A few years ago, I broke down. The pace of my freelance writing became untenable and I burned out. I'm not sure I ever truly recovered to "machine" level since that time. I learned a valuable lesson about taking breaks and taking care of myself.
These days, I am less prone to burn out, but it still creeps into my life. I try to stay on the watch for signs of burn out so that I can pull back before things reach the level where I break down, and so that I have time to arrange matters so that I don't lose clients when I do take a break.
Here are six signs that burn out might be threatening:
1. Feeling Like You Can't Stop
Do you feel like you can't take a break, even for a short period of time? If you feel like a day off is an impossibility because of the work you do, or if you find yourself unable to relax when you are supposed to be spending time with your family, that's a sign that burn out is looming.
Are you always tired? If you think can't get a good night's sleep, and you feel like you are always dragging, you are probably in the early stages of burn out and things could get worse quick.
3. Lack of Self-Care
In the months leading up to my breakdown, I had stopped taking care of myself. I wasn't exercising, my nutrition was suffering, and I hadn't taken any time for myself. My business was definitely taking over my life. When you no longer have time for a long shower, a good book, or the things that keep your body healthy, it's a red flag that something is looming.
I can be sarcastic and sometimes cynical as part of my regular personality. But I'm not actually negative in most cases. The past year has stressed me out a bit, but I've been mostly positive, especially in the case of my recent wrist injury. One thing I learned after my burn out episode is that positivity can help. However, as you're leading up to your breakdown, you won't be positive. If you find yourself sliding into negativity, that's a sign that you might be overwhelmed and on the verge of more problems.
5. Relationship Stress
Do you find your relationships suffering and you're not sure why? This could be a sign that you're focusing too much on work, or that the stress of what you're doing is bleeding over into your interactions with your loved ones. I've made it a point since moving to Idaho to make sure that I make time for my son. When I start getting snippy with him, I stop and ask myself what's going on in my life that is leading to that reaction. If you find yourself acting aggressively toward your loved ones, it could be a sing of impending burn out.
6. Performance Problems
Is your quality suffering? When I am unmotivated to do my best work, I find that my performance suffers. If you find yourself not caring about the quality, and just slapping something together, you might be suffering from the early stages of burn out, and it might be time to step back.
Don't be afraid to step back when you recognize these signs. Look for ways to raise your rates or reduce your workload. Sometimes, you just need to take time for you or take a day off each week. Figure out what you can do to prevent a complete breakdown -- and the consequences that come with it.