Several years ago, I was determined to make the most money possible and refused to squander my days away. So, I got up early every day, had my work phone with me 24/7, and refused to make any other plans or leave the house during my dedicated work hours – all while obsessively worrying about my income and comparing myself to other escorts I saw online.
Looking back, it’s obvious that my lifestyle wasn’t sustainable. As time went by, any semblance of a balanced life went out the window. I had no energy or desire to hang out with my friends, I was neglecting my health and I became disillusioned with my work. Every time my phone buzzed I would tense up and I dreaded spending any face-to-face time with clients.
This was a classic case of burn out. I had multiple stressors in my life over an extended time that left me drained and no longer performing at my best. I went from bright-eyed and motivated to seriously not okay.
What is burnout?
Burnout is a reaction to prolonged stress – most commonly, stress from your job. If you feel exhausted, start to hate your job, and begin to feel less capable or worthy (or you’ve been playing the comparison game a little bit too much), then you may be showing signs of burn out. I think burn out is especially hard to deal with as a sex worker, as our work is intimate and requires intense emotional engagement. Left unchecked, burn out can wreak havoc on your health, happiness, relationships and job performance.
Here are 5 signs you may be experiencing burn out:
You feel tired all the time. This can be mental, emotional or physical exhaustion. You feel as though you have no energy to do the simplest of tasks.
You don’t feel enthusiastic about anything anymore and you no longer have the motivation to hit your goals. You may find it more difficult to get up in the morning and find it hard to drag yourself to bookings. When I have been burnt out I cancel bookings for the smallest reasons, without regard for the lost income. Headache? Better cancel my booking. Need to do groceries? Better cancel. Slightly hungry? Cancel. You get the idea.
You may feel disillusioned about everything and be pessimistic than you used to. You might find face-to-face bookings with clients more difficult than usual and be irritated at small things clients say. Maybe you want to throw your phone at the wall every time you get a text from a timewaster. While everybody experiences negative emotions from time to time, it’s important to recognise when these are becoming overwhelming.
Interpersonal problems can play out both at work and home. You might feel withdrawn during bookings, not wanting to interact or engage with clients. At home, you might find yourself in more arguments with your partner, family or roommate. You might find that even when you’re physically present, you’re tuned out.
When suffering from burn out, some people engage in unhealthy coping strategies like drinking or smoking too much, being too sedentary, and eating and sleeping too much or too little. These behaviours may help you feel better temporarily, but after a while, you feel even worse.
So, what should you do if you are experiencing burn out?
What helps you to relax and unwind? It might be meditation, music, reading a book, hanging out with friends, going shopping, visiting the beach. Figure out what works for you and do it.
As a sex worker in the age of the internet, it can be difficult to unplug and step away from the phone. It can be even more difficult to say no to bookings when you need the money. However, if you are experiencing burn out, having dedicated work and admin hours can make all the difference. Set boundaries by turning off your work phone after hours and refusing bookings that clash with your self-care activities.
Find something outside of sex work that you are passionate about. Perhaps it’s a hobby, a gym class or volunteering. Something that you can look forward to and feel rewarded from that isn’t related to your work life.
Lack of sleep can lead to fatigue, decrease your motivation, make you more sensitive to stress and make it difficult for you to juggle competing demands. Getting enough sleep is essential for recovering from, and prevention of, burn out. As a sex worker, it can be difficult to have a set bedtime when you have unpredictable work hours and late nights. However, I encourage you to set a routine as best you can and follow it on evenings that allow it. If you have a late night, be kind to yourself the next day.
Many of the symptoms of burn out overlap with symptoms of depression. If you feel completely overwhelmed, it may be time to consider professional help. There are a couple of ways to find a sex worker friendly therapist in your area. The Psychology Today website lists therapists who are sex worker allied – simply google ‘Psychology Today sex worker allied therapist’ with your city name (please be aware that Psychology Today lists psychologists as well as social workers, counsellors and psychotherapists. Make sure the therapist you select suits your needs). Alternatively, you can contact your local sex worker peer organisation and ask for a recommendation (simply ‘sex worker peer organisation’ with your city name). Peer organisations often keep lists of a variety of professionals who they know work well with sex workers.
I know it can be difficult to carve time out of your day for relaxation, put the phone down and to refuse that late-night booking in the name of self-care. However, full-on burn out is no joke. If you are mentally and physically exhausted because you have had your phone on pretty much 24/7 for months on end, then you NEED to take a break. If you don’t, you’ll be diving head-first into burn out land, with no option but to refuse every booking that comes your way.
Take the time to set boundaries and take care of yourself NOW, so you can have a high, more consistent income over a longer period of time.