How to look after your health and avoid burnout as a VA
While being a Virtual Assistant is a great freelance gig in terms of flexibility, pay and job satisfaction, it is a role where you need to guard your own health in order to avoid burnout.
As a freelancer you are both boss and employee, therefore you need to keep an eye on the welfare of your staff – namely, you.
Boundaries around hours
The first thing to consider is how many hours you are willing to work per day. While it might seem like a great idea to work for as long as possible, you are only going to be able to sustain that for a limited amount of time. After that, your health and your work will start to suffer. Instead, define your hours and as far as possible stick with those. You may need to pull an occasional late night to meet a deadline but this shouldn’t be the norm.
It also doesn’t mean you have to work a standard 9 to 5. You may be working around childcare, to leave time for the beach during the day, or work evenings to connect with clients on the other side of the world. The great thing about freelancing is that you can choose your hours, but just don’t work too many of them.
One way to set boundaries around working hours is to utilize as many productivity tools as possible so that you get more done in the hours available. You should also make sure you are being paid an adequate rate for the work you are doing. If you need to set about raising your rates check out these tips.
Most of the time as a VA you will be working at a desk and may be spending long hours glued to a laptop. If that’s the case check your seating position is set up ergonomically so that you don’t suffer back or neck issues. If you already experience joint pain, then a standing desk or using a Swiss Ball as a seat can help.
You also need to minimize your risk of RSI so purchase an ergonomic mouse and ensure you have wrist rests if needed. Finally, rest your eyes regularly by looking away from the screen and get up every hour to stretch or get a glass of water.
You are what you eat
It’s a cliché but none the less true for that. If you are getting through the day on caffeine and sugar you are going to head for an almighty crash. While there’s nothing wrong with coffee and sugary snacks, keep them in moderation and make sure you are getting all the other vital food groups.
A protein-rich breakfast can help to fill you up and keep you energized right through the morning. The rest of the day’s meals should be comprised of a balance of carbohydrates, protein, some fats, and of course those fruits and veggies. When you have a busy working life it’s important to make eating easy. Keep healthy snacks close by and have a range of quick recipes that you can pull together in minutes during the week. Cooking can also be your de-stress time and a dividing line between work and your personal life. Most VAs don’t have a commute, which is great, so instead you can spend the time that you would have been travelling in the kitchen cooking up a storm.
Sleep like a baby
Sleep is so important for your long-term health and offers a number of benefits in addition to just feeling wide awake and energized. Sleep has been shown to improve memory, help curb inflammation in the body and it can even help us live longer.
If you find it difficult to switch off and relax at the end of the day, set up a bedtime ritual which puts you in the mood for sleep. Don’t use any technology for the last hour of the day and instead wind down with a book or by listening to music. Take a relaxing bath and steer clear of alcohol, opting instead for a milky drink. Yes, milk really can help you sleep. It contains tryptophan which when released in the brain produces serotonin. In turn, this makes melanin which helps control our sleep and wake cycles. Doesn’t that warm milk and cinnamon sound great now?
Long hours spent at a desk will do nothing for our waistline or health. Therefore, you need to get active. This doesn’t have to mean long hours at the gym if that’s an activity you hate, instead opt for something which you enjoy and which will make you want to do it regularly. Whether that’s walking, swimming, or dancing. It’s less about how many calories you burn per hour and more about getting active consistently and for the long term.
Yoga or pilates can also be helpful as these forms of exercise help us to stretch out those aching muscles and joints which spend much of the time in a fixed position at a desk.
Take time out
We all need to spend time away from work and that doesn’t change even if you do work from home. See friends and family regularly and keep up any hobbies which help you de-stress. Even an hour or two per week spent focusing on something other than work will help you return to your desk much more refreshed.
Get a support group
A VA’s working life is spent largely alone, apart from those times when you need to interact with clients. But just because you don’t have colleagues you can still find your own peer support group. Head to local meetups or connect with other freelancers online in Facebook groups or forums. You can even join a mastermind group or local networking group where you can talk with people who understand your highs and lows because they work in the same field.
The benefits of being a VA definitely outweigh the negatives and if you just take some time to focus on your health at the start you will be able to have a long and varied career. It’s easy to forget to care for our health on a daily basis sometimes, especially when we are busy, but taking even small positive steps daily can add up quickly over time. A healthy VA is a happy VA and one with truly contented clients.