Freelancers: How to avoid reaching burn-out before we start looking after our mental health
A recent report from Epsom UK showed that almost half of UK based freelancers admitted to finding it ‘lonely’ and found it ‘isolating’. The absence of an office social life was important, a third of respondents said they missed office banter and missed being part of a team.
There is a heightened awareness of the importance of good mental health at the moment. Some people who go down the freelancing route do so in order to better manage a mental health condition.
Although it’s true that freelancing and being self-employed can give you back control over your working day, it is also true that as we are running our own gig, many of us work harder and longer than ever before. Switching off can be a real struggle!
I’ve shared my own experiences with maintaining good mental health in the past through the Upfill. In this post I talk through practical things that freelancers like us can try to help look after ourselves.
1. Create a clearly defined working area
As many of us work from home, try to create a workspace that is clearly just for that. Even if you normally work at the kitchen table, set yourself up a “space” that is always the same. You can associate that space with work.
Stationery fan like me? Decorate it with some motivational frames, some great notebooks and maybe a plant, for grounding. Set it up the same way every time you want to work and to clear it away after so that the space goes back to being a “home” area.
If you are lucky enough to have an office or desk, fab. Again, get it set up in a way that is appealing and calm and take the time to clear the decks every time you are finished a work session.
I find that when I work at home for more than a few days at a time, I need to change scenery. I will de-camp to a local café or co-working space but even then I set myself up as “working” so that in my head that is my focus time. Sometimes a change of scene can help alleviate the feeling of isolation or loneliness which can encroach on our mental health – remember the local courier is not really your friend!
2. Working 9-5 isn’t so bad
On a similar vein, whilst being self-employed gives more work-life balance in theory, it can be so easy to fall into the trap of working for even longer hours with no breaks. However passionate you are about your business, it is essential to take breaks, whether that is 5-minute breaks throughout the working day or ensuring that we switch off at the end of the day. Our brains need time away from work to replenish and refresh so try some of these strategies and see if it helps reduce anxiety and stress.
- If you are a parent, then depending on your childcare arrangements, set work hours that you communicate to both yourself and your clients. If your working hours are 9.30-2.30 then stick to those and refrain from answering emails or DMs outside of that time. If you work in the evenings or are more creative at other times of the day, then by all means use those hours, but try to build in times that you are not working or available for clients so that you can be present in other areas of your life.
- Put structures in place to commit to tasks that need to be completed on a daily basis. Once you have worked through that list, switch off for the day/evening.
- Aim for at least an hour before you go to bed where you aren’t working so that your brain can wind down properly.
- Turn off notifications when you are not working. If you were employed you would resent being always available, what has changed now? Try to limit availability and respond to queries during working hours, even if you draft replies at other times.
3. Love what you do
One of the best things to do when you feel like work is getting too much and your mental health is suffering, is to focus on your strengths, aka re-connect with your “why”. What is the best bit about running your own business? What really lights your fire? Spend some time focusing on that. If finances allow, you could investigate the possibility of outsourcing some of the elements that could be affecting your mental health, such as social media or finance.
Perhaps you wanted to work for yourself to be there for your partner / family / friends / kids. Take some time to volunteer, eat out with loved ones, catch a film or pop in at the school to support your little one. You would be surprised how refreshing it can be and the business will not collapse if you take a moment to yourself or to show those nearest to you how much you love them.
4. Reach out for a chat
Networking make you feel a bit icky? Me too. But, talking always helps, whether it be to your partner, your cat or even other freelancers.
Have a scout around for groups that might suit your personality and find your flock. There are so many different groups now, from traditional networking through to informal coffee mornings. If there is nothing that you fancy, then you could event set up your own co-working coffee morning with other freelancers that you might have met over the course of running your business.
If leaving the house is not something you are ready to contemplate, get onto social media and put the scrolling to good use. Spend ten minutes looking for businesses that look inspiring or are on -your wave-length and start connecting and engaging. Facebook groups are another great resource for support and cheerleading. My own Facebook group the Brand Un-Muddlers is a friendly community of over 150 people who are ready to support and welcome you. Come and say ‘hey’.
Join my Brand Un-Muddlers Facebook Group
I hope that you have found some of these tips useful and think that they might support you to maintain good mental health as a freelancer. I’d love to welcome you to the Brand Un-Muddlers closed Facebook group and help grow your support network.