There are many benefits to being a freelancer but there are also many challenges.
While being your own boss is a dream for many, freelancing can take its toll on your mental well-being.
Taking care of mental health is a vital part of a successful freelance career.
Why Should You Care About Your Health as a Freelancer
Freelance work has many benefits.
Most professionals who choose to operate a freelance business choose this path because they:
- want to be in control of their future
- have more time for themselves and their families
- like setting their own schedule
- enjoy the work they do
- like the independence and freedom of being their own boss
- like the freedom of working anywhere
However, as rewarding as it is, being a business owner also has many drawbacks including:
- It is very isolating and lonely
- Uncertain and irregular income
- Work longer hours
- Limited time off
- Demanding clients who don’t communicate well about projects
- Clients who set unrealistic demands on timelines
- The projects are never guaranteed
- Clients ghost or terminate contracts without notice
- Not getting paid for the assignment completed
As a freelancer, you are constantly dealing with a lot of stress so taking care of your mental health is essential.
Not prioritizing your self-care can lead to:
- Sleep deprivation
- Mental illness
- Suicidal thoughts
- Increase in medical issues and diseases caused by chronic tension
- Substance abuse
- Decreased productivity
Here are some tips to help you care for your mental health and recognize the symptoms of mental health problems.
Get Your Priorities Clear
As a freelancer, it is important to have set clear priorities for your personal and professional goals.
Because you are a self-employed person, finding clients is naturally a big and demanding part of your job.
The uncertainty of your assignments and income creates an atmosphere of tension and insecurity.
However, the need to find paid assignments should not take over every waking and sleeping moment of your time.
After all, when you started your sole trader career path, you had other priorities and goals in mind as well.
To help get your priorities clear, write them down in the order of importance.
This will help you focus on all your priorities and not just the immediate needs.
Develop a schedule that equally balances work and personal time and set boundaries with your clients.
Recognize the Signs of Burnout
Burnout is a condition caused by prolonged severe stress.
If untreated, it can lead to severe mental, emotional and physical exhaustion.
As a freelance specialist who is continuously exposed to high anxiety levels, burnout can sneak up on you and affect your mental health without your awareness.
Burnout is a mental health problem that does not go away on its own.
Recognizing the signs and symptoms is an important first step in preventing and treating the condition.
Signs and symptoms include irritability, chronic exhaustion, frequent illnesses, having escape fantasies, withdrawing, and isolating from others.
Burnout is a progressive condition that comes on gradually.
Two prominent psychologists, Herbert Freudenberger and Gail North identified and outlined 12 phases of burnout.
- Excessive drive or ambition
- Push yourself to work harder
- Neglect your own personal needs
- Displace conflict – blame others for your overwork routines
- Decrease or no time for non-work-related activities
- Denial and impatience with others
- Withdraw from family and friends
- Changes in your behavior
- Depersonalization – feeling detached from your life and ability to control it
- Feeling anxious or empty internally
- Deterioration of your physical and mental health.
You can prevent burnout by prioritizing your mental wellbeing, eating a healthy diet, exercising and sleeping regularly, setting work boundaries, taking time for yourself, finding other hobbies to relax you, and seeing a professional when needed.
Prepare Different Ways to Take a Break
As a freelancer, there are different ways you can take care of your mental health so it does not become a severe illness.
If you work remotely, these steps will help you with your self-care routines.
Work Around Other People
Remote work can be very isolating.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made this even more of a challenge because public and business lockdowns have forced people into imposed isolation.
These restrictions and limited interactions can lead to severe loneliness, depression, and suicidal thoughts.
As a self-employed worker, it is important to connect with other people around you.
Talking to other freelance professionals can help you feel less alone because you can connect with and relate to other people who are in similar situations.
If you cannot connect with family, friends, and other freelancers in person, schedule time in your day to facetime or chat with other people.
Whether you talk to your family, another sole trader, a neighbor, or a friend, talking to other people throughout the day will help you feel more connected to the outside world and less lonely.
If your area is not under public gathering restrictions, go somewhere outside the home to work.
A café, library, park, or another public setting can help you feel less isolated because they create natural opportunities to interact with and be surrounded by other people.
If you live with or near another remote worker, set up a co-working space so you have the option to work beside another person during some or all of your workday.
Having another professional nearby will help break the isolation and segregation that comes with your freelance career.
Some office buildings offer pay-as-you-go or short-term renting opportunities so you can share a co-working space temporarily with another freelancing professional.
