We often talk about the freedom and flexibility a freelance career offers – and we stand by that. One aspect of freelancing that isn’t talked about often enough, though, is the impact an autonomous career has on our mental health. Running your own freelance business is an exciting and rewarding experience. But at times, it can also be scary, lonely and stressful. The responsibility that comes with being your own boss and managing multiple projects, along with life’s other responsibilities and stressors add up. It can all become overwhelming.
It helps to talk through challenges you’re facing. But if the people in your support system have 9-to-5 jobs, they can’t exercise the empathy necessary to help you work through it. This can result in loneliness and pent-up anxiety, leading to long-term stress and potentially depression. The good news is, you’re not alone.
People have been freelancing for decades and have gone through the cycles of joy and sadness. They’ve been in your shoes. I’ve personally experienced the highs and lows that come with being an entrepreneur and freelancer. And as a member of the CloudPeeps community, I’ve had the opportunity to connect with other freelancers who’ve made it through the lows to celebrate the highs. Here are 10 ways we’ve found helpful for fighting freelancer anxiety and depression.
1) Find your community
Talking with fellow freelancers has played a huge role in finding support and learning ways to overcome anxiety. Just knowing that other people have experienced the same emotions and struggles can go a long way. Surround yourself with people you can turn to with client and business questions. Find people who can empathize with what you’re experiencing – who’ve found healthy ways of overcoming such challenges.
Members of the CloudPeeps community share questions and stories in our Facebook and Slack groups all of the time. They support each other with resources and words of encouragement. At the risk of sounding sappy, it’s a really lovely thing to be a part of. These relationships are strengthened with in-person connections. Through Freelance Friday, we also get together in cities around the world for a day of coworking every month.
Of course, I suggest joining CloudPeeps as a freelancer and coworking, but there are other ways to find your tribe as well. Connect with people online and at events. Today, people are more accessible and approachable than ever. To start, here are 20 entrepreneurs sharing their experiences online and some meetups worth checking out. My personal favorite way to connect with people is by writing about my own experiences. You’ll be surprised how many people step up to share their own story after they’ve read yours.
2) Take breaks
I’m painfully aware that I’m a workaholic, so I know this one is easier said than done. That said, taking breaks is 100% necessary for your mental health. Unplug and unwind. Read, walk, go to show, meet a friend for coffee. If you work around the clock, you’re going to burnout. It’s science. If you start to feel guilty about your break, just remember you’re going to do your best work if you’re well rested with a clear mind.
Exercise is an incredible release for ridding of stress and anxiety. You don’t need to train for a marathon or break a personal lifting record – although that’s cool too. Start small with walks, jogs or a yoga class. The trick to making exercise work is to make it a habit. Try to do something active every day, even if it’s just a walk around the block.
Much like taking breaks, it will clear your mind and help you prioritize what needs to get done. Plus, the resulting endorphins are a pretty powerful way to reduce stress. And, you never know what ideas will come to you when you’re away from your desk, sweating it out. Some of my best ideas have come to me on a run!
4) Find a creative outlet
Your whole life doesn’t need to be focused on paid work. Let’s be real, not everything we do is glamorous or what we always want to be doing. Having a creative side project provides an outlet for doing the work you want to do. Doing something creative can also provide inspiration by allowing your brain and body to focus on something other than work. Try picking up a hobby like painting, drawing, building, writing, photography – it can be literally anything. With something else to think about, you won’t dwell on your to-do list so much and will always have something to look forward to when your work is done.
5) Focus on your one thing
Sometimes the best life or productivity hacks aren’t hacks at all. Gary Keller of Keller Williams wrote a great book called The One Thing that encourages you to ask yourself: “What’s the One Thing I can do such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”
Take an hour on the weekend to think about what your One Thing is in life. What’s the one thing you want to accomplish? Then apply Keller’s One Thing question to the one thing you can do this year that will get you closer to your ultimate One Thing. Then, the one thing you can do this month that will get you closer to that yearly goal – this week, today, this moment. By focusing on one thing at a time – the most important thing – you’ll eliminate the stress that looms around your to-do list.
