If you’re a new freelancer, it’s likely that your day is now dramatically different to how it was when you worked in an office. However, such a big change can affect your mental health – and then your finances – so it’s important to look after yourself, too.
With increased flexibility and more opportunities to focus on the work that you want to do, this is an exciting time. It’s also a career trajectory that takes a lot of skills that you might not have needed to think about before: time management and self-promotion being just two of them. With all this going on, your mental health is probably going to be affected – so attention needs to be paid to making sure this effect is positive rather than negative.
One of the best ways to do this is to embrace the great outdoors. With numerous benefits for both your physical and mental health, freelancers especially need to realise the value of getting out there and breathing some fresh air. Here’s why…
When you’re starting out as a freelancer, your work/life balance can take a bit of a battering. It’s a double-edged sword: if you have a lot of work you might find yourself working flat-out to fulfil it all. Equally, if you’re building clients and pitching for work you might not want to take a break because you’re worried about missing out on opportunities. What’s a newly self-employed worker to do?
There’s no doubt that freelancers work hard. You do need to prioritise down-time, though. Time away from your desk improves creativity, whether you’re running whilst listening to podcasts that inspire you with ideas or clearing your mind completely with an outdoor swim or walk. Yes, we might be used to plugging ourselves into some audio content as soon as we leave the house. But there is a huge mental health value in not consuming content all the time – we promise! There’s a reason why lots of people have their best ideas in the shower!
Make sure you factor a bit of outdoor time into your day, alongside your work. Aim for 10,000 steps a day… it’s easier than you think (we promise.) And remember, you don’t need to stick to office hours anymore. If a walk at 11am and lunch at 3pm works for you, go for it.
How Poor Mental Health Impacts Finances
You might think that you have no time for the great outdoors. Or, that you need to work long hours into the night while you’re still working a day job, too. However, not looking after your mental health now will impact your finances long into the future.
First, working to burnout means you’ll eventually get physically ill or mentally struggle too much to work. This means you won’t be earning anything – remember, freelancers don’t get sick pay! So, you’ll eat into your savings just for recovery time. Then, you’ll end up working ridiculously hard again just to recoup the money lost on your sick leave.
Second, you may start to neglect yourself in the mission to save money or make sure your freelance business is viable. If the budget is tight when you’re starting out, you may be tempted to skimp on important things like a healthy diet. It’s easier to work long hours if you reach for the takeaway menu instead of taking time to cook dinner each night – but the cost quickly adds up. You may also start delaying opening bills and invoices when money’s tight – but this leads to more debt, putting increased strain on your mental health.
Finally, if you’re not in a positive state of mind, it’s hard to stay motivated to work at all. It’s surprisingly easy to spiral downwards, face debt in the slow months when you’re not earning much – and then spiral further because of your building debt.
The good news is that protecting your mental health – and therefore your finances – is straightforward!
mental health: Avoiding isolation
We’ve all got used to screens and virtually distant meet-ups over the past few months, thanks to our unwelcome COVID visitor. Whilst we might be used to being inside and communicating through screens, now that restrictions have eased freelancers especially need to remember that there is real value in meeting people face-to-face.
Whether you meet a client for a socially distant coffee or meet friends for a picnic whilst the sun is still out, you will find real mental health benefits in the human interaction. This is something that you need to remember over the next few months, rather than defaulting to video calls when the weather gets colder. Without traditional colleagues, freelancing can get lonely very quickly. Make sure you get out a few times a week to avoid this.
During lockdown, lots of us replaced the time that we would usually have spent commuting with exercise. Whether you’ve discovered that putting on your trainers and running round the park isn’t as onerous as you thought or you’ve been enjoying HIIT classes at home, now is the time to make sure these positive news habits don’t drop off.
We don’t need to explain that there’s a strong link between mental health, exercise and work performance – you already know that exercise improves all areas of your life. As the world edges back to normal, freelancers (who are unlikely to have a traditional office set-up) need to keep their exercise up. You don’t have a boss anymore, and you can always come back to your work later – so what’s stopping you downing tools at 6pm for a half hour walk?
If you’re able, why not invest in a cheap bike and cycle over to your friend’s house rather than jumping on the bus. Using your body has numerous benefits, both mental as well as physical. Could you grab some friends for a run, or HIIT class in the park? Why not join a yoga class in the park rather than heading to your spare room with your laptop? All these options are easier than you think. As a popular exercise brand has told us… just do it.
Spend time with family
Looking after children is even more difficult when you’re trying to make a new business successful! However, making sure you all get out and about for a walk or bike ride for an hour each day really helps. You’ll build on your relationships, stay healthy together, and help your children talk over their anxieties so they feel listened to. Carving out this time for family activity together keeps your bonds strong – and could even inspire creative approaches to solving work problems, too!
An improved perspective for mental health
You might feel like you need to work all hours to pull in as much cash as possible. But the truth is more complicated than this. Work 20-hour days and you’ll be burning out before the end of the week. That’s not going to be positive for the rest of the work that you’ve got on your list. No client wants to work with a freelancer who is exhausted all the time!
If you’re exhausted, you’re likely to be worrying about money and other factors too – understandably. You need to be rested! Outdoor exercise is a good way to tire out your body to make sure you can drop off with ease. Worry and lack of sleep can stall your business plans, and make you lose perspective. Taking a break and doing something physical can remind you that there’s more to life than that single missed deadline or the creative brief that you can’t get your head around.
As we said at the start, time outdoors can clear your head like nothing else. But there are unexpected benefits too. Namely, that being outdoors is incredibly cheap!
Use your local park for a free workout, meet up with a friend for a walk in the countryside, or take your family for a picnic. You don’t have to spend any money to rejuvenate in the outdoors! That’s especially important as a cash-strapped new freelancer.
What are your tips for maintaining your mental health as a freelancer? We’d love to hear your advice. Let us know over on the forums.
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