Set Client Boundaries
When you own a freelance business, it is important to set boundaries with your clients.
Clientele can often assume freelancers are available anytime day or night on weekdays or weekends.
They can set unrealistic deadlines or expectations on projects and invade your personal time if you do not have set working hours.
As part of your healthy workplace wellbeing plan, you need to set boundaries with your clients at the beginning of your relationship.
This includes setting times when you are available and when you are not available to work, chat, text, or reply to emails.
Develop clear expectations regarding timelines for project notices and deadlines.
Set higher prices for emergency projects with shorter deadlines.
Communicate openly and clearly with your clients at the beginning about your work schedule and policies so they know when they can and cannot contact you.
Disconnect yourself from your devices, social media pages, emails, and other contact forums so you are not tempted to reply to incoming messages during your personal time.
By establishing and sticking to a set working hours schedule, you will not only create a better work-life balance for yourself, but your clients will learn early when they can and cannot communicate with you.
Talk With Other Freelancers
Networking with other independent professionals in the creative sector is vital to your workplace health.
Other freelancers know exactly how you’re feeling and the mental health challenges that go with owning your own business because they are navigating through the same challenges and issues.
By talking to other small business owners, you will feel less isolated because you will find that you are not alone.
You can also brainstorm and help each other find solutions for different scenarios.
By talking to other freelancers, you will also laugh and support each other.
Positive encouragement in a relatable and supportive environment is an essential part of good mental health.
If there is not a local entrepreneur group in your community, there are many online forums and groups on social media that you can join.
The more opportunities you create to talk to other creative freelancers, the less lonely and isolated you will feel.
Outsource Work When You Can
If your workload is becoming too much for you to do on your own, outsource some of your projects to other contractors.
As a freelancer, it’s natural to assume that you have to do the entire assignment yourself so you will earn enough money to cover the monthly bills.
But taking on too many projects can be counterproductive and cause a mental health crisis.
There are many talented creative freelancers that are also looking for work.
They would be happy to collaborate with other independent professionals on projects.
By outsourcing some of your workloads to other self-employed persons, you can complete all your projects by their deadlines without burning out.
Make Time for Your Creativity
As someone who works independently in the creative sector, you undoubtedly have many talents and interests outside your freelance work.
Making time for your other creative interests will help improve your mental health and physical wellbeing.
Exploring your creativity through hobbies and classes makes you a happier and more relaxed person.
Creative hobbies reduce stress, depression, and loneliness.
They also improve your mood, communication skills, and physical health and reduce negative thoughts.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an increase in online classes and community groups to tap into their creativity while taking care of their mental health.
Scheduling regular time for your creativity will lower your risk of developing serious mental health issues.
Get Help if You Need it
Freelancers’ mental health can become a severe issue impacting all areas of your life if not recognized and treated.
If you find you are having suicidal thoughts or a mental health crisis, do not be afraid to reach out and get help if you need it.
There is no shame in seeking professional help when you are experiencing mental health challenges.
While awareness of mental health issues was publicly addressed prior to COVID-19, the pandemic has highlighted the importance of taking care of your mental wellbeing as well as your emotional and physical health.
More online and community resources and mental health services are available to help remote workers cope with the loneliness and anxiety of being part of the work-from-home gig economy.
If you are struggling with mental health problems, contact your doctor or local service for help.
Dedicate One Hour to Yourself Everyday
As a small business owner, it is important to take time every day for yourself.
While it is easy to get caught up in your work and lose track of time when you are not a nine to five office worker, focusing excessively on your work projects can lead to negative thoughts, anxiety, depression, exhaustion, and other signs and symptoms of poor mental health.
Spending time on yourself doing something for yourself is vital to your physical, emotional, and mental health.
By dedicating one hour in your schedule to your freelancer’s mental health needs, you will feel happier, more relaxed, and less anxious.
A consistent, daily routine has tremendous positive effects on your good mental health.
There are many ways you can spend your daily hour focusing on yourself.
Reading, listening to music, painting or color are relaxing activities.
Taking up a home DIY project or increasing your physical activity by going for a daily walk, joining a fitness class or sports team, or going for a personal service like a massage or pedicure will drastically improve your mental wellness.
Writing in a daily journal or reciting daily affirmations during your morning routine will help you stay motivated and positive throughout the day.
It also allows self-healing while you work through freelancing problems and emotional strains in the privacy of your own personal diary.
Seek a Regular Change of Scenery
Working from home has many rewards but it also has many challenges.
One of the negative features is that you are surrounded by the same scenery every day.
