Self-employment offers a number of attractive benefits to WordPress professionals and other intellectual workers.
But self-employment can also pose a heightened risk to your mental health.
Fortunately, there are some things you can do to preserve good mental health.
How Self-Employment Poses a Risk to Your Mental Health
Working for yourself at home (as many WordPress developers do) might seem more beneficial to your mental health than traditional employment. You can set your own hours, wear comfortable clothing, and work when it suits you. What’s not to love about all that?
But that’s only part of the picture. Self-employment can also mean “feast or famine” financially, where you’re raking in the money hand over fist some months, but then the next three months you’re struggling to make enough money to pay the rent.
Additionally, statistically speaking, self-employed workers tend to make less on average than their traditionally-employed counterparts.
Then there’s the lack of access to benefits, such as health insurance, disability insurance, and retirement savings, all of which can compound the financial pressure. Added up, that’s a lot of financial stress that can wreak havoc on mental health and well-being.
However, despite these challenges, there are things you can do to make things easier.
Draw Clearer Boundaries With Your Time
For starters, let’s consider your work day.
The benefits of traditional employment include a somewhat well-defined work day. Working for yourself at home erases that definition, so your work ends up taking place at all hours of the day — or night.
It can also be hard to work with people. Folks who wouldn’t dream of popping into your office and asking for favors will happily do so with no warning whatsoever when your office is your home.
To combat this, you need to draw clear, well-defined boundaries. First, establish what hours encompass your work day. You can make this any range of hours you like — one of the perks of being in business for yourself!
But when the work day is over, force yourself to set the work aside and enforce those hours. Sure, on occasion you may need to work longer hours to deal with a crisis, but those situations should be the rare exception, not the rule.
Communicate your boundaries with loved ones and friends, too. State the specific behaviors you’re asking them for — i.e., no uninvited drop-by visits, no personal calls between specific hours, etc. — and remind them that work doesn’t stop being work just because it’s done at home.
Take Regular Breaks
A related problem with self-employment and working from home — especially for WordPress and other web developers — is the tendency to lose track of just how long you’ve been sitting at the computer. The end result can be marathon work sessions without a break.
But studies have shown that even brief breaks significantly improve your focus and productivity. Regular breaks act as a safety valve, releasing the psychological and physical pressure of constant work.
You’ve probably had the experience of getting frustrated by a problem, where nothing you try is quite right. Obsessing over the problem gets you nowhere.
So you get up and go do something else. Perhaps you watch a movie on Netflix, or go take a walk with your dog.Then, with your mind wholly off the problem you’re trying to solve, the answer pops into your brain.
That’s not an unusual phenomenon, by any means. And it perfectly illustrates the power of the well-timed break.
Make sure you take regular breaks throughout your work day. Even five minutes each hour can help. Then make it a real break. Get up, walk around, stretch, drink some water, and change your position. You’ll be able to work more efficiently when you return to the computer.
Create and Rely on Social Relationships
Like many freelancers and entrepreneurs, you may start out fully intending to stay in touch with your friends. But if you’re like many self-employed people, before you know it, you can find yourself living like a hermit.
That lack of a social support system and social contact present a danger to mental and physical health. In fact, studies have shown that social isolation poses a risk to health and well-being on par with smoking and obesity.
Make plans to get out of the house once a week. The beauty of being a WordPress professional is the job’s portability. Take your laptop to a local coffee shop and work there on occasion.
Also, make a concerted effort to socialize on a regular basis. Consider joining a local group, either for self-employed people or for some activity you enjoy.
Start a Meditation Practice
Study after study has proven that a regular meditation practice is great for mental and physical health and well-being.
If you’re not into chanting and incense, that’s fine. Many forms of meditation require nothing more than sitting quietly and focusing on your breathing.
The key to successful meditation practice is doing it consistently and regularly. Set aside fifteen minutes a day for your practice.
If you need some more resources, check out “Meditation 101” from Gaiam.
Get Outside and Get Active
For all the jokes about computer programmers and coders being sedentary couch potatoes, guzzling energy drinks while staring at the computer screen, sitting is one aspect of the job that isn’t really funny.
In fact, scientists point to a growing body of research that indicates sitting for long periods of time is not only dangerous to your physical health, but it also puts you at risk for psychological problems.
There’s only one cure: You have to move. You don’t need fancy equipment or an expensive gym membership. Just get out and walk for half an hour each day, if you can. Any kind of movement will help.
Get Help When You Need It
If the above strategies don’t quite fit the bill, consider getting help from the professionals. Don’t delay on this. If you need help, it may take some time to secure an appointment. So explore your available options as soon as possible.
The U.S. government’s Health & Human Resources department has a great page of resources and advice on how to access mental health care.
And if at any time you feel suicidal or as if you might harm yourself in any way, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The group also staffs a live online chat. Both the Lifeline and the live chat are staffed by trained crisis workers 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Don’t ignore your mental health! You wouldn’t walk around with a broken arm, would you? Of course not. You’d get it X-rayed and have it put in a cast so it could heal. Then you’d protect that injury while you recover.
Mental health challenges are no different. So be proactive about your mental health.
Which of these strategies have you tried? Feel free to share your stories in the comments section.