Managing mental health as a freelancer – 5 essential tips

Managing your mental health as a freelancer is easier said than done. Ryan Scollon shares his transition experience from agency to freelancer and the mental health lessons he’s learned along the way. 

“I’m sure we’ve all dreamed about being our own boss at some point. Ditching the commute and working on your laptop from a beach side bar while sipping pina coladas is an attractive thought. The rise of platforms such as Instagram paint an unrealistic picture of the freelance life, leaving many disappointed when they discover how lonely it is to work remotely.  

It was a big shock for me, too. In 2018, I moved from a small agency with a chilled and chatty environment and made the leap to becoming a freelancer. Working alone for 8-9 hours a day in my spare room was a radical change. I soon started to notice my own self-esteem dropping, even though I have always considered myself to be an upbeat and independent person. I have to admit, the one thing that kept me entertained was my new six-month-old puppy. But I wouldn’t recommend buying a puppy to solve all your problems. If anything, they create more! 

So, how do you get past the loneliness and manage your mental health as a freelancer? Here are some top mental health tips for freelancers.

Join the networking circuit

Networking is a great way to meet new people and can help your career thrive. While some people hate the idea of starting a conversation with a stranger, it’s a great skill to improve one of the most effective ways to prevent isolation.

Most of my tips for improving mental health and well-being are all about doing less work. But networking allows you to kill two birds with one stone. Not only are you socialising with the outside world, you are also potentially opening the door to new opportunities which could advance your career.

There are plenty of social media online communities that you can join to get started. They can be a great place where you can share tips and advice, job opportunities and ask questions. It’s a good idea to have a combination of both online and offline networking groups, as face-to-face interaction is super important.

Commit to regular exercise

Taking part in regular exercise is essential for a stable mental health. It’s also a great reason to get out the house. Studies show that physical activity can help people with mild depression and can also help to protect people against anxiety. It’s much easier to stay positive and motivated when you feel good about your own body. The recommendation for weekly exercise is between 75-150 minutes per week.

Also, make the most of your schedule flexibility and visit the gym in the middle of the day when it is most likely to be quiet. This is more likely to make you want to continue instead of going in the evening when every other 9-5 worker is queuing for a machine.

Take a break, not just a Kit Kat break

It might sound like a very obvious tip, but taking sufficient breaks really can help when it comes to managing your mental health. And, I don’t mean just sitting at your desk with a cup of tea and a Kit Kat. Get up and go for a walk. The idea of a break is not just to stop physically doing work, but to stop thinking about it too.

It can be very difficult for freelancers to ‘switch off’, as we are constantly thinking about things, whether it’s client work, sales or invoicing, there’s always something to stress about. So having the ability to switch over from time to time can be a great skill.

Set a realistic schedule

While it is great to be your own boss and work whenever you please, I soon started to realise that there is no official time to stop working. This can often lead to working at all sorts of ungodly hours.

To avoid burnout, make a conscious effort to set a limit of work hours for each week. If possible, I’d even suggest some sort of schedule to work by to help managing your mental health. This way you won’t have to keep track of what hours you have worked. This does not mean that you lose the flexibility of working at any time you like. At the end of the day, you are your own boss.

Implementing a schedule will also help set boundaries with clients. By setting clear boundaries with clients and letting them know of your working hours, they will no longer expect replies to emails or calls outside of those hours. It also allows you to have that well deserved time off without the guilt that you should be working.

Seek support for your mental health 

Last but certainly not least, never be afraid to professional support. Mental health is no picnic. Try speaking to close friends or family if you can. Sometimes just having someone to speak to can feel like a weight off your shoulders. There’s also plenty of professional support available such as our doctor, charities and therapists. 

The moral of my story, though…Become a dog owner. Not only do fluffy companions keep you company, they require a lot of walking which is the perfect excuse to take breaks throughout the day and keeps you fit. It’s also a great conversation starter for networking. I mean, who doesn’t like dogs?”

Featured Photo by Fabian Møller on Unsplash