How to Take Care of Your Mental Health as a Freelancer

Carolyne Njeri

While freelancing provides freelancers with flexible work hours, no commute time, and the freedom to choose the projects and clients that they want, it’s not all easy all the time. Feeling lonely, working too many hours, or struggling with finding consistent work and support are commonly experienced by freelancers, and these circumstances can sometimes even result in mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.

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If you’re thinking about going freelance or have been working as one for a while, you know the incredible benefits you can reap from working for yourself. As a freelancer, you are your own boss, meaning you set your schedule as you feel right, you are front and centre in negotiating your pay, you gain more experience working for many clients, among many other perks. These benefits have attracted so many people in the past few years, that some research shows that about 40% of millennials and 53% of Gen Z are working as free agents.

But working for yourself can be an isolating job. Without any co-workers, and intermittent virtual meetings with clients and collaborators, Forbes refers to freelancing as a “lonely art”. The long hours spent alone, dealing with the stress of a project, heightened by the anxiety of the pandemic can have a devastating effect on freelancers’ mental health.

Statistics about Freelancing and Mental Health

A lot of studies and surveys have been conducted on freelancers to examine the relationship between their wellbeing and their careers.

One of the surveys done by Viking was a comparative one, conducted on 750 freelancers and 750 office employees to analyse the pros and cons of working freelance and to identify the impacts it has on work-life balance and mental health. The results showed that freelancers enjoyed flexible work hours, the luxury of no commute, being their own boss and the freedom to choose the projects and clients that they wanted. 

On the flip side, the respondents also mentioned that they felt lonely from time to time, worked too many hours, had issues finding consistent work and lacked support for mental health issues. In fact, over half the respondents mentioned that they struggled with anxiety, loneliness and even depression from time to time.

Another study, conducted by Leapers on over 500 independent workers, sought to find out their work patterns and the impact that freelancing has on their mental health. 27% said that the main reason they switched to freelancing was to improve their mental health, 46% said freelancing negatively impacted their mental health while 48% said that freelancing had a positive effect- an almost half-half split. Abundantly clear however, was the impact of poor mental health on the freelancers’ ability to work- 60% cited anxiety and stress as one of the key reasons behind their low productivity.

What causes mental health issues among freelancers?

The study by Leapers also compiled the top causes of significant stress among freelancers. Here are some of them;

  • Money– 85.3 % cited irregularity of income, 64.5% mentioned that late or unpaid invoices and 51% said long payment terms caused them stress.
  • Admin tasks– 59% worry about filing taxes, 54.5% worry about their accounting while 45% worry over contractual issues.
  • Workload– 84% said feeling unproductive causes them stress, 47% are stressed by the lack of control over their schedules, while 80% suffered a significant amount of stress from periods without work.
  • Working in isolation– Surprisingly, 60% of freelancers according to this survey, don’t mind working alone. 63.8% on the other hand, mentioned that not having someone to share stresses with was stressful and 46.5% have a hard time asking for help. 
  • Client relationships– 72% are stressed by their clients going quiet, 69% suffer from high expectations from their employers and 78% are stressed by the lack of clarity of their roles from the client.

How to Keep Your Mental Health in Check Working as a Freelancer

  • Work on a schedule

From both of the studies we’ve discussed, a majority of the freelancers said that they had a hard time switching off from work, which affected their work-life balance. 

To remedy this, you should prepare and adhere to a strict schedule, and let your clients know about it when you start working together. For instance, you can decide not to pick work calls or answer emails outside your work hours, unless under special circumstances. This prevents conflict between your personal and work time. 

You can also let your client know that you may not be available to work on short notice. Some clients may give you a large workload then set unrealistic timelines. If you take on the job, the pressure will without a doubt mess with your schedule and pile unnecessary stress on you.

  • Join a community of freelancers

Sharing your freelancing woes with people who understand the dynamics of your job can be a good way to release some stress. More often than not, you’ll find other people who have experienced the same problems as you and have come up with efficient ways to deal with them. Talking to other freelancers will also make you feel less lonely, and show you that the anxieties you have are common and they should therefore not put you down.

Ureed.com has a group on Facebook where freelancers discuss issues that affect them, share their achievements and offer support to each other.

  • Practice Self-care

Our habits have a direct effect on our emotions and mental health. For instance, if you survive on fast food and coffee, you’ll probably not be in the best physical condition and as a result mental health will suffer. If you stay cooped up in your apartment without exercise or fresh air, you’re more likely to be depressed compared to someone who enjoys fresh air regularly.

For your well-being, it is crucial to take some time from your busy schedule to relax, enjoy your hobbies and spend time with your loved ones. Meeting up with your friends and family once in a while will also help you beat the isolation that comes from working alone. 

Also, don’t forget to get enough hours of sleep and drink a sufficient amount of water daily.

  • If all fails, see a professional

One of the bravest things you can do for your mental health is admit that you need professional help. If you’ve tried everything- slept enough hours, exercised, seen your friends, set boundaries with your client’s, and you still feel like something is amiss, you may need to speak to a mental health professional. Some mental issues can be addressed effectively if the person reaches out before they fester. 

If it is necessary, you may also need to take some off your career to focus on getting better.

Finally…

As we’ve seen, mental health is an issue that universally affects freelancers. However, there are many ways that stresses that arise from working for yourself can be addressed. But if the issues persist, it is important to seek the input of a mental health professional.

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