Mental Health Awareness Week: Freelancing with anxiety & depression
It’s Mental Health Awareness Week - a topic I am hugely passionate about. As a business owner, and mental health advocate, I don’t keep my experiences a secret. I have anxiety and depression and have done for the last decade. At the moment, my mental health is the most stable it has ever been. Sure there’s little wobbles, off-days and off-weeks, but as a whole view, things are the best they’ve been in my noggin for a long while.
When I started my freelancing journey, I was absolutely rock bottom. Frequently people around me were telling me what a mistake self employed life would be. I’m very pleased (and a little smug) I’ve proved it to be the best thing I have done for my mental health. It hasn’t been easy, and progress has been far from a perfect straight line. I have learnt so much about myself and how much all those little actions and the choices we make every day can have a big impact on our overall well-being. I’ve penned some of my routine, my learnings and first-aid kit tools that have helped along the way.
Set a night time routine
After over a decade of hospitality work and partying in my 20s, it was safe to say my night time routine and sleep hygiene were buggered. Trying to re-establish this in my 30s has been one of the toughest but most beneficial things I’ve done to keep my head in a good place. Every night, I put my phone on charge in the living room and try to read a few chapters of fiction. I also use a herbal supplement called 5HTP which is great for settling anxiety & depression, but also promotes good sleep once it’s built up in your system after a couple of weeks. I really notice it if I forget to take it.
Set a morning routine
Similar issues as above, having to re-establish new routines was tough and my mornings are an area that still need a lot of progress. Best of intentions, I try to aim for no phone until 9am, lots of water or herbal tea first thing, meditation, healthy breakfast. Honestly, I’m lucky if any of that happens apart from the brew..
I once saw a mantra “Get up, dress up, show up” which really helps keep me focused on days where I need an extra kick up the bum. There is that self-employed stereotype that we all work from pyjamas all day, but I’ve learnt that’s one of the worst things I can do for my head and my productivity. Pjams to me are a treat after a long day, I don’t want to deprive myself of that. Getting dressed into outdoor worthy clothes (even if it is just leggings and a jumper) is a big player is getting me set up for a positive day.
Take breaks & get outside
I am also notoriously terrible for this. I’ll steam through work and before I know it’s half 2, I’ve barely eaten anything, not moved and wonder why I’m mardy. Scheduling in breaks, especially ones that involve seeing a tree or another person are good. I quite often take a brew outside and sit in my garden, or take it for a wander up the road. Trees and nature are great, and are so helpful to reset any frustrations or mental blocks.
Boundaries are needed to be set for ourselves as much as with others - it’s a way of controlling the energy coming to you and a reflection of your self worth. This is something that takes time, learning and can be scary when it comes to clients, but for the sake of our sanity it’s something we have to do and actively manage. I have a limit on how many meetings I’ll take in a week, so I know being out of the office won’t mean I’ll be picking up client work after hours. I have a timer for when I dive onto social media to help prevent falling into the scroll hole. I keep client interactions to a specific few channels. I have all of my notifications off - even email. I don’t work into evenings and don’t work weekends and don’t reply to clients outside of these times (unless it’s urgent).
I’m sure there’s more, but you get the idea. Any times these have been compromised, my mental well-being has slipped. For the sake of me and my business, these are crucial to be maintained and managed.
Build a support network
Being a freelancer can be lonely, and as humans we need basic interaction to stop us losing the plot completely. Creating a network of folk around you to lean on, speak to, rant to is so important. I’m really lucky to have some wonderful folk around me. I’ve got a crew of business peers at the other end of a laptop or phone for advice, chats and virtual coffee dates on Skype. I’ve also got pals in real life - some self employed, some not - who I can meet for a brew or lunch and put the world to rights. People are good.
Create a mental health first aid tool kit
Sometimes, a big lightning bolt of a wobble can hit from nowhere, knocking us and our confidence to the floor. These need tried and tested measures readily available to help pick us back up - a first aid kit - full of things that help us get the bad out, reset us and get some good coming back in.
A little snapshot into mine is - high % dark chocolate, reading lovely client feedback I keep in a list, a big hot pamper bath, a drive to somewhere remote with Ariana Grande on full whilst I sing/ugly cry, dog videos (especially dog reactions to their veteran humans returning home), journalling, watching Queer Eye or Silver Linings Playbook, big nature walk, chicken nuggets. Find what works for you, and make sure it’s there and ready for when you need it most. I’d love to know what would be in yours.
Disclaimer - I am far from perfect. I probably manage about 75% on a daily basis. There’s always more that could be done and better ways to look after myself. I know from experience if these processes dip to around 60% things can get a bit hairy and start to spiral. I know and understand my base level and work towards maintaining that regularly as best I can. Because the best is all I can do.
I love awareness days and weeks like this, shining a light on something I’m so passionate about, challenging the stigma and opening up conversations. But these conversations should be year round, not just celebration days. If you’re reading this and you ever find yourself in a struggle or a dip and you feel there’s no-one to talk to - my emails are open and my work phone is always on. I would hate to think of anyone feeling like they had nowhere to turn.
Rock on, Jen x