Freelancers are in a unique position to both rejoice over the satisfaction they get from their work while simultaneously suffering mental health consequences as a result of that same work.
It's a sort of balancing act that over 1 billion people around the world have to do every day.
If you’re already a freelancer or considering freelancing part-time, it’s time to prepare for the emotional challenges this type of work can have on your mental health.
What are the challenges?
For many people, working for yourself is the best thing that ever happened. It offers a lot of benefits: you have full autonomy to manage your work hours, location independence, you can’t be pressured into taking on clients who aren’t right for you, and you have the freedom to say no when a client isn’t worth your time.
The downside of freelancing is that you don't have a company to lean on for social interaction and stability. You'll feel intense pressure when you have deadlines, find it difficult to detach from work, may suffer from imposter syndrome, be acutely aware of what needs to get done next - even when you're not working.
Freelance journalist Thea De Gallier perfectly summarises it with the following quote:
“I’d been so seduced by the millennial, Instagram-ideal of freelancing that I hadn’t considered the negatives: sporadic and unpredictable income, a big reduction in human contact, and over-reliance on the internet to cultivate relationships and find work.”
One of the most unfortunate things about poor mental health is that it’s inevitable if not taken care of.
How can you avoid poor mental health?
Put yourself first. Acting early is always the best choice. Get routine physical checkups and make sure your mental health needs are well taken care of before they become a problem.
1. Be flexible with work
Working as a freelancer means you have more flexibility than typical office workers, but how often do you take advantage of that freedom? Whether or not you struggle with mental health, it is wise to think about where there’s flexibility and plan accordingly. Make a list and prioritize, then create your schedule accordingly.
In an interview, author Chris Brogan explained that he only books his days at an hourly rate of 60% capacity. This ensures space for difficult days and helps him avoid getting too far behind on work.
If you put too much on your plate, you are at risk of burning out.
You can't always be in a good mental place and constantly make 100% efficient performance levels. If something has made you uncomfortable or upset, then even if it's small at the moment, it will have an impact on your mental state quickly.
The best thing about being the one in control of your own schedule is that you can choose when to schedule clients. You may either give them a project timeline tailored to their needs or put them on a waiting list if you’re too busy at any given time.
2. Develop a support network
Working from home can be a solitary experience. No matter how well you manage to do on your own, it can be difficult to stay healthy mentally without the support of others.
Fascinating as it may sound, many people can get by with only a few close connections with friends and family members. If you need more support, however, you’re going to have to work harder at finding them on your own.
When you work in an office, social interaction is often a given. You might greet your neighbour on the way out of the house; stop and chat with one of your co-workers for coffee from time to time, or have a quick lunchtime conversation with the receptionist. All these small exchanges will keep you feeling connected in no time at all.
It may take some time to get into the swing of making friends. Collaborate on a goal outside of work with people who are enthusiastic about it, so that you have someone in your life and don't need to feel like you're being left behind later down the road. Volunteer in your community, get involved in hobbies or clubs and don't forget about regular brunch meetings.
You might need reinforcements from an outside source. If you feel that a trained professional could be of service, contact them for help. These options may be free or reasonably affordable in most places around the world.
When you need mental health support to cope with your new isolated lifestyle, a therapist is an enormous help. Thanks to social isolation, symptoms of loneliness and depression may surface which makes it hard for you to manage everyday life. A therapist can teach you how to address these emotions and get on the right track again.
3. Disconnect from devices
Research shows that too much time spent looking at screens has negative effects. In particular, it can cause increased stress and anxiety. This is due to a few reasons:
i. High levels of distraction
In a recent survey by the American company MarketWatch, adults reported that they spent an average of 11 hours every day on electronics. Smartphones were used most often by younger people aged 18-34 while things such as live TV had greater use in older brackets.
Devices can be a huge distraction if they are relied upon too heavily. Constantly moving from one task to the next leaves you with more noise in your head, making it difficult to focus and remember things.
ii. Sleep difficulties
Gazing at screens near bedtime can interfere with sleep quality, even if you’re able to fall asleep quickly. Even if it’s easy to fall asleep, you may not sleep as well. This can lead to waking up feeling like you didn't get a full night's rest even after sleeping for 8 hours.
Want advanced tips for reducing distractions, overcoming writer's block, and boosting creative confidence? Book a 1-on-1 consultationwith Writing Coach Lyndsay Carder.
iii. Social media overload
Being constantly connected to social media can lead to feelings of inadequacy. As you look at the "perfect" pictures of other people's lives and businesses, it is easy to start comparing them to your own life. Social media is harmful to mental health. More time spent consuming content equals higher rates of depression, anxiety, and feelings of isolation.
Freelancers often find it difficult to break free of technology dependence. Working as a self-employed individual puts constant pressure on you to be available 24/7. And when you combine that with all the virtual socializing, there is no time available to decompress from the digital world.
Your stress levels are sure to rise if you keep this up!
Put down the devices. Spending more time on your phone, TV, and other electronics will not give you a happy life. Make more time for doing things that really matter to you outside of your technology by putting them away.
