How To Cope With Burnout As A Freelancer + 6 Tips To Avoid Burning Out

burnout as a freelancer

In 2020, I was on the verge of burnout. After years of working as a full-time freelancer for way too many clients, without taking any proper time off, having very few boundaries, often working on weekends and evenings, checking my phone and Slack all the time – I was done.

Unmotivated. Exhausted. Frustrated.

I would lay in bed for a really long time in the mornings just trying to avoid my laptop.

Burnout is an important topic to discuss because I don’t want to just help you become a successful freelancer or digital business manager – I want to help you create a SUSTAINABLE long-term career as a freelancer or entrepreneur or whatever you want to be.

And working so hard you burn yourself out is not a healthy approach in any way for you, for your business, for the people around you – it’s just not what we’re after.

There is a RIGHT way to freelance where it’s sustainable and the most magical life decision you ever make for your freedom – but burning yourself out is NOT part of that agenda.

* Disclaimer – I’m not a medical professional. If you are experiencing burnout or are currently burned out, speak to a trained, medical health professional that can help you long-term in your recovery.

πŸ”₯ What Is Burnout?

According to helpguide.org: “Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands.

Here are some signs:

  • You are exhausted.
  • You feel isolated and overwhelmed.
  • You are easily irritable.
  • You have fantasies of escaping.

Burnout to me felt like no matter how much I wanted to do work because it was my routine, there was a wall standing in my way. I could sit down and do a little work if I really tried and forced myself to but after a while, I just wouldn’t be able to continue or focus anymore.

Every task felt like the biggest mountain before me.

❗️Pre-burnout Symptoms and Stages

According to healthline.com, here are examples of pre-burnout symptoms and stages:

πŸ‘‰ 1. Excessive ambition

Ambition and drive are healthy in good doses but if you’re over-exerting for EVERY single project, or task, putting tons of pressure on yourself to constantly do more and better and work harder than everyone else… then you may be setting yourself up for a potential crash.

You can not be pushing yourself 200% all the time.

πŸ‘‰ 2. Ignoring your mental or physical needs

This looks like skipping meals, not taking breaks, not going outside, not hydrating properly, not seeing friends or family, not taking time for hobbies aka things outside of work that you enjoy and are necessary for a healthy balanced life.

πŸ‘‰ 3. Not making time for non-work things

Guilty! I had no hobbies. “Hobby? What’s that? I don’t know her.”

πŸ‘‰ 4. Denial

I was in major denial – I was like, this is fine. This is fine. Everything was on fire but…this is fine.

πŸ‘‰ 5. Withdrawal

πŸ‘‰ 6. Behavioral changes like irritability

πŸ‘‰ 7. Detachment, anxiety and emptiness

πŸ‘‰ 8. Depression

πŸ‘‰ 9. Mental or physical collapse

❓Burned Out VS. Stressed Out

I want to take a second to mention the differences between being burned out vs. stressed out because I didn’t know where the line between the two really was. Psychologytoday.com explains it in detail here.

Stress is you are working too hard; burnout is it’s hard to work hard for whatever reason.

Stress looks like riding that emotional wave but burnout is where your emotions feel less sharp; it feels really dull and almost like you’re numbed to it.

When you’re stressed, you’re anxious and moving fast, but when you’re burned out you feel perpetually depleted and a little helpless.

When you’re stressed, you may have less energy but when you’re burnt out, you have less motivation.

Burnout is detrimental to your physical or mental health, it interferes with everything: your professional and personal relationships, drains your energy, and harms your ability to cope and ability to work.

That’s not what we’re about – We don’t want to work ourselves into burnout just for the sake of making an extra dollar or pleasing other people.

We want to create happy, sustainable, joy-filled careers where we feel on average satisfied and excited about our work.

πŸ“Œ 6 Tips For When You Feel You May Be Close To Burnout

When you feel you may be close to burnout, here are what systems to put in place as well as checks and balances to ensure you’re taking care of yourself so you can try to put a little halt to it.

*This is obviously aside from seeking out a medical professional – that is what you should do if you’re noticing your symptoms are getting serious and dire.

Tip #1: Set clear and defined boundaries immediately.

Boundaries are essentially rules you give yourself to protect yourself from your work bleeding into every aspect of your life and existence and taking over.

I suggest writing down your boundaries and declaring them to yourself.

  • β†’ When do you stop working?
  • β†’ When and how fast do you respond to messages?
  • β†’ What are acceptable and non-acceptable ways for clients to treat you?

Some examples I implemented include – not checking emails on weekends. I turn off work entirely & don’t open my laptop on the weekends. I took my work emails off of my phone, too.

Write it down. Tell your clients. Take it seriously.

Tip #2: Drop the toxic clients.

A scarcity mindset will tell you, “Yeah but what if you don’t find another client?

In my experience after working with dozens of clients, a toxic client is NEVER worth ANY amount of money.

They will destroy you and drain you to a point where it actually COSTS you money to work with them because they take up so much energy and space you have nothing left for other clients.

If a client makes you feel like garbage, makes you anxious, makes you uncomfortable, or is disrespectful, let them go!

Tip #3: Consider your rates.

Do you maybe need to raise your rates so you can decrease your workload? What could that look like?

