Handling Burnout | Choose Joy

Today my internet browser chose to update itself while I had a ton of windows open, and a a result, I lost half an article—about 600 words—and more than an hour of work and research (and no, to you computer people, I could not have found it again; I was using an expired window on an online word platform developed entirely for my work).

I stared in horror. Tried desperately to call up the page in my browser history, which—as I had known it would—refused to pull up those precious words. Then I uttered a few mild expletives (I’m not a cusser).

A few hours later found me staring at my computer as words failed me. Words don’t generally fail me. But, if I’m to be honest, this was only a trigger for job burnout that’s been simmering below the surface for months now (hence the life changes).

Burnout Causes:

There are multiple reasons for the dread that’s been slowly overwhelming my work life (or maybe overwhelming yours):

  • Lack of benefits. As a freelancer, I get no medical, 401k, or paid time off.
  • Poor money to time ratio. If I was to figure my hourly wage, it would be far lower than it should be for the time I put in and the education and experience I have. If I was to contract directly with websites that need content, this might be different, but web content mills are notorious for abusing freelance writers.
  • Lack a feeling of purpose. I spend time basically trying to sell things to other people all the time, whether it’s a product or a service. It’s hard to feel like my work has meaning when it’s just about consumerism. That’s one reason I have this blog, to do good for others.
  • Isolation. Working in your pajamas and from home isn’t nearly as awesome as you’d think when you’re socially isolated. You get lonely.
  • No structure. I try to schedule my day, but with online writing, it’s either feast or famine. When there’s work, you have to work. And I need structure. I know myself; left to my own devices, I’d sleep in and stay up late writing, but I hate how that makes me feel.

Now before you start feeling sorry for me, I’ve always known that this job wasn’t sustainable, at least for me. I’m just extroverted enough to need people around. Plus, a lack of some sort of daily structure is my personal armageddon. Other reasons a person might experience job burnout include:

  • Not enough family and friends time. Too much work, not enough play.
  • Poor workplace dynamics. Difficult fellow employees, overbearing bosses, etc.
  • No interest in the job. (This was totally me when I worked as a seamstress to put myself through school.)
  • Changing or unclear expectations.

Handling Burnout:

I probably should have studied about how to deal with burnout months ago when I first felt it coming on. At least the Mayo Clinic suggests that a person should handle it as soon as possible; typically, I ignored it. Some of these may or may not work for you as well as me, but they’re worth noting:

  • Decide what specifically is stressing you out. See above.
  • Exercise. This one isn’t a problem for me, but I’ve seen it in others. Stress and depression seem to make us want to hide from the world and pull the proverbial covers over our heads.
  • Establish healthier habits. I’m talking good sleeping, good eating habits (as I’ve said in numerous posts before). When I was a seamstress, I was so stressed and burned out, that I stopped sleeping well; it just exacerbated the problem.
  • Change your attitude. This one could help me. I should go into a writing assignment thinking how it could help someone. I’ve been writing about vacations (which I normally love) and vacation rentals, and if I considered writing these as a way to encourage families to spend quality time together, it might make me more motivated. I’d actually feel as if I was doing good (one of my burnout reasons).
  • Take a break. After staring at my computer for a while, I decided that I needed a spring break, a few days without work. In fact, as a freelancer you’re never clocked out of work. There’s always that feeling that if there’s work, you should be working regardless of how you feel or how much you’ve done that day. And then if there’s no work one day, you feel guilty for not doing more when you had it. Whether you take a day off or a month, go on a hike or go to an exotic location, take some time to relax.
  • Consider change. I discussed this in depth on Monday (and received a strong reaction from my readers—which is weird; you’d think the more I talked about myself, the less interested people would be). My passion is still writing, but my goal has always been to be a creative writer, a novelist. Being a freelance writer is actually hindering rather than helping me reach that ultimate goal: I have no creative writing energy left at the end of the day. Teaching…well, that might actually be just perfect provided I can squeeze myself into a teaching job with my lack of qualifications.
  • Get help. Maybe this means talking to a professional, maybe this just means talking to your family and friends. A little encouragement can go a long way (even if that encouragement is your mother, two brothers, and a sister telling you separately but within a two-weeks time that you should be a teacher while you’ve been fasting and praying about it: Message received, God).
  • Avoid escapist behaviors. People who are stressed or depressed try to escape the mental, emotional, or physical pain. I typically read candy books. While this might be healthier than, say, drinking or using drugs, it can harm you on so many levels when your world revolves around a fake, fictional world (no matter how compelling the characters or the story).

If you hate your job so much that you don’t want to go in, that you dread it (this is not me; I just experience a simmering dread and writers block, but no hate), if you hate it so much that it’s affecting your physical health and your relationships, then consider a change. Bucking up, while something I highly encourage in most aspects of life, is not going to solve anything here; in fact, it will weigh heavily on all other aspects of your life. There’s so much out there you can do, so much you can be, that you shouldn’t waste yourself and your time on something that doesn’t have any value to you. I wouldn’t suggest doing anything rash and just quitting; make a plan that won’t cost you or your family the necessities of life, but make a plan. Your happiness is in your own hands.

Choose Joy.

—A

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