4. Move away from hustle culture
Some people believe that hustle culture is a really positive thing. These individuals might be able to live well and work hard under these circumstances. If you are this type of person, or if what you are doing is an integral part of your goals, it’s the right thing to do.
However, for most freelance workers, hustle culture is more damaging than beneficial.
In order to perform well and have a successful career, it’s not necessary to constantly work. A more sustainable way is actually better for the long term and less likely to burn out an individual's energy levels.
It is difficult to get back to your “old self” when you hit burnout. To avoid this, work hard within your limits.
Think about what your priorities are. What obligations do you have outside of work? How much time off should you be taking for yourself in order to feel refreshed after a rough day? What forms the backbone of your life and defines who you are as a person? What are some long-term goals that will make a meaningful difference for you?
Find the answer to these questions and develop your own work habits that suit you.
Claiming that you have to work all day every day in order to do well is a lie. This is a lie perpetuated by the entrepreneurial culture. The truth is that, while fulfilling full-time jobs are hard work and an important part of life for many people, it isn’t necessary to do this constantly in order to be successful.
There are many great entrepreneurs who managed to get rich while working part-time without ever going into an office Monday through Friday 9 am until 5 pm.
Don't try to do too much at once. The most sustainable work builds up from smaller milestones. Working sustainably means working in a way so that you can build lasting success, progressing gradually instead of striving for quick explosive results.
5. Figure out where your stress is stemming from
Stress is one of many unavoidable aspects of life, and the key to managing it is finding its origins.
What makes you feel stressed when you’re at work? It’s not enough to say that “work, in general, stresses me out.” You need to break it down and understand which parts of your day cause stress
Before you can identify your stressors, it’s helpful to know about the categories of stress. There are two ways to categorize stress: acute and chronic.
i. Acute Stress
Acute stress is a short-term form of stress, resulting from an event like...
This form of stress typically passes once the situation has resolved. For example, you might experience a tooth-grindingly frustrating commute to work only for the stress to dissipate as soon as you arrive at your desk.
ii. Chronic stress
Chronic stress is the result of prolonged exposure to unsettling events or mental activity. Acute stressors can cause chronic stress if they become frequent. Other common causes of chronic stress include...
Fears of the future, mistakes we've made in the past, etc.
Chronic stress can lead to both physical and mental harm. As the amount of stress you experience on a regular basis increases over time, your symptoms become more apparent, making it harder for you to function.
It is impossible to live without stress. While you cannot make many of your stresses disappear, you can limit their exposure.
The first step in reducing your stress is identifying the source. When you feelstressed, answer a series of questions to identify what is causing the stress and how it can be reduced.
When did my stress level begin to rise?
What made me stressed?
Is this a personal, or work-related situation?
What can I do about this?
It's important to identify what causes you stress. Once you know the source, it's easier to make changes in your life so that you can reduce or avoid stress altogether.
When you become more aware of what stresses you out, and consider the amount of control you have over that stressor, then it becomes easier to reduce your stress levels with small, targeted changes.
6. Keep your workspace organized
Your workspace is an integral part of your daily routine.
If the physical space you're working in isn't conducive to productivity, it's going to be difficult for you to get anything done. One of the most important parts of creating a healthy working environment is managing the physical space in which you work.
A study found that the more things you have visible around you, whether it be piles of paper or an unfinished project, the more likely you are to be distracted. The distraction rate is mostly triggered by emotions such as wanting to finish a book, do dishes right away, or something else requiring action.
Take time to clear your desk and clean your workspace in order to reduce stress. In addition to the physical benefits of decluttering and organizing, you’ll also find that it increases your productivity. One source of distraction is a messy workplace – cleaning up eliminates that problem while supporting your mental health.
Clear offices and clutter-free desks won’t magically alleviate your stress. However, it will minimize the chance for distractions by reducing external stimuli.
7. Work outside of your home
Working from home is fantastic. The first week is liberating. But then you do it for another week and then another, and the realization descends that you're always in your house on nearly every hour of each day to work.
After a while, the restless feeling you start to feel becomes overwhelming. You can no longer concentrate on one thing for long periods of time, your energy levels may be low, and it can become difficult to focus on tasks.
Simply changing your environment to somewhere new can help keep you engaged with work and even boost your productivity. Try to work outside of your home every other day, or at the very least work somewhere else once per week.
The benefits of getting out from your workspace on a weekly basis are extensive. Not only does this break up the monotony, but it also keeps you in tune with the world outside of work.
Freelancing can be a difficult career choice on both the mental and physical levels. It’s important that you anticipate these challenges ahead of time and plan accordingly.
Freelancing doesn’t have to take a toll on your mental health. It's not inevitable. Take the time to prepare and get ahead of any challenges you're likely to face as a freelancer.
About the Contributor
Georgi Todorov is the founder ofThriveMyWay, a place for online entrepreneurs, bloggers, SEO specialists, and freelancers to find success in their own way.