Freelance life: don’t be mental

With freelancing comes freedom, but sometimes loneliness. Being your own boss doesn’t come without challenges, and these can have an adverse effect on your mental health. Employers recognise psychological wellbeing in the workplace more than ever before. It’s now a big, big deal.

Hopefully, the dinosaurs that believe people with mental health conditions are actually mental, are gradually becoming extinct. With their caveman style of people management, and opinion that mental health sufferers are unemployable lunatics, and nuttier than your nan’s fruitcake, they are probably just the kind you were glad to leave behind as you embarked on life as a freelancer.

These fascinating prehistoric creatures that still inhabit some places of work, often consider mental health sufferers to be a burden, a risk, and a drain on resources. They may live in fear that an employee with a mental health condition will one day walk up to Brenda in Accounts, pour scalding hot tea over her head, force a packet of Hobnobs in her mouth, before running around the office with their trousers and pants around their ankles, shouting “Brenda made me do it, she talked me into it!”

The people of the new generation are wisening up to mental health. They realise that anyone who is fine and dandy one day could be a bereavement, job loss, relationship breakdown or illness away from the tables turning.

Employees in large organisations have the luxury of private healthcare, workshops on how to combat stress, HR departments always willing to lend an ear, and colleagues to share their feelings with over lunch. But you’ve given up being employed, so who is going to look after your mental health when you’re the employer, rather than the employee? No private healthcare, no HR department, and no one to rant to by the water cooler when you’re feeling fed up.

If you’re the type of person who needs to be around people and feel part of a team and community, then working from home can be intense. It’s just you – alone with your thoughts – and your laptop – with no one to talk to. The noise of chitter chatter usually heard in an office has been replaced with a wall of silence.

Working on-site can mean that you’re surrounded by people, but still don’t feel part of a team, the company or its culture. You’re “just the temp” who won’t be sticking around for long in many people’s eyes, so why should they bother?

We look at how to manage stress, and keep your mental health and personal wellbeing in check when freelancing throws up its challenges.

 

  • If you’re contracting on-site and are “just the temp”, you may find that your invite to the summer and Christmas parties may deliberately get lost in the post. Don’t take it to heart; a lot of companies employ a permanent staff only policy. That’s just the way it is.

 

  • You may feel that you’re treated differently to permanent members of staff, and you’re probably right. Some people may be reluctant to come over to you and introduce themselves, or even greet you with a “good morning”. Introductions and handshakes (the non-wet lettuce ones) are important – make sure you do the rounds in the early days of your contract.

 

  • But don’t submerge yourself in purely in industry related news, or books and articles on how to build a business and win clients, etc. It’s important to read up on these topics, but make sure you reach for a good biography or fiction book for escapism, and to switch off from the freelance life.

 

  • If you work from home, consider getting a pet. They are great for fighting loneliness. Even a small pussycat can be strong enough to ward off the black dog. People often need dog-sitters while they are at work or on holiday; it could even mean an extra income stream.

 

  • Whistle while you work. You’re working from home or can plug in your headphones at the office – crank up the music. Listening to a beautiful and uplifting piece of music can instantly lift your mood, motivate you, and feed your brain.

 

  • No excuses. Just do it. Productivity goes up; concentration remains balanced; stress goes down. Getting exercise out of the way during your lunch break or before work will free up your spare time so you can spend it doing something more enjoyable.

 

  • Eat and drink well.
    • A glass of water should never more than an arm’s reach away.
    •  If you find yourself reaching for a sweet snack, then raspberries and strawberries are healthier substitutes that can often satisfy that sugar craving.
    •  If junk food isn’t there, then you can’t eat it. Avoid having unhealthy snacks in your desk drawers or kitchen cupboards.
    • Hungry? Or just bored? Maybe you just need something to fiddle with or are eating for the sake of it. A great way to find out is to ask yourself: “Would I like to eat an apple?”. If the answer is yes, then you’re probably hungry, if the answer is no, then you’re probably bored or eating for the sake of it.
    • Add coloured stickers around your home office and every time you see one, think of something you are grateful for or makes you smile. Daily gratitude has proven to be effective. If you’re working on-site, a reminder in your email or phone calendar every 30 minutes is also an excellent way to do this.

 

  • Some clients you will win; some clients you will lose. Don’t beat yourself up about the ones you miss out on. You can read more about how to handle rejection and cope when business is slow here.

 

  • Don’t hide away. If you’ve spent all week working from home by yourself, or are feeling a little lonely as the on-site contractor, then mix with the people whom you love. Watch comedies to keep your spirits up. Games on a console on your phone are also great for escapism.

 

  • Switch off from your business from time to time. It’s essential to have a work shift and stick to it. Disable LinkedIn and email notifications, so you can only check your notifications by logging in. And believe it or not – you don’t need to sleep with your phone in the same room.

 

  • Practice mindfulness. It’s a form of meditation to help relieve stress and negative thinking. Mindfulness is a skill that needs practice but can change your life for the better. You can do it at your desk, on the bus, in your bed, or anywhere you wish. Little bursts of mindfulness can work wonders for stress management.

 

  • Remove toxic people and clients from your life. If they can’t pay on time, then find someone who will respect you enough to meet payment deadlines.

 

Depression and anxiety can often be invisible illnesses, but like most illnesses, they can be treated with medication, talking to a therapist and adopting changes to your lifestyle. Contact your GP if needs be. There’s no shame in it.