No matter your profession, burnout is real and it can be debilitating. But thankfully, there’s plenty of ways to battle it and get back on track.
Ever get that feeling when the simplest of tasks on your to-do list start to feel like a huge effort? Maybe you’re finding it hard to stay motivated and you keep procrastinating? What about when you feel so stressed and exhausted after every work day that you can’t enjoy your personal life?
If you’ve ever experienced any of the above, then it’s likely you have or you are currently experiencing ‘burnout’.
Burnout is something many content creators experience, as their work life tends to bleed into their personal life and it can be hard to separate the two and switch off.
It’s also prominent within the industry because many content creators are freelancers. Some say freelancers are more susceptible to burnout than other working professionals, given the little daily structure, having to be ‘on’ 24/7, working unconventional hours, and having no paid time off.
To help you identify and combat burnout, we’ve put together this guide so you can pinpoint the aspects of your work life that may be causing burnout and ways to assist your recovery back to being your best self.
What is burnout?
Before we begin, we need to start with the basics. Knowing what ‘being burnt out’ actually means is the first step to battling it and recovering from it.
The World Health Organisation recognises burnout as an occupational phenomenon defining it as:
“A syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:
- feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
- increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
- reduced professional efficacy.
Burnout refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”
3 common signs of burnout
Burnout can look and feel like a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but there are some common signs. Here are the 3 main ones to look out for:
#1 Being on edge and teary
If you feel like your stress levels are bubbling over, you may be suffering from burnout.
One of the key indicators is having enormous stress and anxiety responses to otherwise normal events. If running late to a meeting or getting some constructive feedback suddenly brings you close to tears, you’re probably running with high levels of cortisol in your body.
It’s scientifically proven. Heightened cortisol levels causes elevated emotional response, so the events that would normally be no big deal can evoke a huge emotional response.
And it’s not just bad for you when you’re stressed out. Studies show 94% of us think that unmanageable stress levels impact the quality of our work. It’s a lose-lose for everyone, so it’s much better to catch it before it spirals.
#2 Lack of motivation
When every day feels like a struggle and you can’t be bothered to do your job, you know something’s up.
A lack of motivation is a tell-tale sign of burnout, and seems to only get worse as we try to soldier on. Studies suggest that freelancers get this kind of burnout more than full-time employees.
This is likely due to the up and down nature of freelancing, where overwhelm can be common. Often freelancing as a content creator can feel like feast or famine, where some months are stagnant and boring while others are overwhelmingly busy. In both cases, the result can be a lack of motivation which is synonymous with burnout.
#3 Unexplained pain or illness
According to research from Dr. Dagmar Siebecke of Technische Universität Dortmund, a common symptom of burnout is physical pain or chronic illness.
This can manifest in a variety of ways. If you start to exhibit symptoms that you cannot link to anything else, like aches and pains, digestive issues, rashes, headaches and other pains, you may be overloaded with stress and suffering from burnout.
8 ways to avoid and combat burnout
Feeling like there’s no way out of the burnout cycle? Put the kettle on, pop your feet up and keep reading. Here are 8 ways to avoid and combat burnout.
#1 Set achievable expectations and boundaries
A common problem for freelancers is that people underestimate how long it takes to do things. For example, brands can assume that a video, Reel or Story sequence takes minutes to create when in reality it take hours and in some cases, days.
To help avoid burnout, be clear on how much content you can create, and to what timeline. Set expectations around deadlines with your brand partners so they are aware of your current capacity and workload.
Many people also expect you to be online 24/7, when this isn’t the case. Be sure to set boundaries around when people can expect a response from you. Be up front about your usual working hours from the get-go and use your email signature or auto email replies to remind people of your working hours.
#2 Create and stick to a daily routine
A daily routine can help ease your mind, according to a study by researchers at Tel Aviv University. Predictability and repetition are calming, so a daily routine can create a feeling of safety and keep you on track with your work too.
Knowing what you need to get done each day will help you prioritise your tasks and avoid the stress of an overflowing plate that usually leads to burnout.
Google Calendar and Trello are two great examples of online tools you can use to create and follow your daily routine. Or you can go old school and write down your routine in a diary or planner. Either way, scheduling out your day can help keep yourself on track and away from the downwards spiral of burnout.
#3 Reduce your screen time
This one might sound crazy to think about as a content creator, but trust us when we say this might be the best thing.
As a creator, your mobile is used for both your work and personal life, making it hard for you to mentally separate the two from each other. Hence what we said earlier, your work and personal life start to bleed into one another which is not good for your mental health.
