Freelancing can be incredibly rewarding. You have the freedom to choose which projects you work on, where you work from, and can create your own work schedule.
At the same time, it requires persistence, the ability to do multiple jobs at the same time, and work long, irregular hours.
As you know already, there are times when freelancing can be unimaginably stressful. And because of the isolative nature of freelancing, it’s very easy to fall into a pit of depression.
No one wants that, though.
So today, I’m going to share with you, from one freelancer to another, the tips I’ve gathered over the years that have helped me deal with the stress of being a freelancer.
It took me years to learn these, through trial and error, talking to experts, or even just talking to other freelancers.
My hope is that these five tips will help you better cope with the stress we all experience.
(And as you are probably used to seeing, the advice here should not be a substitute for seeking the help of a trained professional.)
1. Avoid What Stresses You Out
This is probably the most important tip, yet it is also the one that most people never actually do. Many of the things, people, and situations in our lives that cause us stress can easily be avoided.
The problem is, they aren’t always easy to identify.
HelpGuide.org’s Stress Management article says:
“It’s easy to identify sources of stress following a major life event such as changing jobs, moving home, or losing a loved one, but pinpointing the sources of everyday stress can be more complicated. It’s all too easy to overlook your own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that contribute to your stress levels.”
I’ll take that one step further and say that we often consider many things that stress us out unavoidable.
For instance, early in my career as a freelancer, I found that I was stressed when I woke up and went to sleep. I was able to pinpoint the issue to one particular client I had been working with for a few weeks. I kept working with that client until one of my friends said, “If they are causing you so much stress, why don’t you just stop working with them?”
Seems obvious now. But at the time, I had made up all these excuses on why I had to keep working with this client. My friend helped me realize that the extra income this client was bringing in was not worth harming my health.
Look at what causes you stress in your life. If you’d like, you can even keep what HelpGuide.org recommends: a Stress Journal. Every time you get stressed out, you make an entry and write what you think the cause of your stress may be.
Go through your list and find what you can avoid.
Luckily, as a freelancer, you have the freedom to turn down projects and stop working with certain clients that stress you out.
Now, there are times when we can’t just avoid stress. Certain things in our lives are unavoidable. Taxes, for instance, stress me out, but I can’t just stop paying taxes. So in those cases…
2. Step Back And Analyze The Big Picture
Whenever you find something stressing you out that you just can’t avoid, do this:
- Step away from whatever is stressing you out
- Close your eyes and take a deep breath
- Ask yourself, “What’s the worst that could happen?”
When you’re in a situation that stresses you out, it is very easy to become irrational. And those irrational thoughts can stress you out further.
Instead, you want to step away from the situation, calm down, and look at it more rationally.
By asking, “What’s the worst that could happen?” you do an exercise to show yourself that much of your stress at that moment is irrational.
For instance, I was working with a client and realized I had miscalculated how long it would take me to finish his project. And all I was thinking was how he would yell at me on the phone, not want to pay me, ruin my reputation, I’d end up on the streets without any food, and die alone.
Again, irrational thoughts.
So I did the “What’s the worst that could happen” exercise. Let’s say I told him I would be late and he fired me and told everyone in the world how horrible I was with due dates. And then, no one wanted to hire me. That’s the worst that could happen there, but what else would happen? Well, I wouldn’t be able to do freelance development anymore. So maybe I’d have to find a new job, even a part-time job. My income would be down, but I’m still alive, and have a family and friends.
Doing this exercise, I started to realize that the worst that would happen really wasn’t that bad.
Realizing that something isn’t really as bad as you make it seem helps you to alleviate that stress.
3. Eat And Sleep Well
Food and sleep have a major impact on our stress levels.
If you eat a lot of unhealthy junk food, you’ll find that you are more perceptible to stress. And if you sleep too little or sleep too much, the same holds true.
I’ve seen this first-hand. When I would get really stressed, I would start eating lots of fast food. I gained weight, felt tired throughout the day, and my work suffered, which stressed me out even more. I would also stay up late stressing about projects I had to work on, and end up sleeping in late the next day.
Instead, I started eating a healthier diet, consisting primarily of organic, clean foods. I also regulated my sleep to make sure I was getting just the right amount of sleep.
If you are feeling stressed and think you could improve your diet, check out this article: Eat Right, Drink Well, Stress Less: Stress-Reducing Foods, Herbal Supplements, and Teas. It shows some of the best foods and drinks for reducing stress.
And if you’d like to find out how much you should be sleeping each night, read this article from WebMD.
4. Exercise Daily
“Exercise may be the healthiest stress-buster: it revs your body’s production of feel-good endorphins, can help regulate your sleep, lowers the symptoms associated with mild depression, boosts your energy, and helps you remain calmer and more focused, all of which can go a long way toward stress management.”
Every day, I make sure I spend at least an hour exercising.
What usually prevents most people from exercising is believing they either don’t have the time or not knowing what kind of exercise to do.
I subscribe to the belief that you should do whatever exercise you enjoy. If you enjoy running, go for a run. If you enjoy baseball, go play some baseball. Even just going for a walk will help.
Personally, I found I enjoy martial arts. So I joined a martial arts gym and go to classes.
If you believe you don’t have time to go to the gym, start treating your exercise time as you would a meeting with a client. Add it to your calendar, don’t let anything else interrupt you during that time and don’t reschedule unless it is absolutely necessary.
What I did, is I found that the three hours I spent from 9 p.m. to midnight were not very productive. So I started going to sleep between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. and waking up at 5 a.m. so I could get to the gym for an hour before starting work.
If you make the effort, you will find the time.
5. Make Time For Fun And Relaxation
It seems like we are starting to hold those people who do 60, 70, 80 hour work weeks in high regard. It seems almost like a competition on who can work more hours.
But it’s definitely not good for our health. And in fact, is not even good for our productivity.
Dustin Moskovitz, the co-founder of Facebook, recently published an article on Medium called “Work Hard, Live Well.”
He found that after a certain number of hours of work, our productivity starts to drop. And so does our health. Which has a negative effect on our productivity as well.
Moskovitz discusses how important it is to find a good work-life balance. Not only if we want to work better, but if we want to be healthy and happy.
Taking this a step further, as human beings, we require fun and playtime in order to truly be happy. So make some time for yourself for that fun and relaxation.
Do something you enjoy.
For me, I’ll go to Starbucks and read a book. You may want to spend time with your family, work on a hobby project, or even exercise (kill two birds with one stone).
The important thing isn’t what you do, but that you are doing something that makes you smile.
How Do You Handle Stress?
Do you have any tips for handling stress as a freelancer? I invite you to share them in the comments below!