If you’re on the Energiser bunny high from the moment your feet hit the floor in the morning until you fall into bed at night, it’s eventually going to catch up with you. Studies have shown that multitasking is really bad for your brain, and trying to do multiple things at once all day long leads to poor concentration and makes you less productive.
As freelancers, we are guilty of overworking and often berating ourselves for not being productive every single day. However, learning to work at a reasonable time and spending your evenings relaxing rather than working is essential. Setting healthy boundaries for yourself from the beginning of your freelancing career and giving yourself some time out will replenish your energy levels, help you to de-stress and nurture your overall wellbeing.
“We fear that if we have a day off or slow down, opportunities will be lost or missed out on, or work will dry up,” explains Chloe Brotheridge, anxiety expert and author of Brave New Girl: Seven Steps to Confidence in an article.
“But we’ve forgotten an important fact; rest is productive. I remind my clients’ you need rest to be at your best’ – our brains work better when we’re relaxed. When we’re in fight-or-flight mode, the frontal cortex – the rational, clear-thinking part of the brain – shuts down and the amygdala takes over. We’re less able to focus, make decisions and think rationally when we’re stressed. It makes business sense for us to take time to relax, and our brains function all the better for it.”
Having a quiet evening where you don’t update your website/research prospective clients/see what your network is up to, might feel very odd at first. But you’ll get there. Consider this: when you give yourself time off, not only are you being at your best for yourself but also others around you (this includes your clients).
According to a recent survey from Epson, 48% of freelancers admitted to their career being a very lonely business. Additionally, 46% named freelancing isolating; 25% of those polled said they did experience periods of depression, as a result of the isolation they experience.
There are other stressors involved in working in the freelancing capacity. One of the most significant stressors is finance. Financial anxiety forces freelancers to compromise on their wellbeing. Late payments (or lack thereof) are putting a considerable toll on the mental and physical health of freelancers.
According to a survey by e-payments firm PayPal, the following are the significant challenges Indian freelancers face:
As a self-employed person, you have a high responsibility—for all areas of your brand that would otherwise cover colleagues, supervisors or bosses. You are, as it were, solely responsible for all divisions (finance, accounting, taking care of the tech, and you’re your own HR as well). If you also have a family to feed, the responsibility increases even more. That’s a lot of work, and that puts pressure, especially when things are not going well. So, you’ll turn the level higher, work, even more, have less time, and in the end, you’ll get even more pressure.
When you’re working this hard, it is easy to forget about your own needs while meeting those of your work. The end result will be burnout and lack of productivity.
Self-care is at the heart of our need to hit ‘pause’ on work; of course, your health is your wealth and all that, but fundamentally, you can’t expect to work hard, continuously, without feeling burnt-out.
“You’re the most important resource in your business,” says Chloe. “If you burn out, you have nothing.”
Understanding the term self-care itself, we need to go in steps. Firstly, practising self-care is the first step to recognise and understand one’s own emotional and physical needs. The second step is to learn to prioritise these needs and care about their fulfilment—whatever it takes.
It is essential to accept that self-care and your own needs belong together.
More simply, some people would be inclined to say self-care is when we understand everything we do to promote and support the maintenance of our mental, physical and emotional health.
So what does self-care involve?
So many things. And they can be put into physical and mental, although they are intimately connected.
1. Physical self-care
What are you doing to ensure your physical wellbeing? After all, it relates directly to your mental wellbeing as research proves, and must, therefore, be a priority. Watch your body and the signals it sends you (headaches, weight fluctuations, hair loss, constipation, fatigue). When you feel exhausted, take breaks.
- Take some time to breathe: Take time for physical breaks from your mental demands. Take walks, go to the gym, clean your house – anything physical that removes your brain from the tasks and worries at hand.
- Control your diet: There is research out there that points to the importance of diet in reducing stress. Some foods produce more serotonin—chemicals that promote mental calmness—as well as those that provide long-term feelings of wellbeing. And here’s a news flash – they are not found at fast-food restaurants. Eat healthy, at regular intervals, and keep yourself hydrated.
