A lot of creative types—writers, artists, editors, et. al.—joke that being slightly “off” is part of what makes life work for us. Freelancers aren’t the people who’ve never dared to do anything: we’re brave (some would say foolhardy), organized, forward-thinking, and all that sort of thing. So it’s not surprising that into each such life and career a little uncertainty must fall.
That’s as may be, but it’s important that the uncertainty not lead to darker things. Working in isolation (as freelancers often do) isn’t exactly a recipe for perfect mental health, and part of a freelancer’s taking care of business is also taking care of his or her mental state.
With that in mind, here are a few tips to keep your brain and heart going through good times and bad:
- Embrace your stress. Understand, there’s no way that you’re getting rid of it, not in this career: that ship has sailed. So you need to learn to live with stress—and, if possible, make it work for you rather than against you. While it’s true that stress injects all sorts of noxious chemicals into your body and can contribute to illness and injury, if you’re like most people, you stand back passively and let stress have its way with you. George Lakoff talks a lot about “framing,” that is, putting experiences into a context of our choosing rather than allowing others to choose the context for us. Can you frame stress differently than you do now? Of course you can. Stress provides a whopping shot of adrenaline, which is like jet fuel for your energy level. If you have a project that you’ve been slow off the mark with, this is a great time to jump into it, with that kind of energy coursing through your body.
- Make sure you’re in the driver’s seat. Along with the shot of stress-fueled adrenaline, you need some solitary downtime—and that’s very difficult for freelancers to embrace. Time is money, after all, and if we’re not working, we should be. Or at least doing something useful like the laundry or shopping or helping with homework. We spend so much time alone when we’re working that we tend to seek out others when we’re not, which means that we never have any quality time with ourselves. One way to make sure you get that necessary downtime that doesn’t come naturally is through meditation, which balances stress and invigorates the mind and body. And guess what—there’s an app for that!
- If you don’t have one already, consider adopting a pet. One of the effects of working alone and often from home is a certain isolation. Of course you could call a friend, take a walk, watch some TV—but do you? Adopting a pet is positive in myriad ways, but in this context, it presents a grand opportunity or you to stay mentally healthy. Pets need ongoing consistent attention, so they routinely pull you out of yourself and your occasionally dark thoughts. They provide love, companionship, and often amusement. They need a schedule (and so require you to stick to one), interaction (taking you out of your own self-absorption), and care (making sure they eat sometimes helps you to remember to do it, too).
- Always have a Plan B. Worry comes from the unknown, and there are a lot of unknowns in the freelance business. You can take control of some of them by having a backup plan should something go off the tracks. You’ve scheduled the next three weeks to work with a client who suddenly cancels, plunging you into panic about scheduling, lost income, the whole shooting-match. What can you do? Always ask yourself, “what if?” What if this client falls through? What if I can’t meet that deadline? What if my computer bites the dust? You cannot be prepared for every eventuality, but thinking ahead to possible backup plans for potential disasters that may befall freelancers will make them easier to cope with.
- Do what you do best and delegate the rest. Like most freelancers, you’re probably watching every penny and don’t want to pay for something you could do yourself. Perhaps the question isn’t, “can I do this?” but rather “should I do this?” Listen: you’re a great editor. You wouldn’t be making it in the competitive freelance market if you weren’t. So why are you spending time doing things that someone else could do? Why not let a professional do your bookkeeping so you can use the time to write a blog that will help with your marketing instead?
Mental health isn’t something that falls from heaven in a Glad bag: it’s something that you have to work at and earn, every day of your life. There’s a lot of potential for isolation in a freelance career—but even more potential for a happy, fulfilling work life. Best of all, you get to choose which alternative will be the hallmark of your freelance business!