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Dealing with Mental Health in Freelance Work

How to Stay Sane in the Midst of Chaos

A 2017 report by Kingston University showed a 46% increase in the number of freelancers in the UK between 2008 and 2017. According to the report, ‘Exploring the rise of self-employment in the modern economy’, there are 4.8 million freelancers that comprise 15% of the labor force contributing £125 billion to the economy.

Similarly, in the U.S., a Gallup poll on the ‘State of the American workplace’ put the number of employees working remotely at 43%. In 2016, there were 53 million freelancers in America accounting for 34% of the entire U.S. workforce and contributing $715 billion to the economy. By 2020, it is expected that 50% of the U.S. workforce will be freelancers.

The 9-5 work schedule continues to lose its prestige as more millennial and centennials are choosing self-employment, more so, freelancing. Ironically, a majority of those who turn to the gig economy as an escape from the conventional workspace, are not cognizant of the challenges that come with this freelancing among them mental health issues.

The State of Mental Health in freelancers

According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experience mental illness each year. This translates to 19.1% of the population. At the global level, anxiety and depression cost the global economy $1 trillion in lost productivity. Working by yourself can be lonely. With the absence of human interaction and a host of challenges to deal with, you could easily slip into depression.

Research from Cornell University found that remote workers are at greater risk for feeling isolated not only professionally, but also personally, compared to their in-office colleagues. In the Epson study, a notable 48% admitted that freelance and remote work is ‘lonely’, while 46% find it to be ‘isolating’. The absence of a social life can’t be overlooked with 32% saying they missed office banter while another 29% missed working in a team.

The gig economy transfers the risks of economic downturns from businesses to workers. When the economy is thriving, there’s a demand for workers hence freelance wages are reasonable. However, you may notice that you’re constantly under pressure to deliver your client’s work on time even when you’re experiencing burnout.

Conversely, when the economy slows you also feel the heat because companies won’t hire you. Like any other form of self-employment, you have to deal with insecurity, anxiety and the precarious nature of freelance work. This means you’re constantly sending out pitches to potential employers and when you’re rejected, you could end up being depressed and stressed. Not to mention the fear of having to deal with unpaid bills or dysfunctional relationships. All these will have a toll on your mental health and well-being despite the contractual flexibility.

Thus, it’s not surprising that 25% of the respondents in the Epson study claimed to have regular periods of depression, 21% linked loneliness at work to suicidal thoughts. Thus, you can’t underestimate the impact on loneliness and isolation on mental health.

How to Overcome Mental Health as a Freelancer

Striving for a work-life balance is the first step to dealing with mental health problems as a freelancer. Here’s what you can do to stay sane if you are experiencing loneliness, isolation, anxiety, depression or any other form of mental health issue. 

Join a co-working space/schedule human interaction

Joining a freelance co-working space/community helps in dealing with loneliness and isolation because you get to tap into the synergy of being around creatives while still being your own boss. Moreover, co-working spaces have a direct link to a better work-life balance because they promote a sense of community that organizes social events and drive interactions among freelancers. Ongoing research by the Harvard Business Review suggests that freelancers who combine a well-designed work environment and work experience are more likely to thrive compared to their office-based counterparts. Although there’s no measure of how much of human interaction you need, it’s imperative to have some. The fact that freelancing can be lonely and boring is reason enough to make deliberate efforts to see other human beings and interact with them. Make an effort to regularly catch up with friends and family over lunch or coffee.

Structure your day

Your security and stability as a freelancer depend on having a structured work environment. Without a structure, you’ll lose focus. Although being spontaneous can be fun, having a structure eliminates anxiety. Moreover, you’re able to make the most of the hours when your productivity is at its peak while being able to balance with your social life like taking breaks in between work, catching a movie, exercising and even socializing. When you don’t have a structure, there will be a thin line in your work-life balance most of the time resulting in burnout. A structure will compel you to be intentional by keeping track of your work, payments so that you know when to stop to take care of yourself.

Set clear boundaries with your clients

Make a point of managing your clients’ expectations by communicating clearly and matching them with your actions. For instance, if you will not respond to emails or answer phone calls past your work hours. Learn to say no so that you don’t overpromise and under deliver eventually leading to anxiety  This way they will know what to expect from you without pilling unnecessary pressure. Ultimately, you can be able to comfortably unplug and have some time for yourself.

Get enough sleep

Your circadian system determines your overall wellness. There’s a link between sleep deprivation and mental issues. Research shows that failure to get adequate sleep results in enhanced brain activity particularly within the emotion generating part thus could make anxiety peak. Thus, you must get adequate sleep to keep off stress and improve your health. Experts recommend at least seven to nine hours of sleep for better productivity. Although some people rarely get more than four hours of sleep, they’re probably not healthy so don’t be fooled.

Learn how to manage rejection

It’s not every day that potential clients will accept your pitch. Even worse, rejection may come at a time when you’re going through some kind of drought and you don’t even know how you will pay your upcoming bills. Well, don’t beat yourself and drown in negative thoughts and feelings. Instead, ride on the wave of pessimism and move forward, keep on pitching until something comes through. Remind yourself that there are so many other freelancers like yourself sending out pitches probably to the same clients.

Invest in self-care

You’re the only version of yourself. Yet the demanding nature of freelance work can leave you with no time for yourself. The anxiety that comes with managing your business doesn’t make it any better. It is important to invest time and resources to take care of yourself taking into account your role as a key driver of your business. This could be anything from eating right, taking medical check-ups, going to the spa or going on vacation. Remind yourself that self-care is not luxury but a necessity.

When to Seek Professional Help

If all else doesn’t work for you, consider seeking professional help. Seeing a counselor or therapist goes a long way in restoring equilibrium. While this may be embarrassing, your mental health is far much more important than the work that is bogging you down. Seeing a counselor is a great move because they will help you identify insecurities that are the root cause of your mental health issues and help put the chaos you’re experiencing into perspective.

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