- Find the right workspace: Whether you work at home or in a rented office, look for ergonomic office furniture, so the table and chair must fit and be tailored to your body. The external environment is also important – try and keep your space in a workflow that suits you. Remember—slouching, sleeping and working, or long hours on that chair is harmful to your body.
- Step away from the computer screen: Research has shown that taking 5 to 15 minutes every few hours away from your desk (or whatever space you’re working in) improves productivity. Companies are increasingly accepting this and moving away from timesheets and strictly scheduled breaks because workers are much happier when they have a level of freedom. It can also help creativity; sometimes, when you feel stuck, your brain needs to engage with something else. And not just computer screens, yes, we’re talking about putting down that phone, tablet, kindle, iPad and staying off the TV too. Give your eyes that rest.
2. Mental self-care
One thing is obvious at this point: the number of mental illnesses such as burnout, depression and similar has increased rapidly in recent years, and it does not look like it is slowing down. Stress can also cause many other illnesses, such as heart and circulatory problems, stomach and digestive problems, anxiety, sleep disorders, and more. There are a number of factors in mental self-care, and you should consider those activities that will support this.
- Address the isolation: If you are experiencing anxiety and depression over isolation, then you have to make a concerted effort to balance the isolation with professional and social connections. Stay in touch with your former colleagues and your old friends. Get together with them on a regular basis.
- Be mindful of your physical appearance: When you feel good about yourself physically, your mental state improves. So, take care of your personal appearance – bathe regularly, wear nice clothes, even if you are going to be at home most of the day; go so far as browsing the resources on colognes for men or women to find a suitable scent for yourself. It has been scientifically proven that smelling different aromas can enhance how we feel.
- Look at hobbies and non-related interests: What are your passions other than your work? Are you into art, fitness, cooking? Find an outlet for that interest and spend some of that downtime on those activities. You will find that you will experience far less burnout when you do return to your work.
- Keep the balance: As a freelancer, you are in charge of your work and personal life. Finding the balance between these two is something a lot of us struggle with. Investing all your time on your business and leaving too little time and resources for yourself, or your family is unsustainable. So don’t feel guilty about pampering yourself once in a while as you absolutely deserve it, or spending an afternoon just with your kids.
3. Emotional self-care
Avoid clients that are too bossy, overbearing and always talking to you angrily. It could lead to stress, anxiety, self-doubt. And falling in that circle is a risk. Avoid working with clients where you spend more than half of your energy chasing payments, rather than the work itself.
- Have the right company: Make sure you have enough contact with family and friends. It should always be people who do you good and above all, respect your needs and support you in them. Freelancers can often work unsociable hours and weekends, so to have friends that understand that you can’t be out on a Friday night, but are happy to go to the movies on a Wednesday morning can do wonders for your emotional state and stress levels.
- Keep things fun: It is important to add fun and joy in your routine. Those factors that are essential to get back into balance and bring you into other moods. Anything you like is allowed: a fun evening with friends, a comedy in the cinema, dancing, or even a hobby you enjoy. Laughter is, as the age-old adage goes, the best medicine.
- Learn to say no: You might not get along with the client. Maybe they like to swear a lot in their emails. Perhaps they will only meet in person when you want to work remotely. Any number of factors can come into play, but if you can’t gel, it’s going to be challenging to produce great work together. Don’t be scared that the client won’t come back.
- Watch these videos: Here are some videos you can watch for a better understanding.
- Taking care of Yourself by ScreenSkills talks about how different people feel about themselves when they’re freelancing and how they manage to look after themselves.
- Kerry Putman: Full-Time to Freelance – Practical and Self-Care Advice for When the 9-To-5 Has to stop. Two years ago, Kerry Putman stopped working full time as a web developer due to health issues. It was a huge change that she was not wholly prepared for. In this talk, Kerry offers practical advice and self-care tips for dealing with the transformation from full-time employee to freelancer.
- Self Care: What It Really Is by Susannah Winters. A talk that breaks the myth and discusses the four components of self-care that will support your overall wellness.