How to deal with anxiety as a freelancer
I have been meaning to write this journal entry FOREVER. The title of this entry has been sitting in my Journal drafts for so long, I can’t believe I’m actually writing the entry now (now being Monday 8th July). My inbox is almost empty this morning, I have answered emails, sent work bits and presentations to my clients and now have maybe an hour or two before anyone gets back to me. That’s why I jumped on this opportunity to write about anxiety. I believe it’s essential to reflect on our work experiences sometimes and not just work ALL. THE. TIME. I know it’s hard to stop if you run your own business. It’s pretty scary to stop and reflect: it feels like we might miss out on something, or worse, loose something (a job, a client…). If you’re a freelancer, or even a small business owner, you’re probably finding it very hard to unplug….but you have to. You have to stop, take a breathe, take a nap, take a bath, take care of yourself and reflect on what you’re doing with your work and business.
Freelance life isn’t easy, and as you may already know, stress and anxiety are only common when you run your own business. They’re almost embedded in freelance life, they’re here to stay and we have to learn how to cope with them. It doesn’t help when you already experience anxiety in your life, as I - and I’m sure a lot of you - do. But I want to focus on how to live with anxiety as a freelancer, how you can embrace the stress and the lows to grow and gain perspective on your (work) life.
So, as I’m writing this, I’m experiencing pretty high anxiety and stress. I just took a huge leap of faith in my business as I am about to start renting my own studio space to grow what I do and diversify my offer…It’s very exciting but it also means a lot more responsibilities and a lot more money going out each month. It means I have to succeed and I have to keep making money whilst doing what I love (I will never sacrifice that). I also have to buy (or find) a lot of stuff to fill the space and make it look awesome. In a nutshell, it’s a huge step forward and I can’t mess it up! So let’s just say that I am so VERY excited about it, but also VERY scared…which I guess is good because it means I’m challenging myself and getting out of my comfort zone. What isn’t good though, is me being anxious about literally EVERYTHING and starting to overthink things and question things that just don’t need to be questioned. That’s why I’m writing this journal entry today.
Below are some of the things I do to help me when my anxiety reaches new levels (like now). None of these are fool-proof, some days they work, some days they don’t, but that’s mental health for you. Nothing is easy, but if you try hard enough and learn about yourself, you can find your own coping mechanisms and you’ll get to a point where you can embrace anxiety and recognise it for what it is. Don’t let anxiety define you, try to think of it as a passing black cloud (or a tropical storm). Don’t forget that this is all a work in progress, it’ll always be tricky and you’ll always have to be patient and loving with yourself.
Grab a piece of paper and start writing…
Your wildest (work) dreams. Always start with the good. Think about what you want to achieve during your career/life. Think BIG! You can do anything if you truly believe in it. Anything is possible, as long as you work hard, stay true to yourself and take care of your most precious tool: your mind. So write down these dreams again, think about the best that can happen, think about the joy, the happy moments and the goals to achieve. Believe it all, it WILL happen!
But because writing down your wildest dreams can also be scary (How will I make this happen?! Can I really do this? Am I good enough? What if…) you’ve got to make another list. You have to start writing down…
Your worst fears and the worst that can happen.This really helps put everything is perspective.When we’re scared, we tend not to understand completely what we’re really scared of. We fear but without really knowing what’s coming. Writing down the worst case scenario will help you understand that. Usually, you’ll realise that nothing is that bad that it can’t be avoided, or fixed. And that whatever happens, you’ll have the tools to fix any situation without loosing your mind.
Slow down and breathe
Lie on the floor somewhere calm, with no distraction, no noise. Close your eyes, breathe. If you can, start doing some gentle movements. Stretch. Practice yoga. Yoga has had a huge impact on my mental health. All the breathing, the stretching and the focus needed in a yoga practice are helpful to reduce stress. Meditation can also help a LOT. I don’t personally practice meditation yet, I wish I could, but I am so very bad at staying still and not overthinking. I’m hoping I will get to experience its benefits one day! Whatever you choose to do, don’t forget the most important part of it all: breathing. Try not to hold your breath while you work! (I know I do that sometimes…). Take time to notice your breathing patterns and get in touch with your body that way.
