Learn How To Beat Burnout As a Digital Nomad in 2024
Deadlines chasing you across time zones, loneliness gnawing at you in sun-drenched isolation, and the constant pressure to “make the most” of every nomadic experience. That can be the reality for many digital nomads.
Studies show that digital nomads and remote workers experience burnout at the same rate or even more than traditional office workers, with one in four reporting symptoms like exhaustion, cynicism, and reduced performance. So, how do you navigate this nomadic tightrope and prevent your dream life from becoming a burnt-out blur?
We’ve touched on burnout before, in a previous blog post looking at the disadvantages of the Digital Nomad lifestyle, but with the new year starting, and the promise of new goals and achievements, I felt it was time to really dive into what burnout is and how we as digital nomads can deal with it.
What Is Burnout?
Classified by WHO as an ‘occupational phenomenon’, burnout isn’t merely feeling tired or stressed; it’s an overwhelming sense of exhaustion, detachment, and a reduced sense of accomplishment. It creeps in when the balance between work and personal life collapses, leaving you feeling emotionally drained and unable to cope.
It is a state of being where you are under constant stress. When you don’t do anything about it, this chronic stress can cause all sorts of physical, mental and emotional complaints.
Experiencing burnout can make you feel hopeless as if you lost control over your life. It can be quite a struggle to heal these complaints when you’re already in it, so it’s important to be conscious of symptoms early and try to prevent burnout before it even occurs.
How & Why Does Burnout Affect Digital Nomads?
The digital nomadic lifestyle, while alluring, can cultivate a breeding ground for burnout. The perpetual movement, isolation, and the lack of a stable support network can exacerbate feelings of loneliness and disconnection. This constant flux can lead to emotional exhaustion, one facet of burnout.
The digital nomad lifestyle is a double-edged sword. The freedom to work anywhere becomes a pressure to work everywhere. Nomads, often driven by a thirst for experience and a desire to escape the traditional 9-to-5 grind, can fall into the trap of overwork. This, coupled with the constant movement and potential for isolation, creates a perfect storm for burnout.
For digital nomads, the usual suspects are:
- Always on the Move: frequent relocation and the accompanying jet lag can disrupt circadian rhythms, i.e. your wake-sleep cycle, leading to sleep disturbances, which impacts mood and productivity.
- Isolation and loneliness: The nomadic lifestyle can be inherently isolating, especially in unfamiliar places, and loneliness has been identified as a significant factor contributing to burnout among digital nomads. While surrounded by stunning landscapes, you might find yourself craving meaningful connections that you struggle to build and maintain.
- Nomad FOMO: The constant pressure to document (and envy-inducingly post) every experience can lead to a fear of missing out, driving you to pack more into your itinerary than your mental and physical health can handle.
Uneven work-life balance and blurred boundaries: The line between work and leisure can easily blur when your office can be carried around wherever you go. This constant availability can lead to chronic stress and difficulty disconnecting, affecting both mental and physical well-being. With no office walls to contain your workday, your laptop becomes your omnipresent companion, blurring the lines between work and leisure.
Different Types Of Burnout
Burnout isn’t a one-size-fits-all experience. It can manifest in various ways, including:
Workload burnout surfaces when the sheer volume of tasks becomes overwhelming. Think about high expectations, busy schedules, an unhealthy work environment or irregular working times. This is one of the types of burnout that can be relevant for digital nomads, leading to feelings of emotional exhaustion from the continuously changing work environment.
Social burnout stems from isolation and a lack of a consistent social circle. With this type of burnout, you can feel emotionally drained, disconnected and unfulfilled, because of the constant hellos and goodbyes. The fact that your environment and the people you spend time with change so fast as a digital nomad can make you feel like you are losing something that is valuable to you all the time. It can be quite emotionally challenging to let go of people you started to care about.
Creative burnout emerges when inspiration dwindles amidst a relentless cycle of travel and work.
Physical burnouts should also not be underestimated, especially when you travel a lot through different time zones. Our bodies ability to adapt to different time zones is limited, and when you also don’t want to miss out on any adventures as a digital nomad you can easily cross your own boundaries. This mindset can be self-destructive when you don’t take your time to rest and ground yourself in the new circumstances.
Recognising early symptoms
Early signs of burnout can vary from physical and emotional exhaustion to negative thinking, a lack of creativity and motivation, mood swings and decreased productivity.
When looking at physical and mental complaints, people often feel tired, and tense, experience shortness of breath, struggle with headaches or feel anxious.
These are all symptoms of the fact that there are too many stress hormones in the body, and your body is asking you to pay attention to where you might be out of balance.
