Looking after your mental health in the freelance field
Look up the hashtag “freelance life” and you’ll no doubt be bombarded with arty photos of coffee and fancy notebooks. There’s an element of truth to it – although a black Americano and my battered Wilko jotter pad would definitely need a filter – but not every day is like that.
In fact, most of the time, you’re in an office. I know, crazy isn’t it? Freelance is supposed to be about working from anywhere and choosing your own hours. Again, there’s an element of truth but a lot of the time you’re at the mercy of the client, albeit on a cracking day rate, but at their mercy nonetheless.
So, you’ve got the general confines of the office and the 9 to 5, only with the bonus of no compulsory team building or enduing the “forced fun” of Christmas parties – but, what do you do when you have a mental health problem? You’re a contractor so there’s not necessarily an HR rep to turn to. You’re in and out of an office, making it hard to get to know new people, particularly to talk to them about mental health. You don’t get sick pay or holiday pay so it can have a huge impact on your financial stability to take the day off. What do you do?
I’ve worked in places with fantastic support for mental health and some with none, so I’ve learnt a thing or two about coping in different environments. I can only speak from personal experience but hopefully there’s inspiration here for my fellow freelancers.
Most importantly, be realistic with your workload
You’re only one person and it’s so important to understand how much your brain and body are capable of taking on. Nobody wants to turn down work, but if there’s one mantra ingrained in my mind it’s; “I’ve got work before and I’ll get work again”.
Unless things have been really quiet, it’s unlikely taking a couple of days to give yourself a bit of head space is going result in a financial disaster. If things have been quiet, now is the time to get on the phone to the recruitment agencies, ensure your LinkedIn profile is up to date, send speculative emails.
Taking proactive steps is you taking care of your business and in turn, taking care of yourself. You’ll also be amazed at what half an hour of talking yourself up to others can do for the mind!
Don’t be afraid to switch up your surroundings
No good employer will have an issue with you needing some flexibility. If you’re required for meetings or briefings, take some time afterwards to go into a different space to crack on with your project. If you know what you need to do and just want to get your head down, don’t be afraid to ask to work from home.
Equally, if you usually work from home (and have begun initiating full-blown conversations with the dog!) and fancy a change of scenery in an office, I’m sure many clients would welcome you with open arms. Good employers offer a degree of flexibility to their staff and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be afforded the same courtesy. Embrace what works for you.
Speak to someone… other freelancers are a big help!
Of course, speak to anyone you feel comfortable with – a friend, therapist, aforementioned dog – but there’s nothing quite like that sympathetic nod that means “I get what you’re saying.” If there’s anyone who can understand the pitfalls of tax returns or tricky clients, and who may be free for lunch on a Tuesday, it’s a fellow freelancer. Get to know others, whether that’s through clients, mutual friends or networking events. Find people that at least understand the base of where you’re coming from. Once you start talking, you’ll likely be surprised at how many others have had some experience of what you’re dealing with.
However you choose to tackle it, you don’t have to deal with it by yourself.
There’s a lot of relaxation resources online (freelancers on Instagram are one of the most supportive communities I know), meditation apps and, most importantly, people around you who would hate the thought of you struggling in silence.
So, remember to breathe deeply, be kind to yourself and don’t be afraid to put your health first - whatever job you do and wherever you choose to work.