2020 was going to be my year for my freelance graphic design business. I had been taking marketing classes, learning to build websites, and networking. I gained a consistent client; I was receiving many inquiries and projects. I even rented a desk at my local coworking space. It was all working out!
Unfortunately, I was wrong. As with almost everyone else in the world, COVID-19 sent me spinning totally out of control. I had clients who could not pay for finished work. Many even dropped me. Leads disappeared as their businesses lost their footing. By the end of the spring, I was back to where I began.
But suddenly having so much down time felt strange. I started helping friends repair and build their dreams, sewing masks for local medical workers and friends, founded Mind Travelers, and then in the fall, started homeschooling my two teenagers.
I was working on some project or another from the moment I woke up to when I went to bed—which was very late. And yet, while I spent many late nights working on this or that, I would wake up early. I didn’t stop, and when I did, I felt useless, empty, and hopeless.
Several times during the year, I had to stop working due to a sharp pain radiating from my right hand up to the base of my skull. I was unable to bend or rotate my wrist and ended up wearing a wrist brace to stabilize it. It often caused me to break down in tears. I could barely read a book or cook dinner in this state.
All my hard work had earned me “Cervical Radiculopathy”. The tension in my neck was causing muscles to spasm, pulling my neck out of alignment and pinching the nerve causing my hand to be weak and hurt. If I wanted this pain to go away, I needed to start making some changes in my life. Thus, started my long journey towards healing.
Even during lockdown, I was experiencing physical and mental burnout.
The work of healing my body has meant working on many other aspects of my life. In the end, a lot of what I had gotten used to as a normal needed to be changed. My time spent working on projects needed to be in shorter spurts, causing me to consider each one more seriously. I had to add many stretches and exercises throughout the day. I had to reduce my screen time which I replaced with more exercise. I have been spending more quality time with my kids and taking little moments for myself. I still have a lot of healing to do, and it is a slow process that involves both my body and my mind.
One of the most helpful and inspiring practices I have completed during this journey was creating my personal mission statement. Having this personal statement means I know what truly matters to me. When a project comes up that sounds amazing and interesting, I can compare it to my personal mission statement. Will I get closer to my personal goals? Will this do me harm? Will this take me away from what truly matters to me? I am interested in so many things that almost any opportunity sounds like a good one to me if I don’t consider it closely. I have had to learn to take on only those things that I need to accomplish, and that I can accomplish.
My new burnout avoidance strategy includes the following:
One of the biggest problems people experience while working from home is the lack of delineation between their work and home lives. It is so easy if a client texts to just sit down and get to work—even if we are trying to cook dinner or get our children to bed. Being “on the clock” all the time really doesn’t help you accomplish more. Clients that demand you help them “right now” even late in the evening are probably not worth stressing over.
I encourage you to write your own personal mission statement to see what matters most to you. While many interesting, exciting and socially important opportunities will continue to rise, you cannot be a part of all of them. Having a written and thought-out personal mission statement will help you choose what is most important to you. Armed with this knowledge you can begin to weed out the tasks that don’t align with your needs.
This goes hand-in-hand with knowing your priorities. Put time aside for these important parts of your life first, and schedule everything else around that. Sometimes this is hard to do.
Working for others means that we have to schedule important parts of our lives around our work. But this is part of taking care of ourselves and our families. Time outside of work is precious and should be prioritized as such. There is absolutely no shame in working 40 hours a week and then using all the rest of your time taking care of yourself and your family. If this is satisfying, then allow yourself to enjoy that.
If you can’t reduce the amount of work you do, or cut back on projects, then I suggest seeking assistance. Maybe older children or your spouse can help with dinner and/or chores. Maybe that means having take-out more often. Maybe that means hiring someone to clean. Ask for help wherever and whenever you can.
When I got to the point where my body was screaming at me (the pain in my hand) I had already been ignoring the smaller cries for help for years. Had I listened when many other problems had come up in my health, my scary and painful trouble with my wrist could have been completely avoided. Spending time stretching, exercising, meditating, eating right and going out for walks is incredibly important. Working from 9-5 in one straight shot without taking regular breaks or even a lunch (something I know many of us do) is so unhealthy. Whether cleaning houses or working at the computer or any other work, we need to find ways to add in movement and fresh air.
More and more this year I have personally found myself depressed, stressed and anxious after spending hours a day scrolling through social media. It sounds like a lot of time, but I could bet that if anyone were to actually time their social media use, they would find that what they think is a small part of their day is actually a huge problem. After spending all that time seeing friends argue, people jamming their opinions down your throat, and the constant flow of filtered selfies a person can become drained. And yet, the moment we have a second of boredom, we open the app back up.
This has always been a known problem for me, but this year is the straw that broke this camel’s back. I have not closed any accounts but have removed social media apps from my phone. This has helped me immensely. If you don’t think it’s a problem, keep track of your social media time. You may be surprised. If you don’t think you can give it up, try backing off for a day or a week or setting limits to your social media time. I promise it’s worth it.
Woo-woo, right? Wrong. In fact, according to Andrew Newberg, M.D., neurologist and author of “How God Changes Your Brain” the acts of meditation, gratitude and prayer physically change your brain, building new neuropathways and helping you recover from stress. Through scientific study, meditation was proven to reduce stress, slow the aging process and enhance physical and emotional health. The studies compiled in this book show meditation to be an immensely beneficial practice. I have found in my meditation practice that I feel more grounded, clearer headed and able to take on difficult situations when I regularly meditate for at least 5 minutes a day.
Burnout is an increasingly common issue. These stories, and how I am handling my trouble is of course anecdotal. Take what you want, leave the rest.
What do you to help avoid burnout? Please leave us a comment below or email us at email@example.com.
As always, the advice and stories I have written are not meant to diagnose or offer treatment. If you or someone you know is experiencing burnout or any other physical or mental illness, I encourage you to seek the advice of your doctor.
Mind Travelers is a community blogging project. We publish articles about art, social issues, positivity and philosophy. We are located on the Western Slope of Colorado. For more information, to submit a story or to advertise with us, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Publisher: Jeanette Messano, JEM Graphics, LLC
Editor: Peggy Carey
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