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How to deal with stress as a freelancer

5 minute read

Ed Palmer

We’ve all felt it.

The growing sense that there’s too much to do. Too many difficulties for your business to overcome, and too many worries about whether you’ll ever achieve your goals.

If that sounds like you, don’t sweat it:

It’s completely normal – and there are plenty of things you can do to overcome it.

There are all sorts of simple ways to reduce stress and guide yourself into a better state of mind – from organising your schedule and spreading the workload to tweaking your habits and practising established techniques.

But before I dive into the ways you can beat stress, you need to understand exactly how it works:

What is stress?

Put simply, stress is the result of being under too much mental or emotional pressure.

We all have to deal with some form of pressure – both at work and in our personal lives.

And when these pressures build-up, our body releases stress hormones.

Normally, these stress hormones are a useful evolutionary advantage: they can help our bodies prepare for and react to any perceived dangers and threats. When the pressure or threat disappears, our hormones return to normal.

But if we experience pressures of the kind that don’t immediately go away – like financial difficulties or an excessive workload – these stress hormones can remain in our bodies for longer.

And that can lead to a continual state of stress-related symptoms – which can be both unhealthy and distressing.

‘Am I stressed?’

We all know when we don’t feel right – and we all know how it feels to be relaxed and happy.

But for freelancers, the situation is a little more difficult:

It’s almost expected for someone starting or running a business to have a high workload. And it’s almost expected for them to have some concerns about money, too.

There are plenty of difficult decisions to make as you run your business – and your future success might not be guaranteed just yet.

So to help separate the normal concerns of a freelancer from the signs of work-related stress, it’s important to understand the symptoms.

If you’re stressed, you might notice that:

  • You’re feeling overwhelmed, irritable, anxious or fearful (emotional symptoms)
  • You’re experiencing racing thoughts, constant worrying, and difficulty concentrating or making decisions (mental symptoms)
  • You have headaches, muscle tension, dizziness, trouble sleeping, or you feel tired all the time (physical symptoms)
  • You’re snapping at people, avoiding your problems, or eating, drinking and smoking more (behavioural symptoms).

Of course, self-diagnosis is a dangerous rabbit-hole – especially when worrying about worrying can cause more worrying.

So while this list of symptoms should be helpful, it’s no replacement for the wisdom of a doctor – and there are plenty of useful stress-related resources over at the NHS website that can give you the right advice.

Now that you’ve got a better understanding of work-related stress and how it can affect you, we can start to look at some of the ways you can prevent and reduce the causes and effects of it.

Sadly, there’s no quick-fix cure for stress – but you might find some of these suggestions useful:

1. Make leisure a part of your schedule

If your business has long operating hours (or if you work from home), it can be hard to know when to stop working.

Plenty of freelancers tend to field emails, write documents, or do research right up until the moment they go to bed. But if you try to keep that up for weeks on end, you’re almost guaranteed to get stressed.

Of course, your business is important, and you want to see success as fast as reasonably possible.

But your mental health is more important. And you need to recognise that your body is not an unbreakable machine.

So make a few small (and sensible) changes to your working schedule, such as:

  • Turning off your phone for a few hours each night – so you can watch a film or have a family dinner without any messages or notifications
  • Taking a real lunch-break every day – and that doesn’t mean a break at your desk
  • Set aside time in the evenings and weekends to do the things normal human beings do – going to the pub, playing some sports, or spending time with people who aren’t connected to your business

2. Outsource to someone faster than you

As a freelancer, you need to accept the fact that certain types of tasks are just too time-consuming for someone who’s not a specialist.

Things like SEO, social media marketing, and blog writing can easily take up a huge chunk of your working week. And if you’re trying to do them all alone, you’ll be tempted to start letting them eat into your personal time.

Before you know it, you’re working a 70-hour week just to keep up – and your health will suffer.

But when you outsource these jobs to specialist companies or other freelancers, you’ll have more time to focus on the big-picture stuff: building relationships, developing new products or services, and driving the business forward.

(And since these specialists can usually do these jobs much faster and better than you, you might actually make more money elsewhere by spending money on hiring them.)

3. Don’t get stuck in your own head

If you’re working alone (and especially if you work from home), the stresses of running a business can run rampant in your mind.

Small problems can seem big, and tough challenges can seem insurmountable.

But even if you work alone and at home, there are plenty of ways you can talk to other people in similar situations – both online and in the real world. Try having a look on LinkedIn and searching for freelancer groups either near you or in your industry. For example, Work-related Stress & Wellbeing is a LinkedIn group with over 4,000 members that aims to help people find the right support, knowledge, and strategies to help them with their mindsets

There’s also Meetup.com – a site dedicated to casual networking groups and events for people with similar interests.

While groups and work-related social events like these are useful, it’s also important to find social outlets that aren’t connected with your business at all.

Places like Meetup.com and social media platforms have hundreds of groups for like-minded people – for sports, hobbies, arts, and everything else we do to get away from the stressful grind of daily work.

4. Be willing to change your habits

You might not be able to escape the pressures of running a business.

But you can do everything available to help you live the kind of lifestyle that keeps your stress under control. That usually means:

And if you don’t know where to start, there are plenty of apps that can help you to monitor your stress – and guide you through programmes of meditation, relaxation, and mindfulness. You could try things like:

  • Headspace – a personal meditation guide that includes hundreds of themed sessions, from stress and sleep to focus and anxiety
  • Breathe – an Apple app that guides you through relaxing breathing exercises, and sends you gentle reminders throughout the day
  • Calm – a complete package of meditation techniques, sleep stories, guided video demonstrations and music, all designed to help you focus, relax, and de-stress

Ready for a brand-new, stress-free you?

Stress is a natural reaction to modern life. We all go through it, and we all have our own ways of coping with it.

But if you’re struggling with stress, don’t worry – there’s a huge amount of useful advice and practical tips out there to help.

So if you’re not sure where to start, I’d recommend doing some reading and a few exercises from the NHS Understanding Stress page.

And remember:

No matter how stressed you get, you always have the power to influence your own mind and the way that you feel – so reach out to someone and get the support you need to work through your challenges and come out on top.

Ed Palmer is a freelance copywriter at Keep This Copy. He's spent more than five years helping businesses look good and sell more stuff – writing for and about almost every business and industry there is.

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