Freelancing has undoubtedly become one of the most desirable ways to work in recent times. The idea of foregoing the traditional 9-5 job in favour of selling your skills to clients from home – or virtually anywhere else in the world – has proven to be a helpful and conducive system for a lot of people, and the success stories from a number of freelancers have convinced other people to make the jump from working within the confines of an office to earning a living from the comfort of their homes.
Before I started working freelance, I’d prepared myself by reading numerous articles on everything that would help me succeed in my new career, including guides on crafting the perfect pitch, spreadsheet samples to help me keep track of all the projects I’m working on every month without losing my mind, and tips on how to keep working, undeterred by rejection emails and delayed payments. It all looked simple; I loved to write, and I was convinced my passion for writing would keep me going even when freelancing got difficult.
Sure enough, it helped that I loved what I did, but nothing prepared me for how overwhelming it could all be for someone new to the business. How difficult it was to handle a rejection email for a pitch that I’d carefully worked on, without feeling like a failure. How much patience I needed to have when my payments were delayed and I had bills to pay. How much determination was required to keep pitching on those months when I hardly got any responses, and how much organization I needed on those months when I was working nonstop. Some days were tougher than others, and on several occasions I found myself weighed down by bouts of anxiety, longing for the predictability of a 9-5.
Getting into the business of freelancing involves a great deal of patience and discipline. I had a bit of both, but the first year of my career gave me a lot of anxiety as it felt lonely and isolating, it lacked the structure of a regular job, and I could not stop questioning why I was not earning as much as the freelance gods promised I would earn if I worked hard. I know now that many new freelancers feel the same way, and even though it often gets better with time, the first year of working freelance tends to be the toughest for a lot of people.
A recent survey shows the immensity of the impact of freelance work on a person’s mental health. Conducted by Viking – one of the largest suppliers of office stationery globally – it was revealed that out of 750 UK-based freelancers surveyed, 55 percent said that they have suffered depression or anxiety resulting from their career, 64 percent expressed that going freelance made them feel lonely on a daily basis, and 62 percent disclosed that they feel stressed as a result of their work. The nature of freelancing entails that most of the time, freelancers can only earn money based on the number of clients that they are able to get within a given period, and people often forget to put their mental health first while caught up in the search for clients who pay well. However, there is no doubt that taking care of your mind and body plays a big role in your ability to be productive, especially as a freelancer.
Even after four years of freelancing, I still have days where I spend time mulling over unanswered emails and feeling overwhelmed by the uncertainties involved in the business, but I also discovered a few ways to deal with the anxiety that used to affect my level of productivity.
The loneliness involved in freelance work is a major cause of anxiety, and the best way to combat this is by connecting with other freelancers, or by joining a freelance community. Embrace any opportunity to meet up with other freelancers and share ideas. By getting involved in online communities for freelancers, I also found support and encouragement from other people who had gone through (or were going through) similar issues as I was in the gig economy. According to a piece from Forbes Magazine, connecting and collaborating with other freelancers not only keeps the loneliness at bay, it also helps you build your brand and create a niche for yourself.
Apart from connecting with other freelancers, it also helps to communicate with family and friends, and to let them know when you’re having a hard time. Building a strong support system that’s made up of people you can turn to when you feel anxious or overwhelmed, can help you deal with those negative feelings and become more productive in your freelance career.
It’s also important to take recognize the signs of burnout, and take regular breaks when you can. Going on a holiday helps you reset and takes your mind off the pressure of the job, but the truth is that many freelancers cannot afford to pack a bag and book a trip somewhere whenever the stress kicks in, and they just can’t take it anymore. Taking a break does not necessarily mean spending on a vacation, it could also mean taking time off work when anxiety kicks in to go on a long walk, or give in to the urge to indulge in a few hours of Netflix.
Freelance work often comes with its fair share of unpredictability, but the flexible working hours it promises – as well as the chance to be your own boss – are among the benefits of the business that are too good to pass up. However, it is essential for freelancers to prioritize their mental health and immediately address issues like anxiety, burnout or depression. With this, you can enjoy a fulfilling, productive and sustainable career.
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