Emotional exhaustion: Feeling drained, apathetic, and emotionally disconnected from your work and surroundings.
Cynicism: Losing faith in your work, your goals, and even yourself.
Reduced professional efficacy: Feeling unproductive and incompetent, despite putting in the effort.
Physical symptoms: Headaches, fatigue, muscle tension, and even changes in appetite and sleep patterns.
How Can You Prevent Burnout?
Basic strategies to prevent burnout from happening can be as simple as prioritising self-care, taking regular breaks and managing your workload. However, as a digital nomad, there are many more things that are worth mentioning to prevent ending up in burnout.
Here are some practical tips to stay energized and thriving, to protect yourself from burnout:
Exercise regularly, eat healthy, and get enough sleep. Make time for activities you enjoy, whether it’s reading a book, meditating, or exploring the local market.
Listen To Your Mind And Body: Pay attention to early warning signs of burnout, like irritability, decreased motivation, and changes in sleep patterns. Take a break, delegate tasks, or seek professional help if needed.
Practice yoga, mindfulness or meditation
Practising yoga, mindfulness, meditation or other similar modalities can be very beneficial to calm down your nervous system in times of stress and can support you to stay balanced. Bodywork, massages and breathwork sessions can also be used to help your body release stress. A good excuse to treat yourself every now and then (;
Move slower and give yourself time to adapt
The key to managing a lifestyle where everything seems to go fast is to consciously choose to move slower and give yourself time to adapt. Simply check in with yourself more often and plan some time to just relax and do nothing during the day.
Pace your journey: Slowing down the pace of travel allows for deeper immersion and reduces the strain of constant movement.
Embrace slow travel: Resist the urge to tick off every destination on your bucket list in a month. Immerse yourself in each location, allowing time to adapt and truly experience the culture.
Take a holiday
Recharge: Taking breaks and holidays, albeit paradoxical for nomads, is crucial for reinvigoration. Another way to prevent burnout is to take a holiday every now and then. I know it can be tempting to take your laptop and work from the beach, or to flick through your emails on your phone when you are a digital nomad, but digital nomads also need holidays – even if we already find ourselves in holiday destinations all the time.
Chat to some friends or family
Social support is crucial for your emotional well-being. Just some familiar people to talk to can help you feel less lonely and help you overcome challenging times. Having someone who listens, understands and emphasises can be very healing when you’re feeling isolated and overwhelmed while you’re travelling.
Cultivate connections: Regular conversations with friends and family provide a sense of stability amidst transient living.
Connect with others: Join co-working spaces, attend local events, and build a community of fellow nomads. Social interaction combats isolation and fosters a sense of belonging.
Disconnect to reconnect
Put down the phone and laptop during leisure time. Savour the beauty of your surroundings, engage in offline conversations, and allow yourself to truly unwind.
Set boundaries: Establish clear work hours and stick to them, even when the hammock beckons. Communicate your schedule to clients and colleagues to manage expectations.
Nomads Tend To Burnout Less When They Are In Communities
The importance of community for digital nomads cannot be overstated. Communities foster a sense of belonging, provide emotional support, and mitigate the adverse effects of isolation.
Joining co-living spaces, volunteering, or participating in cultural events can provide a sense of belonging and support, mitigating the challenges of isolation.
As mentioned above, social support is crucial for your well-being as a nomad. For this reason, living in a community is a good way to prevent burnout as a digital nomad. You meet like-minded people who understand you, you’re surrounded by people who live a similar lifestyle and you won’t feel isolated when you’re travelling solo.
Embracing Stability Amidst Mobility
Creating routines, practising mindfulness, and nurturing hobbies can instil a semblance of stability in a nomadic lifestyle. Moreover, investing in co-working spaces or joining digital nomad communities can cultivate a sense of belonging.
Digital nomadism can be an incredible journey of self-discovery, liberation, and growth. However, it’s crucial to approach it with intention and self-awareness.
Recognising the signs, establishing healthy boundaries, and fostering connections are indispensable tools in evading burnout’s grasp. Embrace the journey but tread cautiously, prioritising self-care and community to savour the freedom of digital nomadism without succumbing to its pitfalls.
By understanding the risks of burnout, equipping yourself with healthy coping mechanisms, and finding your nomad tribe, you can navigate this exciting path with resilience and joy. So, take a deep breath, pack your bags (and your self-care essentials), and embark on your adventure.
Remember: You are not alone. Resources like our online community forum are here to help you thrive as you explore the world. Let’s redefine “nomadic life” as a journey of self-discovery, connection, and sustainable well-being, one breath-taking destination at a time.