Could you move from hourly to package or retainers based on deliverables? I have a video that breaks down what those are HERE. This makes it less about the amount of time you’re working and more about the results.

Tip #4: Take real time off.

And I know this is a hard tip for some people especially if you haven’t taken time off in a while – it’s hard to check out when your work is so close to you.

I’ve got an entire video on that specifically and my process for getting better at taking time off – You can watch it here on Youtube.

YouTube video

For a while, I would go on ‘vacation’ with my laptop where I worked every single day anyway – It was fun and I’m grateful for it but that’s not taking time properly off.

Tip #5: Check on your mindset and be aware of what’s going on.

This is probably the most important – through all of this: be nice to yourself.

You’re going through something hard – try your best not to shame or guilt trip yourself. Give yourself grace. Don’t go down the cycle of stress.

Society tells us if we’re not productive, if we don’t work x hours a week, if we don’t climb the ladder and make more money this year than last then we are failures. It’s not true.

Those are not true whatsoever – so rework some of those preconceived notions.

I read Free Time: Lose the Busywork, Love Your Business by Jenny Blake and Do Nothing: How to Break Away from Overworking, Overdoing, and Underliving by Celeste Headlee. They both really break down where the need to do things all the time, be productive, be busy, have full calendars, etc. comes from.

It was such a relief to understand what was happening and see there are other solutions.

Tip #6: Build in Safety Nets

Put money into savings so if you actually do need to check out, you can. Create passive income methods if possible for you, etc

One of the reasons why I started my business DBM Bootcamp was because of my burnout and I was thinking: what if I can’t freelance one day? What if I’m incapable of working one day? What will I do?That’s how that began and evolved into being my full-time work now.

So think through what you can do to protect yourself: create a 3-month savings account, then a 6-month, then a 12-month account.

Explore passive income options or check out what services you could offer that would be your unique competitive advantage – ones where you can charge more, where the value is not tied to the amount of time you work.

How To Do Your Best To Prevent Burnout

Most importantly to prevent burnout is to figure out what is actually sustainable for you long-term.


Here’s a quick exercise that may help you work this out:

For a second, close your eyes and imagine you are a business owner with a TOP tier, INCREDIBLE, dream, unicorn star employee; this person is amazing, and it’s almost like they do everything in your business and your whole business depends on them to survive.

Would you make this person work 40+ hours a week nonstop with no paid time off knowing that that wasn’t sustainable for them and that at some point they would probably burn out?

Or would you sit down with them, ask them what they need, what’s important to them to recharge, renew themselves, and work in a way where they would feel good about it for the next 10, 20, or 30 years?

You are that star employee in your business — so figure out what your star employee needs to feel good about what they’re doing long-term.


What Is A Work-life Balance That Works For You?

Society has drilled into us that we need to work a minimum of 40 hours a week to be productive, amazing cogs to the machine but… do we? Do we, really?

There are more and more alternative ways to make a living nowadays and as a freelancer, we have so much control over our schedule and pricing; we can make adjustments to make freelancing life work for us long-term.

Write down what your ideal day looks like: what is a day you’ve had where you felt amazing at the end of the day?

A day where you felt like you really got a good amount of work done BUT you didn’t overwork yourself, you were still treating yourself well – you took care of yourself physically, and mentally – you feel socially recharged, personally recharged, you feel creative, at peace, joyful.

And while money is important and we all need money to live, burning yourself out and working in a way that’s not sustainable long-term is not only horrible mentally for the biggest asset in your business, YOU – it’s also bad business and financial decision making.

And so review your life – what is going on financially, too? How much money do you really need to make every single month?

We’re taught from a young age that our purpose in life is to work and consume, right? We work, then we take that money and we spend, spend, spend, and then we do the cycle again.

So one thing to think about is, can you spend less money so you work less?

  • Can you consume less?
  • What are you currently spending money on that you could cut from your life that really doesn’t fulfill you?
  • Would cutting that expense be worth working a few hours less a week?

For me, I try to keep my personal expenses super low so that I don’t ever have to depend on having to work 40 hours a week to survive, and a lot of this is mindset work.

Knowing that there is more to life than just your work is one thing but fully accepting it is another.

For a long time, I was like who I am is my work, but that’s not healthy. You shouldn’t be entirely work. You shouldn’t be entirely anything, really.

You should have balance – so every part of you gets recharged. It should be more a healthy blend of family, friends, work, hobbies, animals, and food.

This took me a long time to accept and internalize because I depended on my work to make me worthwhile for such a long time – and coming to this point to be like my self-worth is inherent, nobody can take it from me.

It’s so important to work on that understanding and acceptance of yourself.

You are a unique person made up of many different wonderful parts – there is so much to you to who you are to explore.

Alright – I hope this has been useful if it was, let me know in the comment here – remember that you aren’t alone if you’re feeling those symptoms of burnout. Ask for help – seek medical help if you need to.

Want ALL the juicy details on how to work online as a digital business manager?

Check out my FREE intro class which goes over what exactly a digital business manager does day-to-day, how much I make as a DBM, my 5-step plan to get you started and more!

What's in this post?

Want ALL the juicy details on how to work online as a digital business manager?

Check out my FREE intro class which goes over what exactly a digital business manager does day-to-day, how much I make as a DBM, my 5-step plan to get you started and more!