One of my favorite quotes I’ve ever heard is: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” The biggest accomplishments and innovations are the result of people’s focused work over a long period of time. This Inc. article explores how today’s most successful innovators were not overnight successes. Rather, they worked hard for ten years. They applied the domino effect to life – tackling one thing at a time.
6) Keep a journal
For the purpose of eliminating or lessening stress and anxiety that comes with freelancing, try journaling your work experience. Every time you’re stressed or anxious about something work-related, write about it. Break down exactly what’s making you feel anxious. Write out the details of the problem. Allow yourself to reflect on what’s happening and any related or irrelevant stressors. You may discover that the thing you think is causing your problems really isn’t the stressor at all. Or you may spot the exact problem and how to overcome it. At the very least, you can read through your past experiences and spot any patterns and trends around what causes you the most anxiety.
7) Get rid of toxic influences and clients
Sometimes we cause our own anxiety, sometimes it’s caused by other people. Some relationships – and even some clients – simply aren’t worth the money or hassle. Phase out anyone who brings negative energy to your life. All too often, we put the blame on ourselves if something isn’t going well – if a working relationship isn’t working. When it could be that you just don’t communicate well or that the chemistry is off. If you’re having a tough time with a client, it might be time to call it quits. If you’re not sure how to know if it’s time, check out our guide to knowing if it’s time to fire a client and how to do it with tact.
8) Take advantage of the flexibility and travel
In one of my lowest points emotionally last year, I decided that it was time to get out of New York for a while. When my lease is up (next week!), I’m leveraging the flexibility my freelance career allows and traveling out west for the summer. I’m going to live in a different city each month for three months, then travel up the coast of California – all while working. It sounds kind of crazy, I know, but this trip is important to me. I need to get out of the city and enjoy nature. I need to connect with new people and gain a fresh perspective on life. Plus, if I don’t do this now – who knows if I ever will.
How am I making this crazy plan happen? Well not only does freelancing give me the flexibility to work from anywhere remotely, my fellow freelancers have supported me in a huge way. In Portland, I’m staying with a friend of fellow freelancer and Peep, Carrie. Many other Peeps and team CP have shared their travel tips and encouraged and inspired me to make it happen. All of that support combined with these hacks for inexpensive travel are making it possible. When deciding what your One Thing is in life, I suggest thinking about the role traveling and exploring can play in that and make it happen!
9) Get a mentor
Having a community of peers is important – but having a mentor is crucial. Find someone with more experience than you in your industry who you can seek advice from. Someone you can turn to when you have an issue with a client or project. Someone who will not only lend an ear, but will also give tactical advice and guide you through challenges. Make a standing monthly call or meeting with them. Let them be your accountability partner. Share your goals with them and explain how and why you have or have not accomplished them. Let them help you identify the roadblocks that are preventing you from getting what you need to get done. This alone will reduce a ton of stress.
10) Talk to a professional
Sometimes we confuse depression with stress or anxiety. If you’ve tried many of the things on this list and your feelings of sadness or anxiety aren’t improving, consider seeking the help of a professional. Therapy can do wonders. The perspective of someone who doesn’t know you personally will help you identify issues you may have never uncovered otherwise.
When it feels like the stress is getting the best of you, take a step back and reflect on why you pursued a life of freelance and entrepreneurship to begin with. What is it you’re trying to accomplish? As Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”
Life doesn’t have to always feel like work, but it’s important to remember that with the struggle comes moments of relief and reward. Keep at it and remember to talk to people about your challenges, it will help!
Have you found any tactics or tips for reducing stress and anxiety? Share them in the comments below!
Latest posts by Shannon Byrne (see all)
- How to overcome the most common challenges as a freelancer - November 8, 2016
- A freelancer’s guide to liability insurance - November 1, 2016
- How to have more fun freelancing - October 4, 2016