To combat this, you can:
- Track and set screen time limits on your phone so you know where you spend the most time and can work to reduce the amount of time spent on different apps.
- Use social app’s time limits to remind yourself to stop aimlessly scrolling.
- Use ‘Do not disturb’ to reduce the constant pinging.
Research has also shown that blue light (that’s the kind given out by your phone) can disrupt our circadian rhythm and make it harder to fall asleep, contributing to your burnout. Don’t underestimate the power a good night’s sleep has on your mental health.
#4 Work smarter, not harder
If you’re a time-poor content creator, you might want to consider outsourcing or looking at automation tools that can smooth out your processes.
Learning to delegate is a great skill, and hiring specialists in the areas that you struggle with can boost your productivity. For example, hiring a video editor or copywriter can make your life so much easier, and can help you stay in your zone of genius.
Not sure where to start seeking help? Look no further than your own social audience! It’s likely many creatives already follow you. So, promote the job opportunity across your socials and see who you can work with who is already part of your community.
If you don’t currently have the budget to outsource help, look for handy tools that can help automate your processes instead. It’s incredible how much time you spend doing the same tasks over and over again. So if you can find software or tools that automate these tasks, you’ll relieve your workload and reduce your chances of getting burnt out.
Here are some tools you can start with:
- Asana, Monday.com, or Trello for project management.
- Hootsuite, Later, or ZohoSocial for social media content scheduling.
- The Vamp app, Invoicely, Xero, or Quickbooks for invoicing.
- The Vamp app, Mailchimp, or Slack for brand communications.
- Snaptik to download TikTok videos without a watermark. Perfect for when you want to save time and recycle content.
#5 Maintain healthy habits
When you’re working hard and your brain is always ‘on’, the fastest way to burn out is by not physically taking care of yourself. You cannot expect your body to mentally and physically function properly without taking the time to care for yourself with healthy habits.
Eating healthily (while still indulging when you feel like it), sleeping well, drinking enough water every day, and moving your body are all great healthy habits to maintain. Some other great habits you could do includes yoga, meditation, reading, stepping outside to get some Vitamin D, or tidying up your home or work space.
To ensure you maintain these habits, incorporate them into your daily routine or work schedule. Seeing ‘go for a 15 minute walk with the dog’ in your calendar or planner will almost force you to do it.
#6 Don’t forget to celebrate your wins
Having a busy schedule makes it easy to forget how far you’ve come. Especially when you’re feeling stressed or burnt out, your mind will start to only focus on the negatives. When in reality, this is the time you should be focusing on all the positives.
Celebrating your wins is about holding space for yourself and recognising your progress, but it doesn’t hurt to couple that with a treat. You could say congrats to yourself with a gift, dinner or drinks, or perhaps a relaxing spa day.
Another easy and free way to celebrate your wins is by looking back at all of your achievements, compliments, or positive feedback.
Save or screenshot all of the achievements, compliments, or positive pieces of feedback you’ve received in one, central location – like a folder on your desktop. That way when you’re feeling the burnout creep up on you, you can take some time to go through this folder, celebrate your wins, and get your mind back on track.
#7 Don’t put it off, take the break
Do you take your holiday? If not, you’re not alone. According to Deloitte, one in four professionals say they never or rarely take all of their vacations. As a freelancer who doesn’t get paid for holidays, the pressure to skip holidays can be even greater.
But to combat burnout, you need to make time to laugh, unwind and enjoy life. This is only achievable when you take a break to do the things you love and switch off from work completely.
No one can work all year round without a break and expect to come out the other side feeling mentally healthy. Taking a break from work is imperative to not only combat burnout but help avoid it too.
Find out why creators should be taking mindful social media breaks throughout the year.
#8 Seek professional help
And of course, if you’re doing all of the above and you’re still suffering, you should be seeking professional help.
Talking to a trained professional to combat your stress, anxiety and burnout can truly help you overcome a rocky patch.
Life is full of ups and downs. But if you have ongoing stress or anxiety that is affecting other or all areas of your life, the best thing you can do is speak to your GP and seek professional help.
Remember, you are in control
When you’re suffering from burnout it can feel like you’re on a hamster wheel that you can’t get off.
But the reality is, you can. No matter your profession, you can always take time to rest, breathe and implement some of the steps above.
As a content creator, your creativity is your secret weapon. And you might just find that getting your mental wellness back on track will boost your creativity. Science agrees. Studies show that our best creative ideas come during downtime.
So resting is technically part of the job anyway.
Remember that the next time you feel guilty for switching off, and be sure to enjoy the lifestyle you’re working so hard to create.