Part I of a four-part series on overwhelm, stress, burnout
Is there a freelancer or entrepreneur who has never felt completely overwhelmed by the myriad tasks and responsibilities involved with her little enterprise. If you know of one, please put me in touch with that person.
How do you know when you are overwhelmed? Well, for one thing, you find yourself using that word a lot when people ask you how you are. When I hear myself say, “Oh, I’m on overwhelm,” that’s a red flag. In lieu of your friends telling you, “Gee, you’ve said that the last ten times I’ve seen you,” which they probably won’t, it’s a good idea to step outside yourself every now and then and listen to your own words.
Another clue is, when your first thought in the morning is your to-do list, which you picture stretching all the way to the moon, and you start mentally reordering items before you’ve even had your first cup of coffee.
Let’s face it: Being a one-man-or-woman band, whatever your business, can take over your life. If you are a freelance writer or author, it can absorb you until you have no life that is farther than five feet from your computer.
I have written many times about the three hats every entrepreneur must wear, as described by Michael E. Gerber in his book The E Myth Revisited. My copy of that book is highlighted, dog-eared, and always close at hand. It isn’t news that, as tiny-business owners, we have to find the business, do the work of the business, and run the business, usually without any help unless we can afford to hire someone to wear one of those hats.
It is no wonder we feel swamped, engulfed, deluged, inundated—(synonyms for overwhelmed). That’s no way to live, no matter how much you love your work. These words are also synonyms for stress, and in addition to the toll stress takes on your health, it also leads to burnout.Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion that occurs when you feel overwhelmed (that word again) and unable to meet the demands of your life. After a while, you may not remember why this whole idea of becoming an independent writer seemed so appealing in the first place. Burnout saps your energy and plays havoc with your creativity. Eventually, you may feel like you have run out of steam. When you’re ready to throw in the towel, you are suffering from burnout.
That is serious.
See Part II for how to get a handle on overwhelm before it leads to something worse.