Six ways to safeguard your mental health as a freelancer

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Date: 13 February 2020

A relaxed freelancer takes notes and works remotely on her laptop in a coffee shop.

These days, thanks in large part to the increasingly advanced nature of digital technology, more and more people are switching to full-time freelancing and remote working arrangements.

For many people, the idea of being a freelancer is extremely appealing, if not outright romantic. Working from home, setting your own timetable, and freeing yourself from the arbitrary and irritating dictates of managers and supervisors can seem too good to be true.

What’s more, an increasing subset of remote workers seem to be able to turn their lives into something like a permanent adventure holiday, as they travel the world as “digital nomads,” earning a living while waking up in an exciting new locale every day.

Suffice to say, while there are many potential benefits to being a freelancer or remote worker, there are a good number of potential challenges, trials and tribulations as well. In fact, recent research has found - to the surprise of many - that a large number of freelancers report being depressed. A much larger number, in fact, than the number of normal office-based staff workers who report the same.

Bearing that in mind, it’s very important that you pay proper attention to your mental health if you are planning to embark on the life of a freelancer. Because, once you wake up on that first morning as “your own boss,” and realise that your life is now entirely your own to manage, things can get messy pretty quickly.

Here are a few tips for looking after your mental health as a freelancer.

1. Separate your work life and your personal life

The upside of working from your own home, on your own schedule, is that you have a lot of freedom to structure things exactly as you’d like. That means you can easily make room for a mid-morning nap if you like, or a hobby in the afternoon.

The downside of working from your own home, on your own schedule, is that your work and your personal life can bleed together to such an extent that you have absolutely no mechanisms in place for “clocking off” and maintaining a functional personal life.

A lack of barriers between your work and your personal life can be devastating. It can keep you in a state of near-permanent stress. It can prevent you from enjoying your life as you should. It can mean that your sleep schedules go completely out the window, as you work into the early hours.

It’s essential, in order to protect your mental health, that you create as many barriers between your work and your personal life as you can manage. That might mean investigating SIM-only deals and having separate work and personal phones. It might mean only ever working on a particular laptop, in a particular environment, and never using your “home office” for anything else.

Perhaps most importantly, it’s essential that you schedule your workday, and try to stick to a consistent and regular routine. Decide which hours you will work, and have a set time each day by which you will wrap up work each day, power off your computer, and do other things.

2. Get out of the house regularly

If you’re feeling burned out at your current job, and love the idea of being able to avoid having to see or speak to other people for days at a stretch, you should realise that loneliness and social isolation are very real and common issues that affect many freelancers.

While it can certainly be nice to be by yourself from time to time, even the most introverted of people will need some degree of interaction with other people in order to maintain good mental health.

There’s no getting around it: as a freelancer you need to make it a real priority to get out of the house on a regular basis, and to interact with other people.

That might mean working at a co-working space for several days each week. It might mean forcing yourself out of the home every weekend to socialise with other people, or to at least do things in public. It might mean joining clubs and classes that interest you, that can get you out of your house and keep you busy throughout the week.

However you do it, plan and structure your life so that you have regular social outlets. Don’t become a hermit.

3. Take your nutrition and health seriously

Even today, in a time where proper nutrition is more widely understood and available than ever before in history, research consistently finds that a huge number - sometimes a huge majority - of people are still deficient in essential vitamins and minerals such as vitamin D and vitamin B12.

These deficiencies aren’t minor - they have been linked with significantly decreased cognitive function, chronic fatigue, and many other serious conditions.

When you are a freelancer, the odds are generally higher that you will neglect your nutrition and health, in one way or another. That’s because, when you are just at home by yourself, it’s very easy to justify skipping meals, eating junk food, staying up all night, and indulging in all sorts of other negative habits.

Your mental health, your physical health, your energy levels, and your ability to be productive and effective at your job will all be massively diminished if you don’t take your nutrition and health seriously. So be sure to prioritise these things, particularly if you are a new freelancer.

4. Keep an organised home and workspace

One thing that offices tend to have going for them is that they are generally neat, tidy, and organised. Even better; you, as a member of the office team, probably aren’t expected to do that tidying and organising yourself.

When you’re working from home, though, the state of your home office is entirely down to you. And it’s likely that no one is going to judge you or tell you off for having a totally topsy-turvy home office environment.

Keeping a tidy and well-organised home office and workspace isn’t something that you should be complacent about, though. When your home office environment is totally chaotic and messy, you can be sure that your thoughts will likewise be “cluttered,” your stress levels will rise, and you will have the uneasy sensation of being out of control.

Impose order and structure on your environment. It’s critically important for remaining positive, balanced and productive.

5. Take pride in your personal appearance

One thing that happens very often with new freelancers and entrepreneurs who are just easing themselves into the “work from home” lifestyle is that they wake up on the first day of their new lives, stumble out of bed around noon, and eventually settle down to do their work wearing their pyjamas or tracksuit.

Initially, this might feel awesome. “I can’t believe I get to be this comfortable while earning a living!” Quickly, though, this lax approach to personal grooming begins to take its toll.

The clothes you wear, and the way you present yourself, don’t just signal things about you to the people you interact with in the outside world. They also signal things about you to yourself.

When you are wearing your pyjamas all day, your hair is a mess, and you maybe haven’t showered as recently as you should have, you will automatically begin to think less of yourself, and to feel worse about yourself.

This is potentially devastating for mental health, and it’s noteworthy that one of the key signs of depression is that depressed people tend to neglect their personal grooming and presentation. It’s also potentially devastating for your actual ability to be effective at your job. How seriously will you be able to take yourself as a professional if you’re wearing novelty T-shirts while handling a big project?

6. Don’t be afraid to rethink

Balance is always essential in life, and it’s often an issue for entrepreneurs. With your work taking place in your home, your working hours being more fluid, and no employer-provided perks and incentives to take advantage of, you can easily end up becoming a lot less well-balanced than you were before.

Be sure to have hobbies and side projects that you find genuinely interesting when working as a freelancer. Give them the time and attention they deserve. Finally, if you ultimately come to find your work unfulfilling, don’t be afraid to begin retraining.

While you shouldn’t give up at the first obstacle, you’re under no obligation to do the same job forever just because you started off down that path initially.

Copyright 2020. Article was made possible by site supporter Jeremy Bowler

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