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Looking After Your Mental Health As A Freelancer

Since the beginning of the millennium, momentum has rapidly been building on the role mental health plays in our work. Employers are responsible for their staffs mental well being when at work, thanks to the pandemic this now extends to whilst we work from home. 

2.2 Million Brits now work freelance/are self-employed, meaning that they are responsible for their mental well being. This can be challenging at the best of times, made even more difficult whilst in the grips of a pandemic. In the last year, the number of self-employed people saying they have ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ mental health has increased from 6% to 26% since the beginning of the pandemic (a 300% rise), according to the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE).  

The number saying they had ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ mental health has also dropped since the beginning of the pandemic – from two-thirds (68%) to just over a third (39%). This was most severe among women (a drop of 54%) and young freelancers aged 16-34 (a drop of 49%). (IPSE)

When individuals work as a freelancer they are their own boss, in charge of their performance, work schedule, capacity and most importantly in charge of their mental well being. It is often easy to prioritise many of those tasks above looking after your mental health. 

According to a mental health study carried out by Leapers (2021), the most common causes for mental health issues are:

  • 86% citing irregular income
  • 80% state that clients never give the correct brief or clarity on a project.
  • 77% cite they lack the talent to complete a job
  • 71% say that clients’ ghost’ them (client stops communicating or delays projects).
  • 69% state long hours
  • 66% complain that they feel alone and have nobody to share their stresses with.

The survey also touches on the important role burnout can have on your mental health. Most freelancers feel the pressure often of not knowing where the next job will come from. When speaking with some of our freelancers it is clear how hard they work, moving from one job to the next in quick succession. You must manage your work/life balance effectively, this may be difficult during a pandemic as the media industry has fluctuated heavily. However, we are beginning to see this stabilise and now is the best time to check in with yourself. 

When anyone begins the journey to becoming a freelancer or setting up their own business, a huge amount of pressure is felt to ensure you build a consistent and reliable client base. This is where the work/life balance struggle begins, often it is difficult to switch off from work, you are solely responsible for managing your finances, correspondences and workload.  

Managing Your Mental Health Whilst Freelancing

Establishing a good work/life balance is the best way to manage your mental health, as well as setting boundaries with clients. Whilst it is vital that an individual ensures their business work financially, it needs to work for them on a personal level. There is no point in working every hour of the day if the job is leading you to become ill.

There are steps that could be taken to try and alleviate some of this stress:

Financial Resilience:

First of all, assess your finances. Look at where you could be saving, establish which software you need to have and what could be cut back on, renting an office space, look for cheaper alternatives. Explore the most efficient way you can be bringing in money, this may be having multiple smaller clients rather than relying on one larger client.

Your finances are often intertwined with mental health, worries over money can lead to high levels of anxiety, no one enjoys not knowing whether they will be able to pay their bills. If planning your finances is something you don’t feel comfortable with – seek help. A financial advisor will establish a plan that you can stick to, meaning you can take that much needed time off. This will help you to know what situation you’re really in. It might not be as awful as you first thought and you may be able to start making positive changes.

Healthy Habits:

Boundaries are incredibly hard to have in place when you work from home. Building in some routine can be helpful when trying to draw a line between work and rest. Try taking some of the following steps: 

  • Start by giving yourself a “working day” where you allocate times to work, say 9am – 5pm and make sure you shut your laptop down at the end of your ‘working day’.
  • Give yourself a break. If you’re struggling with a project that is fine, in an office people are able to bounce off one another. Consider reaching out to your network, this could alleviate a block or help with feelings of isolation. 
  • Take a little break regularly, it is healthy to take a step back from the screen, have a stroll a snack or stretch.
  • Get out of the house as often as you can, explore the option of looking at using a rented space such as WeWork for a couple of days of the week.
  • If you don’t have an office, and you work in your room perhaps (like many living in a city), ensure you pack away at the end of the day. 
Support Networks: 

Freelancing can be isolating at times, so making sure you have a support system that you can call on is vital. An online community, family, friends, or even working within a shared office space to get a better sense of community could all be a solution. Finding a way to connect however that may be is vital. Here at TCC, we like to see ourselves as your team so if you want, you can consider us as your work colleagues, and if you need support or advice please never hesitate to call us, or pop in for a cuppa!

Working Relationships: 

Communication must be clear to build strong working relationships with clients, suppliers, and with collaborators. According to Leaper’s mental health study, 50% of the stress that freelancers face come from client or supplier relationships.

One way to build working relationships is to try networking, this can be both on and offline, networking groups can be a great way to meet individuals in a similar industry, share tips and even generate more work.

Professional Development: 

Often it is difficult to take a wider view of our work objectives. Often we become very focused on the present rather than exploring where we would like to be in the next 12 months or even 5 years. It is a good idea to push yourself, learn more about your industry by upskilling, this can be an excellent way to alleviate any feeling of stagnation in your work. Even if you’re not able to pay for courses, there are plenty of free resources.

To wrap up:

Remember the life of a freelancer can have its ups and downs, it is important to manage your stress and anxiety. Reaching out for help is vital to ensuring you stay positive during challenging times.  

If you do want to just talk to someone about the ups and downs of freelance work, or discuss your career goals, then please do reach out to our Talent Manager, Aimée Johnston | – and she can schedule a call or coffee with you to talk about where you want to go, and offer advice on freelance life!

If you find yourself struggling with mental health, the UK Film and TV Charity Trust have launched a new range of resources for freelancers in the industry. Check out the mental well-being hub by following this link: Mental Well Being Hub