When you think of careers with poor work-life balance, you probably think of surgeons, lawyers, and other high-powered professions. Copywriting isn’t usually the first thing that comes to mind. Make no mistake, burnout is a real threat to copywriters. It’s even worse if you’re a freelancer. Agency copywriters have set contact hours and a stable work week – their freelance cousins don’t. And since all you need to crank out copy is a laptop and an internet connection, it’s very easy to end up spending your downtime plugging away at your keyboard. Luckily, there are countless lists of tips and advice columns out there that you can use to claw back your personal time. However, most of them offer band-aids. While they talk about the how very few dive into the why. Understanding the root causes of overwork is key to addressing work-life imbalance and improving your mental health.
Identity enmeshment: how letting work consume your identity can lead to burnout
When you introduce yourself at parties, do you introduce yourself as a writer? If so, that might be part of the problem!
We spend 1/3 of our time at work, so it’s natural for what we do to define us. There’s nothing wrong with working hard, or loving what you do. The problem arises when work becomes your identity. This is what Harvard Business Review refers to as work-life enmeshment, and it’s one of the leading causes of post-retirement depression.
It isn’t just your golden years that suffer when “writer” becomes your entire identity. Enmeshment makes it easy to overwork – when so much of your self-worth is tied to your work, taking time off starts feeling wrong. Not to mention, work-related issues and setbacks become harder to brush off, and you might start taking unreasonable clients or complaints personally.
How t reclaim your identity (and improve work-life balance)
Identity can hard to change. After all, it’s identity – you can’t change who you are overnight. Luckily, you don’t need to completely redefine yourself. All you need to do is find give the other parts of your identity an opportunity to breathe.
In many cases, work-life enmeshment can be directly tied to your social circle. After all, identity is partially shaped by how others see you. A healthy non-work social circle of friends who see you as more than just the resident copywriter is good for mental health and helps prevent your work identity from becoming dominant.
Another way of disentangling your work from your identity is by finding ways to fill non-work time. New hobbies (specifically, non-writing hobbies – stick a pin in this, because we’ll be coming back) are good for your mental health, and they can also help broaden or expand your identity in the process.
Finally (and at the risk of sounding trite), reflect on the things that are more important than you and reframe your identity in deeper, more meaningful terms. Copywriting is an occupation – causes, worldviews, and ideals that are the pillars of your identity. Not only can this disentangle work from your identity, but it can also provide guidance and purpose between jobs.
Do you overwork because of underlying mental health issues?
The link between work-life balance and mental health is well-known. What you might not know is that it’s a two-way relationship. Just as work-life balance affects mental health, underlying mental health issues can drive you to overwork.
While it isn’t a “traditional” addiction, work addiction is a very real problem that can affect anyone, copywriters included. People predisposed to addiction can develop dependence to many things, work included.
According to an article published in The Atlantic, there may be a connection between trauma, grief, and overwork. Several people interviewed for the article discussed using work as a distraction from complex emotions like grief. Many were even able to directly link their own workaholic tendencies to specific traumatic events.
Finally, anxiety about your work can make it hard to unplug at the end of the day. Worse, it can lead to perfectionism taking over. For others, any time “wasted” can cause guilt or make them feel like they’re falling behind. Many overwork to deal with these feelings.
Dealing with mental health issues can help improve your work-life balance
As we all know, however, mental health is complex. Self-reflection and mindfulness techniques can help, but complex issues like trauma, addiction, or clinical anxiety disorders often require professional support.
This is one area where agency and in-house copywriters have a distinct advantage. With the increased focus on mental health, agency and in-house copywriters have access to employee mental health resources like employee assistance programs.
Freelancers meanwhile are basically on their own. It’s up to you to find a therapist and seek out mental health support. Generally speaking, a good place to start is with a mental health hotline, or approach your general practitioner or physician for support or a referral to a mental health service.
Experiencing a crisis? Feeling a mental breakdown coming? Here’s a list of mental health hotlines for immediate support.
Do you write in your spare time? How your writing hobby contributes to the problem
Remember that pin from before? It’s time to come back to it.
One challenge that’s unique to copywriters is that for a lot of us, writing also happens to be one of our main hobbies. The next great novel, a personal blog, short stories, fanfiction… whatever it is, a lot of us guilty of clocking off only to immediately switch to writing something else (confession time: I’m guilty of #3 and #4).
Writing in your spare time is fun, can help hone your skills as a copywriter, and help you stand out in the crowded marketplace (raise a hand if a personal blog or original story has helped land a writing gig). Creative hobbies like writing can even improve productivity.
As with all good things though, moderation is key. There’s nothing wrong with a writing hobby, but if you aren’t careful, it can end up contributing to burnout.
Non-writing hobbies and interests matter!
That’s because when you’re writing as a hobby, you’re still engaging the “writer” part of your brain. And if you’re a freelance copywriter or with an agency that offers remote work, there’s good odds you’re writing from the exact same place you do most of your work.
Mental distance reduces anxiety, fatigue, and stress. The problem with a writing hobby is that you’re essentially still in work mode which needless to say doesn’t exactly help with healthy barriers between your work and private lives.
Try to allocate more time to hobbies that don’t require any of the skills that you use when you write. Better yet, look for hobbies that engage the other parts of your brain you don’t get to use while writing. For example, if you write mostly complicated technical copy, seek out creative hobbies like painting or cooking.
Copywriting work by nature can be easily done from home, and many of us eagerly take that option. However, it’s important that your work-life balance doesn’t suffer in the process. Understanding why you overwork and push yourself too far is the first step in breaking the chain and improving your mental health.