When you are no longer a commuting office worker, you seldom leave your home to work in a different place.
While not getting up early or leaving the house in bad weather or rush hour traffic to go to a job may be appealing most days it can also wear on your mental health.
Being surrounded by the same décor every day does not stimulate your senses or break up your day.
This reduced change in scenery can trigger mental health problems over time.
If you are always in your home working, you lack fresh air, sunshine, human interaction, sensory stimulation, and regular physical activity.
To help improve your good mental health, make a point to change your scenery throughout the week.
You can do this by going for a walk or taking your portable workstation to a different location to work.
Many public places and cafes have free wifi service for the public so you can take your laptop or other devices to a public establishment to work.
Whether you spend part or all of your day outside the home, changing the scenery during your day will have a positive impact on your emotional and mental health.
Temporary commercial rental properties are a great way to get out of the house and surround yourself with other office workers during the day.
If you feel the need to step away from your home to improve your mental health, renting office space for a day, week, or month will give you the change of scenery you need while managing your freelance gig.
Network Online and Offline
Networking with other entrepreneurs is a great way to meet other like-minded freelancers who have similar goals and work schedules.
Networking with other freelance professionals creates opportunities to brainstorm ideas, find new clients or work projects and talk to other professionals about similar challenges and rewards related to a remote work career.
Connecting with other professionals with freelance careers is therapeutic.
Freelancers’ mental health issues are something everyone who works for themselves faces.
Talking to other professionals who can relate to your mental and social needs helps you feel less lonely and anxious.
Networking with other freelancing professionals can be done online or offline.
There are plenty of community groups and organizations that host networking events for freelance professionals.
Some groups are free while others have membership fees.
If you cannot find a local group to suit your personal needs, want to expand your circle, or are looking for freelancers to connect with during the pandemic, there are many online networking groups available through various social sites.
Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin offer several online networking communities and events for self-employed workers.
Some groups are private while other groups are open to the public.
Some are designated to certain freelance industries while other forums are more generalized.
Recognize, Listen to and Fulfill Your Needs
One of the most important ways to maintain positive mental wellness is to recognize the signs and symptoms of poor mental health.
Like physical health, your body will show signs to tell you when your mental health is unwell.
By recognizing these signs and symptoms of mental health concerns early, you take proactive steps to reduce the effects of anxiety and depression before they become critical.
If your symptoms become more severe, seeking mental health supports will help you manage your mental illness so it does not adversely impact your life and freelance job.
By taking a proactive approach to good health, you can implement positive routines and habits in your life now that will promote optimal mental, emotional and physical health.
It is also important to recognize what is stressing you out.
By understanding what areas or projects are stressing you out, you can take steps to change those situations and remove the anxiety in your life.
Fulfilling your personal needs is essential to maintaining good mental health. As a freelancer, you likely put others’ needs before your own.
Not fulfilling your needs creates negative feelings and exhaustion which can lead to a decline in your mental health.
If your health suffers, your business and relationships will suffer so it is important to set time aside to fulfill your personal needs.
Focus on Your Journey
A successful and balanced freelance career does not happen overnight.
It takes a lot of time, energy, and work to build your freelance business into a successful and financially lucrative venture.
Throughout your entrepreneur path, you will face many rewards and challenges.
No matter how good or bad your day is, you chose this career path.
It is important that you do not lose sight of the personal and professional reasons you chose to become a freelancer.
Being your own boss, having more time for yourself and your family, and working from home when you want are some of the goals in a freelance professional’s journey.
Each objective is an equally important part of your journey and should not be overlooked or forgotten.
Putting unrealistic expectations on yourself to be an overnight success and being available to your clients, family, and friends 24 hours a day, seven days a week is unhealthy.
It is important to have a clear focus on your whole journey and not just the finish line or certain parts of your remote work life.
Setting doable goals, developing a schedule that allows you to balance your work and home life, and taking care of your own personal needs are all part of a freelancer’s ongoing journey that should never be overlooked.
To help maintain your good mental health while building and operating a successful freelancing career, keep a journal where you can write your daily affirmations and goals.
Journals are great tools to help you stay motivated and encouraged so you can stay focused on the whole freelance journey and not just the finish line.
Freelance work is a dream career for millions of gig economy workers but it can also be challenging to your mental health.
Burnout, anxiety, depression, and loneliness are common health conditions that affect freelancers.
Taking conscious and proactive steps towards self-care will help you maintain optimal mental health throughout your freelance journey.