Freelancer burnout: The signs and symptoms

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You think you’ve hit the jackpot when you go freelance: there’s no annoying boss to answer to and you can work from home in your pyjamas. But before you know it you are on that slippery slope to burnout. Here’s how to spot the signs and symptoms…

What is burnout?

Burnout has now been officially recognised by The World Health Organisation (WHO) as a syndrome that results from chronic work-related stress. According to the WHO burnout is characterised by three main symptoms: 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.

The telltale signs


If you’re experiencing burnout you’re likely to feel mentally and physically drained and unable to perform the simplest of tasks. You will feel constantly tired, possibly even unable to get out of bed, unable to concentrate and lacking in motivation and creativity.

Physical symptoms

Burnout may also manifest itself physically, with symptoms like headaches, back and shoulder pain or intestinal issues.


Another indicator is that you will start to retreat into your shell and isolate yourself from friends and family. This, in turn, could lead to depression which studies have shown is high among freelancers: 25 per cent of freelancers have experienced depression and 21 per cent suicidal thoughts due to loneliness, according to Epson research.


In addition, studies have shown freelancers experience higher rates of anxiety than their employee peers due to money worries and lack of job security. Someone suffering from burnout is likely to experience increased levels of anxiety and commonly feelings of a lack of accomplishment.

How to avoid freelancer burnout


Moving your body is really good for you, so resist the urge to stay glued to your desk all day. It’s so easy as a freelancer, especially if you’re new to the game, to work all day every day – but exercise is key to reducing stress and releasing those happy hormones.


Self-employment can be a lonely business and you may find yourself craving that office interaction, so to combat those feelings perhaps consider working in a co-working space. It’s also a good idea to make friends with other freelancers as they understand what you’re going through and can be a great sounding board.

Photo: WeWork co-working space

Switch off 

Take a fricking break already! It’s tough when you have deadlines coming out of your ears but, if you want to avoid exhaustion, rest and recovery is essential. Give yourself at least one day off per week and try to stick to the regular 9-5 working hours where possible – and, god forbid, allow yourself to take some annual leave.

By Sam

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