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Perspectives

Five foundations to manage your mental health as a freelancer

Matthew Knight, founder of Leapers shares five foundations that influence our mental health and ability to work well as modern workers.
mental health

As the freelancers, self-employed and entrepreneurs, we’re probably one of the groups where uncertainty is already a big part of how we work. However, coronavirus has thrown a huge proverbial spanner into the works and added to what is already a challenging way of working for many.

At Leapers, a community which aims to support the mental health of modern workers, we’ve been focusing the past few weeks on helping those who are dealing with the huge impact and challenges of rapidly moving to remote working, or having found their work disappearing due to the virus and its impact.

Regardless of the current situation, designing how you work with your own mental health in mind, is an essential consideration for all of us. It helps us thrive in the best of times. It helps us cope in the worst of times. And it helps us move forward in the average times (which is probably most of the time) – after all, as we don’t have an employer looking after our wellbeing, we have to do it for ourselves.

Right now, we’re moving out of a sort of ‘crisis response’ mode, and into a longer term ‘okay, what now?’ mode. This is an adjustment phase where we’re starting to look ahead and are trying to figure out what comes next. The initial panic caused by work going away, our finances being completely turned over, and our income at threat might have subsided – but that doesn’t mean the actual issues have gone away yet.

So, what should we do to move forward?

I always suggest that people think about the five foundations – the themes which influence our mental health and ability to work well as a modern worker.

1. Financial Resilience

First of all, assess your money. Looking at your expenditures, cutting back on unnecessary spending, and finding ways to diversify your income are all sensible approaches. Mental health and financial health are completely intertwined, so making sure you understand what your finances look like can really help – and not just for today or this week, but consider them over the next three, six and twelve months. This will help you to know what situation you’re really in. It might not be as awful as you first thought and you may be able to start making positive changes – like creating a savings goal or building up an emergency fund. However, if you’re really struggling, make sure you know what support you’re able to access from the government. There are resources to be found at www.leapers.co/#tangibles.

2. Healthy Habits

Boundaries are incredibly hard to have in place when you’re forced to work from home – even if you’re used to it. Putting in some useful habits to help you draw the line between work and rest can really help to keep your mental health more positive. Here are some examples:

  • Start by giving yourself a “working day” where you put the laptop down at the end and give your brain some rest.
  • Be kind to yourself. If you’re struggling with productivity – don’t beat yourself up, right now is unusual, and you can’t be expected to work 100% effectively, especially if you’re dealing with home schooling or feeling isolated.
  • It can really help to journal right now – make notes about how you’re feeling, highs and lows, and see if there are any patterns you can pick up on – perhaps you’re more productive in the mornings, and need to rest in the afternoon. Journaling also helps with keeping track of everything you are getting done, and acts as a great motivator to look back and reflect on how much you’ve achieved, even if it seems like the week disappeared quickly.

Who do you turn to when you don’t know anybody in your industry?

Listen to our podcast episode on building up a professional network

3. Support Networks

Self-employment can be hugely isolating at the best of times, so making sure you’ve got a team you can call upon is crucial. Whilst we’re at home, these teams might be online communities, perhaps a group like DITFK for freelance parents, or category specific communities like FJ&Co for journalists. Finding your tribe, and putting in time to connect and share how you’re feeling is a really great way of making sure you’re feeling less alone – many of these are also great for finding new briefs and opportunities.

4. Working Relationships

It’s essential that we communicate really clearly and build stronger working relationships with clients, with suppliers, and with collaborators. 50% of the stressors we face as the self-employed come from our relationships with others so trying to improve those is so helpful. If you’re actively working at the moment, try and introduce a few ‘human’ conversations with your colleagues – the sort of things you’d chat about if you were in an office together that isn’t just about work, but helps to make you feel closer to each other. If you’re not actively working, reach back out to your network, not to pitch yourself, but to see how people are doing – opportunities often come from being visible and front-of-mind.

5. Professional Development

We rarely get the chance to step back a little and look at where our careers are going, and right now is as good a time as any. Feeling ’stagnation’ in your work is always de-motivating, so it’s a critical consideration for working well. Using the additional time we have on weekends and evenings at home to invest in professional training, learning new skills and developing new capabilities is a great way to not only pass the time, but help ensure you’re more valuable to people hiring when things return back to normality. Even if you’re not able to pay for courses, there are plenty of free resources, and lending your help to a community project where you can learn on the job helps you to develop real world skills and puts something tangible in your portfolio.

It’s unfortunate that it often takes a significant crisis or disruption to make us actively think about doing the things which help us build a more stable and resilient way of working.

But no matter how you’re working right now, this is a watershed moment to think about how you want to work moving ahead.

With 1 in 4 people struggling with poor mental health at any one time, building a way of working which incorporates looking after your mental health is crucial – so no matter what’s happening in the world, you are more resilient, more able to work, and can build a more sustainable business for the future.

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