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Freelancing And Mental Health - The Impact Of Uncertainty And How To Cope

If you are contemplating embarking on a solo career or have been navigating it for a while, it's essential to be mindful of some of the downsides associated with managing your schedule. Balancing freelancing and mental health becomes crucial in this scenario, as the newfound independence brings both opportunities and challenges.

Kenzo Norman
Jan 08, 2024893 Shares17503 Views
For many freelancers and remote workers, escaping the commute, ditching the cubicle, and embracing a newfound sense of autonomy has indeed been an overwhelmingly positive change. If you are contemplating embarking on a solo career or have been navigating it for a while, it's essential to be mindful of some of the downsides associated with managing your schedule.
Balancing freelancing and mental healthbecomes crucial in this scenario, as the newfound independence brings both opportunities and challenges. The need to handle multiple projects and meet deadlines independently can impact your well-being, making it essential to prioritize mental health in the pursuit of a successful solo career.

What Is Mental Health?

Mental health encompasses emotional, psychological, and social well-being, reflecting an individual's overall wellness. The evaluation of one's mental health often centers on one's adaptive coping mechanisms in the face of daily stressors.
A robust mental health foundation empowers individuals to leverage their capabilities, maintain productivity, make informed decisions, and actively contribute to their communities.
It's crucial to distinguish between poor mental health and mental illness. Contrary to common misconceptions, mental health pertains to an individual's general mental well-being, irrespective of whether they have a diagnosed psychiatric condition.

History Of Mental Health

The establishment of mental health as a distinct field of study occurred in 1946 during the International Health Conference, as documented in a paper from the World Psychiatry journal. This pivotal event also marked the founding of the World Health Organization (WHO), which, according to its constitution, recognized mental "well-being" as an integral component of overall health, extending beyond the absence of psychiatric illness.
In 1908, the United States saw the formation of a mental hygiene movement aimed at advocating for a more humane treatment of individuals deemed "mentally sick" or those with psychiatric conditions. Historically, such individuals have faced abuse, neglect, and inadequate care.
Despite the lingering stigma surrounding mental illness, there is a growing acknowledgment of the importance of seeking treatment, such as psychotherapy, for the maintenance of mental well-being, regardless of whether a person has a diagnosed mental illness.
Furthermore, a wealth of research highlights the positive correlation between mental health and an enhanced quality of life. This connection manifests in improved productivity, stronger social connections, higher educational achievements, and healthier relationships.

Types Of Mental Health

Experts identify various types of mental illnesses or disorders, with the most prevalent ones encompassing:
  • Mood disorders -These involve persistent sadness or oscillations between extreme happiness and profound sadness. Included in this category are depression, cyclothymic disorder, and bipolar disorder.
  • Anxiety disorders- These are conditions where a person reacts inappropriately or disruptively to particular objects or situations, frequently exhibiting fear, a rapid heartbeat, and sweating.
  • Psychotic disorders -Psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia, are characterized by distorted thinking and awareness.
  • Eating disorders -Characterized by extreme behaviors, emotions, and attitudes toward food and weight, examples include anorexia and binge eating disorders.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) -Individuals with OCD grapple with persistent thoughts or fears compelling them to perform specific routines or rituals.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) -Emerging after a traumatic event, PTSD involves enduring and distressing memories and thoughts related to the incident.
  • Addiction and impulse control disorders -People with these disorders struggle to resist impulses and urges to engage in harmful acts, such as kleptomania, pyromania, or compulsive gambling.
  • Paranoid personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, and histrionic personality disorder are a few examples of personality disorders, which are characterized by extreme and rigid patterns of thinking and behavior.
There are also less common mental health challenges, including stress response syndromes (symptoms triggered by stressful situations), dissociative disorders (severe changes in memory, identity, and awareness), and somatic symptom disorders (physical symptoms of pain or illness, possibly with or without a medical cause).
A woman sitting in front of her laptop looking tired
A woman sitting in front of her laptop looking tired

Mental Health And Freelancing

A significant number of freelancers indicate that transitioning to self-employment brought about a generally positive change in their lives, but with a noteworthy exception: younger individuals were more likely to perceive the shift negatively, with 16% expressing this sentiment compared to 5% among those over the age of 32.
Unfortunately, many people find that the reality of freelancing is often more difficult than they had anticipated. Financial concerns play a substantial role, but the complexities go beyond mere economic worries.
To gain a comprehensive understanding of the mental health dynamics within the freelancing and self-employed communities, let's delve deeper. By doing so, we aim to unravel the intricacies of these challenges, dispel stigmas, and identify avenues for proper care.

