What I learnt this week… fighting with burnout

As you might have guessed from the title, I’m going through some challenging times and in this week’s weekly roundup I want to talk about burnout.

We’ve all heard about the dangers of burning out (there’s a lot of chatter about this amongst freelancers and entrepreneurs). We know that starting our own businesses puts us on a slippery path that easily causes burnout, depression, anxiety and other health issues. We all know that self-care is important and that we need to take some time off to recharge our batteries… but the reality is usually more complicated.

How do you know that you’re getting close to burning out?

Rationally, I knew for a while that I’m getting close to burning out. I knew that I should focus more on doing some fun things, seeing my friends (meeting new friends) and spending more time doing stuff that I enjoy. The issue is – I really enjoy doing what I do, I love my job and I love my life. So even though rationally I knew I needed to focus more on doing non-work related stuff, I couldn’t convince myself to do so. For some reason, the thought of doing ‘fun’ stuff didn’t excite me. I wasn’t inspired to go to the cinema, hang out with my friends and even watch TV. All I could think off was work, my to-do list, my plans and what needs to get done.

And then out of nowhere, it hit me… During the Early May Bank holiday weekend, the most beautiful sunny summer weekend, I ended up binge-watching a new TV series for two straight days. Not kidding. For those two days, I didn’t leave the house, I moved between my bed and my sofa and I simply couldn’t convince myself to do anything else! Not even read a book, not even going out for a run… All I did was watch episode after episode. In my defence, it was a pretty good show, it was engaging, filled with drama, relationships, action and countless cliffhangers.

But this isn’t me! I’m usually in control of myself and my actions. I can think before I act and I have pretty strong willpower that usually stops me from getting sucked into unhealthy ‘addictive’ behaviour. Not this time though!

Burnout – when it’s too late?

So obviously I started googling and looking around for more information about burnout, how you can tell if you’re burning out and what to do with it.

On the top of the Google results was a Forbes article listing 10 signs that you might be experiencing burnout…

1. Exhaustion
2. Lack of Motivation
3. Frustration, Cynicism and Other Negative Emotions
4. Cognitive Problems – attention span or/and concentration.
5. Slipping Job Performance
6. Interpersonal Problems at Home and at Work
More conflicts with other people or withdrawal, talking to your coworkers and family members less.
7. Not Taking Care of Yourself
8. Being Preoccupied With Work … When You’re Not at Work
9. Generally Decreased Satisfaction
10. Health Problems

And as I read further and further, my brain was marking each bullet point with a tick box. Exhaustion – check, Lack of motivation and concentration – check, Interpersonal problems – check… Suddenly it hit me and I realised that I’m not getting closer to burnout, I’m really deep into experiencing it.

It might be because I’ve been travelling so much this year and only now when I had three weeks at one place, I realised how stressful and intense the past few months have been. Sometimes ‘in the moment’, when we’re hustling and running around, it’s hard to detect what’s going on and make a change. And only when we pause and take some time to reflect we realise how exhausted, tired and anxious we actually are.

The work-life balance catch 22

I’ve been listening to one of my favourite podcasts that talk a lot about work-life balance and health and wellbeing of entrepreneurs – Sarah Swanton’s Happy Healthy Entrepreneur Podcast. I absolutely loved what Hannah Collier said about avoiding burnout in episode 31. She was talking about remembering to take care of yourself and taking time off even if you love what you do, as we can easily get sucked into our business because we love what we’re doing.

Later that week, I heard another great podcaster Steve Folland speak about work-life balance. Steve was sharing tips and thoughts from his podcast guests at Freelance Heroes Day in Wolverhampton where I met him in person.

People often talk about work-life balance in relation to more family time, more flexibility to work around child care or as a solution to dealing with social anxiety. But really rarely you’ll hear someone talking about the ups and downs of running a business if you’re single – with no partner and no family wanting/needing to prioritise.

And that’s why this quote from Jon Hicks really hit me – “Don’t let freelance fill all your time”. He talks about the importance of having other things in your life aside from your business.

For a long time, I’ve been saying that I don’t have a job, that I have a really nice lifestyle, and that my business is my life. Until now I haven’t realised that it might be a problem!

Taking action!

Once I realised what’s happening, I started prioritising self-care and paid more attention to my life outside of my business.

My productivity has been pretty bad anyway, so it actually doesn’t matter that much if I take a little longer lunch break or if I spend a little more time listening to podcasts or journaling. I’m not being productive anyway, so I’d rather spend more time picking myself up and investing in my health than trying to push through the procrastination and keep going in circles.

Podcast Corner

I’ve already mentioned two podcasts above, but I wanted to tell you a little most about both of these podcasts (and why you should start listening to them as well).

Happy Healthy Entrepreneur Podcast by Sarah Swanton is all about helping solo-entrepreneurs optimise their mindset, mental health and wellbeing, so they can enjoy the entrepreneurial journey (all of it), and ultimately, create a business that supports them, not exhausts them!

Sarah regularly interviews everyday entrepreneurs – not celebrities who have it all ‘figured out’ – people like you and me. No matter if you’ve been freelancing a few months or a good couple of years, we can all learn on every step of the way.

One of my favourite quotes from the last episode is this one:

“You’ve got to be physically strong when you’re running a business because it is long hours, it’s stressful, it pulls you in all different directions and you have to look after your health.” – Hannah Collier

Being Freelance Podcast by Steve Folland focusses on similar topics and also features real freelancers from all over the world. He’ll often talk about self-care and work-life balance as well as dealing with overwhelm, anxiety and procrastination while working on your own.

One of the best episodes I’ve listened to so far is episode 116 with Annie Browne. My favourite quote must be:

“I have to look after myself in order to be able to fulfil the needs of everybody that’s around me, business and home. So, I’ve made sure now that I do take time for myself.” – Annie Browne

Do you know other podcasts that feature real entrepreneurs sharing their day-to-day struggles, ups and down, learnings, challenges and victories? Let me know!