enjoy about your work? What made you start working in the first place? What are your overall goals and dreams that are intertwined with this job?

If you can manage to focus on the positive instead of the negative, even if you’re not “feeling it,” your brain will start to make little adjustments toward being happier. It’s sort of the “fake it ’til you make it” principle.

6.  Set Goals

I’m a big fan of setting goals. Not just when I’m burned out, but for everything. But, in this case, goal setting serves a few functions:

  1. It keeps you organized. Staying organized will ensure you don’t create extra work for yourself. (More on this later).
  2. It gives you a clear idea of what needs to be done. By setting clear goals — and clear action steps to achieve them — you avoid overworking yourself further.
  3. It shows the light at the end of the tunnel. When you have a goal in mind, rather than a seemingly endless ocean of work, life seems a little less hopeless.

If you’re already feeling burned out, you’re more likely to put off “unnecessary” tasks for “tomorrow.” This is a terrible idea. Do it now.

Whatever you’re putting off now, you’ll end up having to do later — creating more work for yourself in the long run. Don’t add to your stress when you’re already stressed. Do what needs to be done and move onto the next step, one step at a time. The easiest way to do this is to know what “steps” need to be done: by setting goals!

7. Don’t Overbook Yourself

It might be “too late” to implement this strategy now, but keep it in mind for the future. Be realistic about how much work you can handle. If you’re taking on too much work because you “need the money” then chances are your rates are too low. If you overburden yourself, of course you’re going to burn out.

8. Outsource

Remember how I said you’re not as important as you think you are? It was way back on number one, but it still holds true all the way down here on number eight.

Relinquish some of your power and hand over some tasks to someone else. Preferably the tasks you don’t feel like doing yourself (the ones that make you most dread doing your job).

9. Find Others Like You

Try joining groups or communities of people in your same field of business. Chances are, they’re going through — or have gone through — what you’re going through right now. Even if you’re not a big joiner, finding one other like-minded person to talk to can still make a huge difference.

10. Fix the Source

There’s no magic cure for stress; however, if you “cure” the cause of your stress…your stress will go away. So why are you so darned stressed?

It might be uncomfortable (or even embarrassing) to think about, but the time has come to start asking yourself the tough questions. Would you still feel this way if you had more clients? If you were paid more? If your work activities were more aligned with your core values?

If you’re at a total loss to what’s been causing you stress — leading to your burnout — try making a list of your day-to-day activities. Next to each one, write down how you feel about it (“tense,” “fine,” “bored,” “anxious,” etc.). Then try to come up with solutions for the activities that elicit a negative response.

Think to the Future

Once you’ve gotten this bout of burnout under control, start taking steps to prevent becoming burned out in the future. Do you need to take on less work? Make time for more sleep? Those are easy preventative measures to take.

What’s less easy is when your burnout simply won’t go away — when it continues to linger around even after things are “better.” When this is the case, you may need to take stronger actions.

If you’ve been continually neglecting your own needs to meet that of someone else’s, and that person still isn’t pleased (or you’re not pleased trying to please them), then you may simply be unsuited for the work at hand. This may mean “firing” a client from your life.

I’m not telling you to do anything drastic straight out of the blue; however, if you’re truly unhappy and you know that it’s because your work (or client base) just isn’t “right” for you: do something about it. Even if it means rebranding and starting over from scratch, do it. Your health — your happiness — comes first. Because burnout sucks.

Image by leocub

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by Tom Ewer
Tom Ewer and the WordCandy team have clocked some serious mileage as freelancers, agency employees and even agency owners over the years, and they love sharing their combined expertise here on the Bidsketch blog.