Recently, I was talking with a woman who works as a freelance graphic designer. At the same time, she is finishing her studies. As a fellow freelancer, I was excited to hear more about her daily routine and some working tricks. But she told me that the freelancing thing is temporary, and when I asked why, because she’s so young and already has a decent experience in her niche, she admitted that it’s too lonely for her.
And it’s not only her, many freelancers face the same issue of isolation and lack of social interactions. Some of them fight loneliness by working in coworking spaces, and others just transition to full-time in-house employees. Neither of these is somehow wrong, but as a more significant part of today’s workforce is transitioning to freelance, it’s necessary to see a bigger picture.
There haven’t been many studies done to indicate how working freelance impacts your mental and physical health. But the recent Epson research shows that 48% of UK’s freelancers find it lonely to work this way, and even a quarter admits experiencing periods of depression. Feelings of isolation and loneliness not only lead to depression but can also increase your susceptibility to suicidal thoughts and actions. We should look for ways to ensure better wellbeing for self-employed professionals, but you, as a freelancer, should take the lead in taking care of your own wellness.
Of course, I’m not the one to lecture fellow freelancers on how they should take care of themselves, because I’m still learning myself. However, I believe that if we talk about this more often, we could help to see the immensity of the problem. It’s difficult to spot when you need changes in your working environment, not to mention to ask for help.
As for myself, I find freelancing working out for me. I’ve never been as productive and successful as I am now, so I want to share a few ideas that help me to stay sane when working as a freelancer.
Take Care of Your Mental Health
You need to be mindful of the way you feel. Often, signs of depression are hard to spot, for instance, you might experience loss in appetite or the opposite — you eat more frequently and in larger portions. Another common sign is insomnia, especially if you don’t have a set work schedule. Without a strict routine, you risk falling into the trap of sleeping in and working at night.
Although everyone’s different and your schedule is up to you, I find mornings and early afternoons to be my most productive time. Then in the evening, I have more time to do sports, hang out with friends, or do something I enjoy. Of course, if you’re a committed night owl, it might be complicated to transition to a new schedule, but it’s not only better for your sleeping cycle. When you work during regular business hours, you are more available for your clients (if they’re in the same time zone), and you have evenings to spend with people or engage in your hobbies.
Mental health is also directly linked to your physical health. Personally, I’ve noticed that freelance job is not the best for my body, because most of the time I sit, and most likely not in the best position. There was a period in my life when all I did was work, I barely had a social life and exercise time, so I started experiencing stomachaches, even though I ate pretty healthy. My hair began to fall, and overall I started feeling weak and unable to perform as efficiently. I thought something was wrong with my health, but as soon as I changed my routine, these symptoms disappeared.
Freelancing gives you the luxury to use your time the way you want, so instead of staring at the screen after you reply to the last email, go for a walk or run. You might be surprised by the positive effect on your mental wellbeing and performance.
I am an introvert, maybe that’s why freelancing really fits my lifestyle. The thing is that I can’t work in cafes or other noisy places, because my efficiency drops and I can’t concentrate. So, most of the time, I work at home or a local library. I don’t get to communicate a lot during working hours, but I try to be as social as possible in my free time.
Again, it wouldn’t be possible if I went to sleep at 2 am and woke up at 11 pm because no one would meet up with me. But when I start working early and finish early, I have plenty of time to do something for myself, such as go for a run, read a book, write my journal, or watch a movie, and then meet with friends for a beer or two. For me, as an introvert, it’s plenty of socialization, but I know many freelancers who can’t work at home because they get distracted with naps, shows, and other stuff.
So, when you find the place where you feel the most productive, try finding ways to be around people. Even if you don’t meet with friends or family every day, you can still find ways to be social. You can work in coworking spaces or cafes. You can hit two birds with one stone by signing to a yoga or pilates class (any group sport). Then you don’t only have to be around people, but you also increase your wellbeing and health.
Use the Benefits of Freelancing
When people find out I’m a freelancer, they start daydreaming about it as something magical. They imagine that freelancers work whenever they want from sunny Thailand beaches. They dream about the freedom to choose your clients and be your own boss. Yet it’s rarely the case. Many self-employed professionals fall short when it comes to pursuing the benefits of freelancing. They choose every client they can find and work longer than they would in the office.
You can’t afford to travel because money is not that good, and there’s no time because you’re catching every gig out there. Of course, in the beginning, you can’t expect more, but eventually, it should change. When I started out, I was panicking almost every day, whether I’ll be able to deliver finished tasks or meet the ends by the end of the month. Now, I have long-term clients and a stable income, and I only work with clients that I like working with, and only if we bring mutual benefits to the table. I also live in sunny Tenerife and enjoy my life to the fullest, but only because I found ways to use the benefits of freelancing.
Yet these benefits, as everything in life, come at a price. You can’t just work a few hours a day and then go on vacation for two weeks. You have to be reliable and devoted, so your clients would build trust in you. You also have to continually improve your brand and look for ways to grow as a professional, not only to earn money. Only then you can make enough to travel, to do what you love, and excel in your field.
Freelancing is definitely not a bed of roses. Although it sounds like the best way to work, it’s not for everyone. And if you don’t take it seriously, you can easily fall behind and get ill. If you noticed that you haven’t talked with others besides your cat in weeks, perhaps it’s time to ditch joking about freelance lifestyle and take control over your health. Only a healthy body and a healthy mind can bring results and make you enjoy your freelance career.
Originally posted on Medium: https://medium.com/@eglrakauskait_32617/staying-sane-when-working-as-a-freelancer-9041f3e0af4