Over 2 million people are now freelancing in the UK, and more people are turning to working for themselves than ever before. But what impact might that have on your mental health, and what things should you consider when you’re freelancing to make sure you can work well?
We asked Matthew Knight from the mental health project Leapers to share his advice on looking after yourself, when working for yourself.
As a freelancer you’ve probably discovered that not only are you doing the work, but you’re also sending the invoices, finding the next project, chasing those invoices, accounting, marketing, and making sales (not to mention all of the other stuff you’ve got happening in your life.) Remembering to take a moment to make sure you’re doing ok can easily fall to the bottom of the list.
Unfortunately, 1 in 4 people will struggle with poor mental health at some point this year – that’s a huge number. Looking after your own emotional wellbeing when you are freelancing is critical. There are, after all, no paid sick days now and not being able to work is not really an option for many of us.
At Leapers, we’re trying to do three things to help the self-employed work well:
- Building Awareness – we’re telling as many people as we can that mental health matters, and we’re encouraging freelancers to actively think about it before they make the leap into self-employment (and once they’ve moved to freelancing.)
- Creating Community – we’re encouraging people to join our community. We think of it as a sort of ‘team for people without a team’. If Leapers isn’t right for you, there are many other communities which provide a support network – people who understand the experience, people you can talk to about what’s happening, and find ways to work well.
- Tangible Things – we create stuff which helps people maintain good mental health, understand their personal stressors, and put actions in place to manage them. Different people need different approaches, so offer a number of options: podcasts, ebooks, chats, emails, soft toys (ok, maybe not soft toys).
Even just helping people to actively think about the value of looking after themselves helps. You’ve got enough going on already, so it’s about finding the small things which have positive impact (journaling, for example).
I often suggest a good place to start is to take 10 minutes at the end of each day and – in a notebook you’ve dedicated to this – write down 5 or 6 things you did that day. Mark each one with how it made you feel: Was it positive or negative? Was it motivating or frustrating? Was it fun or stressful? A simple tick or cross will do. Keep this habit for a week, and see if there are patterns. Do this for a month, and see if the patterns continue. Over time, you’ll start to understand what motivates you, and what stresses you out.
You don’t even need to do anything to manage that stress yet – just being aware of the stressors is your first step.
And then: talk about it – perhaps within a community for freelancers, maybe with peers, with friends, with your team-mates. Whomever you feel most comfortable sharing when you’re not feeling at your best. Let’s face it, we all have off-days. Share your experience with others, and see how they deal with similar situations. Listen and learn. Even if no-one replies with much more than an emoji or a ‘like’, writing it down and sharing the feeling helps you understand the experience.
From here, where you go next entirely depends on your personal experience, the way you approach challenges and successes, and the sector you work in – but just putting a few minutes aside each day to think about your own mental health is a critical part of your business plan. As a project, we have collected lots of tools, techniques and approaches, and you can spend time with over 2000 members who are sharing their experiences too, so you’ll be sure to find something useful.
Over 60% of freelancers say that poor mental health has affected their ability to work. Don’t be part of that number – put you on your to-do list, prioritise understanding your stressors, share within your community, and look for tangible things to put in place to give yourself some structure and support.
Matthew Knight is a community host at Leapers, a project supporting the mental health of the self-employed. As an individual you can register as a member for free, or find resources and tools at leapers.co. If you’re an organisation who hires freelancers, there’s also guidance on working well with the self-employed via the Freelance Friendly Businesses network at leapers.co/orgs