Mental Health for Freelancers
From the outside a lot of people may perceive me as having a dream job, I get to choose my own hours, can go on holiday when I like and could even travel the World taking my work with me, I can work in my PJs if I like, and I don’t have a boss telling me what to do.
However, being a freelancer has its rough times, and this can build up leading to a damaging effect on your mental health.
I thought airing some of these challenges (all of which I have gone through) out could help others either freelancing or thinking of going freelance to prepare, or feel they are not alone.
Going It Alone. It’s a big change going from a bustling office, team, or banter-filled university to going it alone. The isolation is hard and at times deafening, and although you may love working on your own; you often want someone else's opinion or even just a chat about the latest Game of Thrones episode.
My solution to this was to join online groups and forums for my industry and for freelancers, there’s a lot out there so you may have to try a few to find the right fit. When you do find the one you like, join in community chats and fun, these can also be a great way to make business connections and gain work. My current favourite is the Being Freelance Community.
Networking events are also a great resource for making new freelance friends and gaining support. In the beginning, I would look for small local events to build your confidence, and then move onto larger conferences or networking groups.
I have also begun working from a coworking space each week, this gives me an escape from working at my home office(dining room corner) and also the chance to chat and network with other freelancers. It's a very supportive community and worth attending in your area if it's only for a few hours per month. Sometimes a change of scenery is a great positivity and productivity boost
Financial Security. In Freelancing there’s no reliable payslip at the end of the month, and you’re in charge of all those pesky things such as sick pay and pensions. Sometimes even the best of clients can be flaky on payments and it does not take a lot to put you under pressure, leading to sleepless nights and anxiety.
If you’re not yet a freelancer and thinking of going for it, I’d suggest building up a fund of 3 months worth of living expenses before you make the break(oh I wish I’d done this) meaning a missed invoice payment, the sudden end of a contract or sickness doesn’t lead to financial pressure straight away and giving you breathing space.
For those already freelance keeping your cash flow at it’s best can be hard work but not having to worry about gives you more mental capacity to work. You can find lots of free advice online, ask in your online or networking groups, HMRC site has a lot of information and normally accountants are worth their weight in gold for helping through organising your finances. Money is not a dirty word, and as you’re in charge of making your own now, understanding it the best you can fill you with more confidence and less anxiety.
Time Keeping and Structure. Although having the ability to set your own hours and work when you like seems amazing, it can also lead to stress- no really!
Without someone setting out your workday you can quickly become unorganised and flit from one project to another. Freelancers are prone to procrastination which can lead to self-doubt and blame, leading to mental anxiety, which in turn leads to more procrastination.
This can quickly cycle into missing deadlines or not accepting work, and depression about not succeeding. Here’s a big tip, get out your PJs, just because you can work in them it doesn’t mean you should.
Make sure you set out your working day(there are lots of productivity tips online and different planners available), and have a structure about when you work and when you sleep. Make sure you're getting enough to make sure you're at peak health.
Working on your mindset is very important to success as a Freelancer, just as you need to set out your working day, you also need to set out your free time and make sure you are giving your mind a body time to rest and be their best. Whether it's walking the dog, going swimming, yoga or learning a new skill; the time away from your desk is just as important to strengthen your mental health and capacity to grow as a business.
Asking For Help. There’ll be times you’ll feel flat or have a wobble, where you think you've made a horrible mistake or have an issue with a client and don’t see a solution. Don’t let this fester in your mind, ask for help, and be willing to receive it.
There’s an amazing book by Amanda Palmer called The Art of Asking, and this quote really brought home to me how we as a community should care for each other.
“Asking for help with shame says:
You have the power over me.
Asking with condescension says:
I have the power over you.
But asking for help with gratitude says:
We have the power to help each other.”
Asking for help is the biggest barrier we have for seeking professional care if your mental health feels more fragile or even at times broken completely.
The Mind page has all the resources you need to take you to the right people, please be kind to yourself and just ask.