Listen to the right thing
I started listening to a lot classical music when I read that it was soothing to dogs. I was trying to get my puppy Luna to go to sleep whilst I was working, so I picked a Spotify playlist randomly. Ten minutes later, Luna was fast asleep and I was feeling better. My heart was beating at a regular pace and I was feeling calm and almost stress-free. I think it really helps me to listen to music and sound, as opposed to songs with lyrics as that’s when I end up taking in what’s being said in the song and either feeling super depressed or a bit over-excited. A few weeks ago, I kept on listening to Lewis Capaldi’s debut album and started feeling quite depressed. It only took Mike to tell me that his album was super sad and depressing (and an annoyed “Doesn’t he have at least one happy song in there?!”) to realise that what I listen to while I work as a HUGE impact on my mood and thoughts. I know that’s probably not big news to you, but, crazily enough, it was a huge revelation to me!
Read about it
Whenever you feel very anxious, try to put down your phone and grab a book instead. Books are mirrors of our societies, they’re little truth tellers. I don’t think reading a book will ever make you feel bad (contrary to scrolling on social media). You can find comfort in books. Books will make you feel less alone and will help you understand how to cope with issues you might have. I know it’s sometimes hard to pick the right book or find the book that will help you, so I’ve here’s a little selection of books that really helped my mental health and my work.
Notes on a nervous planet by Matt Haig (About mental health in our modern society and what’s really happening to us)
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert (About creativity and ideas, and trusting the magic)
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (About finding your truth and your way)
Reasons to stay alive by Matt Haig (About finding ways to cope with mental illness)
Out of our minds by Ken Robinson (About Creativity)
This list should go on and on and on…To be totally honest, I should make more time to find and read books about mental heath, creativity and work-life balance, because they’re precious! I’ll try to grow this list when I can.
Exercise (I know you know this one!)
It doesn’t have to be for long, it doesn’t have to be complicated, it just has to be something that makes you feel good. I know I love to exercise in the sea (I’m lucky to live by the seaside): kite surfing, surfing, swimming, free diving…they all make me feel great. I can’t do all of these around Margate, but I would literally spend all my time in the sea if I could! Otherwise I love kickboxing and yoga. But that’s just me. You might like to dance and you can do that anywhere, you might like to play tennis or rugby, you might like to run…Basically anything that gets you moving is great! Why? Because while you’re getting out of breath focusing on the sport you love, you mind finally has some alone time to reset and feel fresher once you’re done. The cloud has gone (maybe not entirely, but now you can see some blue sky) and you can work and live a bit more peacefully again.
It may be hard talking to other people about anxiety. It’s always scary showing yourself as vulnerable, but we all are! And the more we share our fears and anxieties, the more compassion and love will be shown, and the better we will ALL feel about these issues. So reach out to other freelancers, ask them question, tell them how you feel and ask if they ever felt the same way, ask them what they did when they felt down. Go in the world and share your vulnerabilities, connect to other humans and talk about what’s on your mind. Find your mentors, find your friends, and build your own support system to help you when your anxiety reaches levels you can’t cope with alone.
My favourite Freelance communities:
So there you go, these are some of the things I do when I feel very anxious. I probably forgot to mention that eating healthily is very important too, because body and mind are linked and you’ve got to feed them right. I’ve decided to swap bread and cheese (don’t judge me, I’m French) for healthy smoothies at breakfast for the coming weeks, and I already feel much better during the day because of it. I also try to make (more) time for long -sexy- cuddles whenever I can, because that really helps too (and erm, well you know, it’s very nice…). Oh, and I love the occasional bath and pampering, it always soothes me. I’ve been thinking about getting massages more often too! Anyway, my point is, you've got to learn what makes YOU feel better, and then summon these mechanisms when you most need them. If anxiety is the supervillain, then you’re the superhero and I swear to you, you can do ANYTHING.
Let me know in the comments if you have any questions or other tips!