Reason Freelancers Have Mental Health Issues

Numerous challenges confront small business owners and freelancers, stemming from the blurred boundaries between work and home life, irregular income streams, and the inherent difficulties in securing new employment opportunities. External factors, such as the recent pandemic, intensify these challenges, leading to reported drops in productivity and the onset of mental health issues like anxiety, depression, and insomnia.
As a freelancer, you wield full control over your time, showcasing qualities of resilience, hard work, and a deep understanding of your strengths. Yet, the persistent presence of looming deadlines and diverse client requirements that encroach on your personal life necessitates a closer examination of the impact on your mental well-being.
Feelings of isolation and loneliness, particularly when working remotely, make stress, anxiety, depression, and burnout common ailments among freelancers. While independence is cherished, it demands self-motivation, client acquisition, continuous skill acquisition, and adaptation to a dynamic market. Struggling to find an optimal work-life balance is a common consequence of these challenges.

How To Recognize Mental Health Problems

Here are some indicators to be mindful of if you suspect you might be grappling with mental health issues:
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities -If you find yourself disinterested or unable to derive pleasure from activities you once loved, whether it's your work or other pursuits, it could be a potential red flag prompting a closer examination of your mental health.
  • Social isolation -If you're intentionally distancing yourself from fellow freelancers, friends, or family, it could be an early sign of conditions like depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which tends to be more prominent in the fall and winter seasons.
  • Emotional shutdown and unusual behavior - Mood disorders may impact your communication style and lead to unexpected reactions or behaviors. If you notice yourself shutting down emotionally or acting out in ways that seem out of character, it's essential to consider the potential influence of mental health issues.
A studyidentified specific symptoms associated with mental health stressors, including:
  • Sleep disturbances -Changes such as reduced sleep duration, difficulty waking up, or a decline in overall sleep quality.
  • Inability to relax -Difficulty disconnecting or finding enjoyment in activities, coupled with persistent thoughts about work.
  • Presenteeism -Consistently working despite feeling unwell, accompanied by a reluctance to take breaks.
  • Unhealthy habits -Observable shifts in eating patterns, such as overeating or undereating, alterations in exercise habits, and increased consumption of caffeine as potential contributors to heightened stress levels.

Preventing Mental Health Issues As A Freelancer

Many freelancers often possess a mindset that they can handle any task, driving them towards success. However, this mentality, while beneficial for achieving goals, may also have its drawbacks. To manage anxiety and depression, freelancers can adopt various strategies.

Identify The Cause Of The Stress

Experiencing stress as a freelancer often stems from a combination of factors rather than a single issue. Identifying the primary sources of concern is crucial for recognizing challenges and determining potential areas for improvement.
Common stressors in the freelance realm include:
  • Unreasonable deadlines set by clients.
  • Expanding project scopes without clear boundaries.
  • Lack of communication and timely payments from clients.
  • Delays caused by contractors not completing tasks as expected.
  • Difficulty navigating complex contracts filled with legal language.
The approach to addressing these issues will vary based on your specific freelance business, but pinpointing the root causes is a crucial first step toward finding effective solutions.

Take Back Control

Choosing freelancing likely stemmed from a desire for autonomy over your time and tasks. However, managing numerous projects, clients, and daily demands can quickly become overwhelming. Therefore, after pinpointing your stressors, the next crucial step is to assess how you allocate your time and whether adjustments are necessary.
Consider the following scenarios that might be impacting your time management:
  • Your client portfolio is excessively large.
  • Certain tasks are not receiving an adequate allocation of hours.
  • Your most productive hours are spent on less crucial activities.
Once you identify where your time is being consumed, you can strategically make changes to enhance your efficiency and regain control over your schedule.

Learn To Say No

As you progress in your career, mastering the skill of setting expectations becomes crucial, yet saying no can still be a challenge for some. It's essential to strike a balance between managing expectations and confidently declining requests. Here are some strategies:
  • Avoid accepting projects with unrealistic deadlines or emergency premiums.
  • Communicate your availability, including times when you are not accessible.
  • Inform clients about potential wait times when you're occupied with other projects.
Fear of losing clients often leads freelancers to accept jobs they may struggle to fulfill. It's important to recognize that not every client is the right fit, and it's okay to be selective.
Patience often pays off, attracting clients who truly value your work. Additionally, explore outsourcing options and develop the ability to delegate tasks, optimizing your workflow and focusing on your core strengths.
A woman-sleeping on her desk in front of her laptop
A woman-sleeping on her desk in front of her laptop

How To Take Care Of Your Mental Health

Certainly, addressing mental health in the workplace involves more than just identifying stressors, setting boundaries, and mastering the art of saying no. Let's delve into proactive measures to reinforce positive habits and explore resources for seeking additional support when needed.

