’ve always been a bit anxious in comparison to most people around me - I’m an overthinker, a creative type who didn’t always feel like I fit in. It seemed like overanalyzing and worrying a little more than the average person was just going to be part of the package, and I actually handled it pretty well. But recently, I moved to a new city, and I didn’t handle the transition as well as I thought I would. Dealing with reverse culture shock, jet lag, and a million people asking, “So, what are you going to do next?” was sending me into a spiral of irrational thoughts. In some ways, working as a freelancer can make anxiety worse - you have so much responsibility to provide for yourself and constantly search for more work. But since we can be flexible with our schedules and exercise more control over our daily activities than someone working in an office job, we can tackle that anxiety head on in a way that works for us.
Here are the methods I’ve been using over the past few months to reduce my anxiety while freelancing:
I've struggled with this one a LOT over the last few years. Saying yes to late night plans, fitting in one more thing on my to-do list as the hours got later. As a creative, sometimes your best work comes in the hours of the early morning, and we're all slaves to that high. The less sleep I got each night, the more the exhaustion would take over until I was out for a whole day due to lack of energy. Set yourself working hours. A plus side to being a freelancer is you can set your working hours to fit being a morning person or a night owl. Although it's easy to jump into a project or answer emails around the clock, try to set designated time for tasks so that rest is factored in. This will not only help your anxiety, but also help with burnout and keep your mind rested to focus on your best work.
I don't mean to sound like a doctor here, but did you know that practically every person is lacking on one vitamin or another? If you feel like anxiety is causing deeper symptoms that affect your health, I highly recommend seeing a doctor or nutritionist to see where you may not be receiving the nutrients you need. For example, low vitamin D can contribute to fatigue and depression. I noticed a change in my mental state and health after taking supplements for vitamin D for a week.
I will never give up my morning coffee, but relying on caffeine to deal with my fatigue and resistance to sitting down and getting work done was only increasing my heart rate and making my anxiety worse. One cup of coffee in the morning and a small cup of green tea or iced coffee (only if I absolutely need the second round of coffee) in the afternoon for a little pick-me-up are all that I allow myself now. Oh, and drink more water, too - I know it almost seems too obvious to include, but dehydration was giving me headaches, which added to my anxiety.
Practicing Meditation-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) seriously for about 4-5 months has changed my life. Meditating in the morning is most effective for me because I’m just drowsy enough that I don’t feel antsy and restless, but I won’t fall right back asleep, either. Just breathing and clearing my mind for a few minutes helps me start my work day with a positive mindset.
Alright, I know this is very common advice, but please don’t shake your head and write it off just yet - it really has helped me! Every morning I write for about 10-15 minutes for blog posts/ideas, or just personal thoughts, and the first thing I write down is one thing I’m grateful for. Focusing on all the positives in my life helps me tackle any negatives that crop up throughout the day. Plus, this only takes a short amount of time and gives me something to be grounding when chaos throughout the day tries to drown my mind.
I'm extremely fortunate to be surrounded by hard working and motivated people. The person you rely on as your accountability partner doesn't have to be in the same working field as you, they just want to see you succeed. Having someone to motivate me and check in on me is super encouraging when I have to keep working through all the anxiety. If you can find a friend who understands your anxiety and can spare just a few minutes each day to send you a thoughtful text or a quick phone call to make sure you’re keeping up with everything, it could be helpful.
Yes, it’s cheesy, and yes, it totally works for me. Instead of writing TO DO at the top of my list of things I need to get done each day, I’ve started writing “I promise myself.” The list might look a little like this: “I promise myself I will publish a blog post. I promise myself I will update my portfolio. I promise myself I will do yoga and meditate. I promise myself I will reply to that lingering e-mail…” you get the idea! I find that when I frame my responsibilities as promises to my future self rather than just a lists of tasks to check off, I’m more likely complete them, even if I am feeling anxious. It’s a little way of showing some self-love while getting organized.
I’ve chosen to deal with my anxiety through lifestyle changes for now, but there is absolutely no shame in seeing a therapist or using medication. If you’re a freelancer who feels that you might need to speak to a professional or take meds to get your life back on track, I would strongly encourage you to research those options and do whatever works best for you!
I don’t have the pressure of providing for kids or paying off a mortgage yet, so some freelancers with more responsibilities may not find that my tactics are enough for them. But I do have rent, bills and taxes to pay, and the challenge of saving up for things I want to bring to my life. Hopefully, this advice will help a few other anxious freelancers out there. Take a deep breath, keep your head up, and let’s get back to work!
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