How to Deal with Burnout

For many among the self-employed workers, burnout was the impetus to go freelance in the first place.

Immersed in office culture, expected to be available to their manager around the clock, mentally and physically taxed by the pressure to perform and produce, they opted for a line of work in which they can make their own schedules and work anywhere—even from home. Unfortunately, when you have no option but to work from home in the midst of a pandemic, those feelings of burnout can find you where you live.“The world has been learning a lot about the myths and realities for working from home,” Matt Lundquist, LCSW, a psychotherapist in New York City, says. “In my practice, patients are split. Perhaps 25% or so are finding work from home ideal. They like the lack of community, proximity to family [and] loved ones, a casual atmosphere.”

However, the other 75% or so are struggling with the monotony that comes with remote work, to the point that they are, indeed, burning out, Lundquist says. It doesn’t help that many people aren’t just working from home right now, but they’re homeschooling children, coping with social isolation, and living with the general stress of living through COVID-19. “I think most people, not all, are burnt out in some ways,” Lundquist says. “Some people leaned into working more as a distraction from the anxiety of quarantine and COVID, but that's only sustainable for so long.” If you’re starting to feel like work is taking its toll on your craft, motivation, and energy, there are ways to deal.  

Keep in touch remotely.

“Work relationships, even the ones we take for granted, are deep sources of meaning,” Lundquist says. If you’re getting in touch with peers or coworkers, opt for phone or video calls instead of email whenever possible, if only for the sense of community that comes with chatting with people in real-time. While you probably won’t be able to recreate the casual back-and-forth you might have with a friend or colleague over coffee, a weekly video happy hour can still be a useful source for conversation, bonding, and, perhaps most importantly, venting about a project or client.

Take breaks.

Making time for movement, snacks, and even leisure activities will make the day feel like less of a slog and help you return to your assignments feeling more invigorated. Lundquist stresses the importance of getting outside during the day, in ways that honor social distancing guidelines. You can also give mindfulness practices a try if you find it difficult to focus when you’re locked into work all day long. Even a brief gratitude or grounding exercise can provide you with some much-needed peace and quiet in the middle of a demanding workday.

Create variety wherever you can.

Tweaking how and where you work can have a surprising impact on how you feel about the job itself. The key, Lundquist says, is to get creative: Change up the hours you’re online, if possible. Move your home office to a new area or set up by a window. Only answer emails once you address your other tasks. Change your approach to work until you feel motivated and excited to get down to business

Develop a new skill.

As Brianna Barker Caza, Ph.D., an associate professor of management in the Bryan School of Business and Economics at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, writes in a post on the UNCG’s blog, applying for a gig in a new field or honing your craft during this time can be just what you need to break out of a quarantine-inspired rut. By exploring new ways to apply and improve upon your skills, you’ll reacquaint yourself with your strengths, find satisfaction in spending your time learning something new or striving toward a goal, and, finally, hopefully, shed the sense that work is nothing but a source of exhaustion. Not only will you find a respite from burnout, but you’ll get to add to your résumé at the same time.

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