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April 1, 2022

How to look after your mental health as a freelancer

Written by Dinghy

Two years of a global pandemic, soaring energy bills, war raging in Ukraine: it’s fair to say that life at the moment has a few external stressors that can make balancing your mental health just that little bit trickier. And while we value the freedom, flexibility and independence of freelance life, the flip side of that can be uncertainty, financial worries and loneliness. It’s extra important to take that little bit of time to step back and look after your mental wellbeing as a freelancer.

Statistics from IPSE, the professional association that supports freelancers and the self-employed, show that the pandemic had a negative impact on the mental health of freelancers. The number of freelancers saying they were experiencing poor or very poor mental health rose from 6% to 26% compared to pre-pandemic levels, and the percentage of freelancers rating their mental health as good or excellent dropped from 68% to 39%. Mental health problems are extremely common – especially among people working in the creative sector, who are three times as likely to experience mental health issues, according to Inspire. That means that you’re not alone, and you shouldn’t have to suffer in silence.

Freelancer mental health problems cover a wide spectrum from stress, anxiety and depression to eating disorders and OCD. All of us feel tired, stressed or overwhelmed from time to time, but if it starts affecting your ability to enjoy life, or disrupts your sleep, appetite or you feel unable to cope, you may be suffering from a mental health problem. This guide contains some simple steps that freelancers can take to look after their mental health – and tells you where to seek support if you need it.

Know that you are not alone

Being a freelancer can be lonely – but as the statistics above show, you’re not the only one feeling this way. If isolation from working from home is contributing to your feelings, you could consider some ways to make new social connections with other freelancers. Now that COVID restrictions are over, you could try working from a co-working space so that you spend at least some of the week around other people. Or join some local business networking groups. It might be daunting at first, but it will give you people to share the trials and tribulations of self-employed life with, and that’s so important.

Talk to someone

Keeping your worries and problems to yourself can make them feel overwhelming. Often, just having the chance to get things off your chest can be a big first step in feeling better – whether that’s the unburdening of emotion, the chance to seek advice or the first step towards you seeking other help and support. Find a trusted person to talk to like a friend, a fellow freelancer, or a family member, and tell them what’s been going on. If you’d prefer to talk to someone that doesn’t know you, you could visit your GP, local Mind centre or try a telephone helpline like the Samaritans.

Take a break

If you are feeling overwhelmed, it’s time to step away from work for a while. No one can deliver their best when they’re struggling. Shut your laptop down and find something relaxing to channel your energy into for a while: take some deep breaths, go for a walk, hit the gym or dive into a good book. We know that many freelancers struggle to take sick days for fear of letting clients down or losing income, but even if you can only spare an afternoon it will make a big difference to how you feel.

Freelancer Assist: freelancer support with tax, legal issues, invoice-chasing and mental health

If you’re a Dinghy customer, there is support available with Freelancer Assist. This comes bundled in at no extra charge with every Dinghy insurance package and offers support for dealing with the worries of freelance life. If you need someone to talk to about problems that are affecting your mental health, there is a free and confidential counselling helpline that is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can also get legal advice and support with tax issues through the service. If it’s money worries that are troubling you, we can also help you chase any unpaid invoices from clients with our debt-recovery service. We just want to make sure that our freelancers know that they’re never alone with their problems. You can find out more about Freelancer Assist on our website, where you can also get a quote for flexible freelance insurance if you’re not already a Dinghy customer.

Look after yourself

Sometimes it’s the last thing you feel like doing, but a key part of freelancer wellbeing is keeping up routines like eating healthy foods, sleeping 7-9 hours a night and taking regular exercise. These things are all really important in staying mentally well. Exercise is especially beneficial for anxiety as it helps burn off excess adrenaline and depression as it releases mood-boosting happy endorphins. If you can get out for a brisk walk in green spaces, or simply get your favourite tunes on and dance around your kitchen, it might help lift your spirits.

Seek further help and support

Some mental health wobbles can be eased with some self-care, but more severe problems might require expert support. It’s important not to suffer alone. Here are just a few places you can turn to if you need help:

  • The Samaritans – if you don’t feel comfortable confiding in a friend or doctor, Samaritans has specially trained volunteers on hand every day and every night. They’ll listen and not judge. The number is 116 123, and it’s completely free to call.
  • The NHS – book in to see your GP or you can self-refer for some types of therapy via the NHS website.
  • If you’re feeling at risk of of self-harm or suicide, call 999 or go to A+E – the guidance is clear that a mental health emergency should be treated the same way as a medical emergency, so do what you can to make yourself safe.

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