Take Care Of Your Body And Mind

While you might be familiar with this advice, transitioning from understanding what your body and mind require to changing habits can be challenging. Prioritizing self-care involves ensuring you get enough rest, quality sleep, and regular exercise.
Adequate sleep is particularly crucial, as sleep deprivation is directly linked to poor mental health, leaving you irritable and more susceptible to stress. Therefore, the first and foremost step is to prioritize getting enough sleep.
It's common for anyone to crave junk food, especially after a challenging day of work. However, relying on an unhealthy diet can have long-term consequences, leaving you feeling more tired and affecting your overall well-being.
To recharge both physically and mentally, prioritize regular exercise and moments of relaxation, whether it's a short walk or a brief ride. Remember to take breaks regularly, and don't forget: You deserve a holiday as well!

Talk To Other Freelancers And Friends

Spending extended hours at home may lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness. Joining a community where you can connect with individuals facing similar challenges can be a valuable strategy. This not only reinforces the understanding that you're not alone in experiencing stress but also exposes you to proven techniques for dealing with burnout, isolation, and sadness as a freelancer.
Engaging with others, even if they follow a different work style, can have a positive impact. However, connecting with fellow independent professionals provides a particularly powerful outlet to share frustrations and seek advice. Beyond professional networks, maintaining connections with friends and family is crucial for sustaining a positive attitude toward life.

Separate Your Living Space And Workspace

Maintaining a clear distinction between your living and workspace is crucial for a freelance business. Without defined boundaries, the risk of carrying work-related stress into your private life increases.
Whenever possible, designate a specific area solely for work and restrict its use to working hours. This not only establishes a sense of consistency and order but also aids in managing stress, particularly when you step away from that designated space.
An effective alternative to working exclusively from home is exploring co-working spaces, even if only for a few hours each week. Many of these spaces offer affordable rates and additional benefits, such as networking events, meeting rooms, and private call booths.

Pick The Best Tools To Make Work Easier

For freelancers and business owners, exploring platforms and apps designed to streamline various aspects of freelance life can be immensely beneficial. Signing up for a comprehensive one-stop-shop can not only save time and money but also enhance the overall efficiency of workload management.

Talk To A Professional

There may be instances when you feel a lack of control over your mental well-being, and seeking help is a wise and commendable choice. Acknowledging mental health struggles is a common part of life, and taking mental health breaks is crucial. If you find yourself in this situation, consider reaching out to a professional for additional support.
As a freelancer, your insurance might not cover a psychiatrist, but options like chatting with a therapist or a psychiatric nurse can be more affordable. Trained counselors can provide valuable assistance in navigating challenging times and equip you with tools to thrive as a content and fulfilled freelancer.
In cases where thoughts of self-harm or harm to others arise, it's imperative to seek immediate assistance. Visit the nearest hospital, preferably one with a psychiatric emergency room, where the severity of the situation can be properly monitored and addressed.

Freelancing And Mental Health - FAQ

How Stressful Is Freelancing?

Freelancing can be rewarding, but also stressful. You have to deal with deadlines, clients, finances, and uncertainty. How can you manage your stress levels and enjoy your work? Here are some tips to help you cope with the challenges of self-employment.

How Risky Is Freelancing?

Now, freelancing is very much a risk/help business, meaning people on both sides are taking a risk to help one another. The freelancer may take on a job they later find out they are incapable of completing, thus tarnishing their reputation, losing valuable time, and walking away without payment.

Is Freelancing A Stable Career?

Yes, freelancing can be a full-time career. Freelancing is suitable for either long-term or short-term projects. It's a practical approach that lets you work as much as you want, when, and how you want. Freelancing is one of the best choices today for a career.


Navigating freelancing and mental health can be challenging, especially as it's a relatively new phenomenon. While we anticipate some emotional strains, we're still learning to manage the potential overwhelm.
In moments of discomfort or unease, don't hesitate to seek help. It's a shared experience, and reaching out is a natural part of this journey.
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