If anyone has ever told you that the freelancer’s journey through life is easy, they’ve probably never experienced it themselves. Let’s face it: There are so many common conditions of freelance work that can be difficult to handle. That’s why promoting mental health is critical to your long-term success as an indy. As research shows, you may experience all types of mental (and physical) freelance burnout during particularly busy times — especially when you only have yourself to act as a motivator. In fact, a recent Swiss study found that those who work in “non-standard employment” conditions encounter unique stressors that often lead to “sleep disturbances, depressive symptoms, a high prevalence of antidepressant drug use and ‘presenteeism.'”
As a freelancer who’s experienced her fair share of ups and downs, I turned to science for some concrete, actionable answers about how to support my own positive mental health. Here’s what I found.
Creativity Improves Well-Being
How many times have you thought to yourself “I’m just not feeling it today?” As a writer, I tend to let my mood dictate my writing schedule, and when I’m not feeling like I’m in the right head space, I don’t write. But what if you could break out of your negative moods by engaging in creative activities?
A recent study in The Journal of Positive Psychology found that doing something creative on a daily basis can improve your mood. Participants in the study kept a journal for over 13 days detailing how much time they spent on creative activities, alongside the positive and negative emotions they felt. The results showed that people felt more positive emotions following days when they had engaged in more creative activities than usual.
As freelancers, we shouldn’t be waiting until we’re in just-the-right headspace to start working on our craft. Creativity doesn’t just flow from positive emotions — in fact, the science shows just the opposite. It’s creativity itself that leads to those positive emotions.
Next time you hit a setback and you’re struggling with a negative mood or feel like you’re in a slump, be persistent and commit to completing one small creative act. Perhaps that means adding a paragraph to that article you’re writing or finding one more source for your pitch. Or maybe you should pick up that guitar or paintbrush again, and enjoy the creative process for its own sake.
Here’s a tip: Don’t aim for perfection. One study showed that making art, even if you’re terrible at it, can reduce stress. If you’ve hit a mental roadblock in your work, remind yourself of all the advantages of getting a little creative.
Meditation Builds Resilience
Sometimes it’s the physical changes we make that help us alter our mental states. Take meditation, for example: This practice bridges our physical and mental environments to help us look beyond the difficulties we’re facing.
In Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body, Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson cut through the hype and misinformation surrounding meditation, discussing how different meditation practices don’t just change your state of mind — they can actually change your personality traits.
When you’re ready to take the plunge, start by learning about the specific types of meditation that exist and how they contribute to different forms of positive mental well-being. Participating in these practices may help you improve your attention and resilience, and help you shift your focus away from self-obsession.
Resilience is one of the most important traits in successful freelancers. You will face a barrage of challenges during your career, and without high resilience, it’s easy to feel overpowered by these hurdles — especially since the physical working conditions of freelancing can be quite isolating at times. Sure, you can focus when you really need to, but how can you be better at this?
Try taking just five to 10 minutes each morning to sit in an upright position with your eyes closed. Focus all of your attention on your breathing, and slowly breathe in and out through your nose. When your mind wanders, don’t force yourself to calm down or criticize yourself. Just allow your focus to come back slowly.
Be patient with your meditation practice. As with any skill, it takes time to learn and perfect. If you’re persistent, you’ll see for yourself how much regular meditation can improve your overall mental health.
Gratitude Boosts Positivity
I’ve recently discovered just how powerful gratitude is for your well-being. It turns out that a particular practice, gratitude writing, has helped psychotherapy patients improve their mental health.
Try keeping a gratitude journal. It doesn’t have to be a big undertaking. Just note one to three things each day that you’re thankful for. Perhaps it was a kind note from a friend, or simply having a fridge full of food. The act of thinking about what we’re grateful for can help us shift our perspective away from the negative (and encourage us to appreciate all the positive things in our lives). As a freelance writer, gratitude writing has dual benefits: It helps me exercise my creative writing chops and improves my mood.
Start Now, Before Burnout Hits
It’s not always easy to notice the negative mental health effects of freelance work. We may even assume that as long as our work is going OK, everything is going OK. So, even if you don’t feel the pressure of mental or physical burnout, try incorporating some of these small practices into your day. Engage in a small creative activity if you’re feeling defeated, meditate for five to 10 minutes before you tackle a new project and keep a gratitude journal to think positively throughout your day.
Acknowledging our struggles and properly promoting mental health among ourselves and others is one of the most important ways we can succeed, both professionally and personally.