Ah burnout, old reliable. Just when you think you have achieved a zen-like mastery over your stress/emotions/work, burnout will inevitably rear its ugly head.

Aside from those who occupy a permanent meditative state somewhere in the Himalayas, stress, emotions, and work are all part of our lives. The idea is never to eliminate any one entirely, but to make sure you’ve set up the appropriate checks and balances so that none of them spiral out of control.

What is burnout?

At its simplest definition, burnout is mental or physical collapse from overwork or too much stress. Dr. David Ballard, the head of the APA’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program explains:

“A lot of burnout really has to do with experiencing chronic stress..in those situations, the demands being placed on you exceed the resources you have available to deal with the stressors.”

Burnout can lead to physical and emotional exhaustion, detachment from your personal or professional life, and feelings of ineffectiveness. There are several signs and symptoms associated with the three main areas. It’s important to be familiar with them, because the sooner you can recognize the early signs, the better you will avoid it in the future.

How to avoid burnout

What sends one person into a stress-induced mental breakdown may be a walk in the park for someone else. It’s important to educate yourself on the signs and arm yourself with the best strategies to prevent burnout before it extinguishes you.

1. Recognize your brand of burnout

New research indicates that there are three subtypes of burnout: overload, worn-out, and lack of development. Each of these types comes with their own coping strategies, and should be approached differently.

  • Overload burnout occurs when a person works towards success to the point of exhaustion. This type of person may cope by complaining about how they can’t reach their goals because of organizational hierarchy.
  • Worn-out burnout occurs in people who give up entirely in the face of stress. They may want to succeed, but, they lack the proper motivators to do so.
  • Lack of development burnout can be caused by either a lack of personal development or boredom. People may feel under-challenged and therefore distance themselves from their work.

2. Do a daily decompress

Find that thing that turns off your brain for a while. Whether it be walking, meditation, or a good power nap. Whatever it is, schedule that downtime into your daily rituals (even if it is just 15 or 20 minutes).

3. Keep up with personal maintenance

In times of chronic stress it’s easy to let basic maintenance fall by the wayside. Insomnia and loss of appetite are two big signs of physical and emotional exhaustion, and ignoring those signs will only lead to further and worse symptoms. Make your personal maintenance a top priority by sticking to a regular sleep schedule and being mindful of what you eat and drink.


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4. Learn how to say “No”

Freelancers often want to say YES to everything. After all, your livelihood is made out of yeses. Unfortunately, taking on too many commitments or jobs is a one-way ticket to burnout. Saying “no” when you need to say it can not only feel empowering, but it may even lead to more work in the future.

5. Replace negative emotions with realistic ones

The negative downward spiral tends to lead only to more negativity. Conversely, trying to think positively in the face of negativity is also kind of useless, and a waste of energy. Instead, replace negativity with reality. Recognize that it is okay to feel bad when those signs of burnout start to crop up. Channel the negativity into a plan for how to deal with your emotions instead of wallowing in it.

6. Outsource the things that stress you out

If you know that bookkeeping, for instance, really stresses you out, then outsource it to someone else. Any amount of load-lightening that can be done before things get too hairy will help in avoiding burnout.

Freelancers, how do you avoid burnout?

Ashlee Christian is from the north-side of Chicago and will never stop saying "pop" or eating pizza with a fork and knife, so please stop trying to change her. Follow her on Twitter @nomadnation