Working for yourself is a great idea. You get flexible hours and the ability to choose what you do on any given day of your workweek.
Well, every coin has two sides to it, right?
While freelancing may sound like an attractive option for the freedom it affords, many people are not aware of potential downsides. One of these is the risk that freelancers have to face mental health challenges.
Freelancers possess a high risk of experiencing mental health challenges. However, these risks can be lessened if one is prepared and manages their expectations accordingly.
Preparing for freelancing can be difficult, in no small part because it is so challenging to anticipate what challenges you will face. Understanding what you will be up against mentally, can help prepare you for the challenges of being self-employed.
Although everyone is different, here are some of the challenges that many freelancers currently face.
As an employed person, you have more safety nets than a full-time freelancer. With few exceptions, employees face the security of regular income. If you have a full-time job, health insurance and paid time off may also be benefits to your contract. Taxes are largely taken out for you and many companies maintain work even when things aren’t on the top-notch.
Freelancers don’t have just one boss. Instead, you are beholden to many different clients who constantly demand updates on the project that you’re working on for them. With overlapping deadlines and plenty of stress, as a result, it is more difficult to manage the work-life balance in this scenario.
Even if you have a virtual assistant helping manage your workload, it can be difficult to stay focused when juggling work and family obligations.
Working for oneself can be difficult because there are fewer systems in place to guide career development the way there would be if you worked professionally. One challenge is that even though it feels like you’ve achieved new levels of success, every time a project ends and a new one begins, it can feel as if nothing at all has been accomplished.
The main issue here is that it’s hard to see your career progress; you can't check in with how often you've been promoted, or how high up the "ladder" you are.
Freelancers enjoy the freedom from the bureaucracy that is found in corporate structure, but this can quickly turn into a curse. Sometimes it feels as if you are never going to be able to break free.
While it may be difficult to measure, progress toward a goal can still be tracked. There are milestones with every project that help you effectively monitor your progress and stay motivated.
This helps you see the overarching objective in new ways and find alternative ways of measuring growth.
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In a study of 477 self-employed people, Dutch researchers found that difficulty detaching from work and long work hours led to an increased sense of ill health without affecting one’s actual physical well-being. Researchers studied the effects of being too focused on work and long hours for self-employed participants. Of those who said they are 'unable to detach from work', 82% reported that they had experienced negative health symptoms such as aches or pains and physical exhaustion.
Freelancers can find it challenging to make work-life boundaries. Most people are able to maintain a clear distinction between their work life and personal life, but freelancers tend to additionally blend the two together in the same space.
When you can’t separate work and life, there are physical and mental consequences. As a freelancer working from home, it's important to create barriers that separate these two aspects of your life, or else the negative effects will be felt mentally as well as physically.
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Freelancers commonly battle with loneliness and deal with social isolation. The problem, as you might guess, is that freelancers work remotely or from their home office all day long, each without any real-life human contact-making it difficult to maintain relationships or make friends.
Loneliness and isolation are directly linked to mental health risks. The 2015 study showed that chronic loneliness can be more harmful than being overweight, smoking, or even drinking alcohol every day.
No matter what your age, you can feel isolated or lonely. This can take its toll on mental health, either worsening existing depression or creating new cases.
The good news is you can fight off loneliness. It usually takes an active effort though - building accountability for yourself, creating a support network, and nurturing social interactions consciously.
When you are freelancing, it can be lonely. Regardless of your experience level or location, isolation is inevitable. In order to best prepare for this, make sure that you have strong connections and allies before launch day.
Freelancing is isolating, so prepare. You might not need your contacts as much when you’re employed at a full-time job, but once you go solo it can feel hard in the beginning if you don’t have a support network. Establish those relationships before diving into freelancing so that isolation doesn't get to you.
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A lot of motivational speakers advocate for approaching potential clients with a "no" response. They cite the futility of rejection and encourage people to use anxiety about rejection as motivation to push forward, but being rejected affects different individuals in different ways - some take it in stride, while others become disheartened by a single “no”.
It’s not just rejection from prospects that can harm your emotional well-being but interacting with toxic clients too. If you work with bad clients a lot it may have an adverse effect on your outlook for the future.
Depending on your personality and ability to deal with difficulties in getting along with other people, freelancing may make these abilities worse.
You won’t always have a pleasant, workable relationship with your clients. Whether they're abusive or not willing to pay for any extra effort on your part, the more you experience these sorts of interactions the more experienced you'll become at handling them effectively.
Starting to manage clients is challenging until you feel like a competent professional. Until then, you can experience self-doubt and insecurity. Attitudes about your job deteriorate as well.
The first few weeks of working in a client-facing position can be rough. Learning from trial and error is an unreliable way to establish long-term success, and the insecurity you feel when working with new people can morph into self-doubt pretty easily.
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Even if you don’t normally suffer from depression or anxiety, overworking and burnout can create symptoms that resemble both.
Burnout manifests itself in symptoms similar to depression and anxiety:
- Negative attitude
- Lack of motivation
- Decreased energy
- Difficulty concentrating
- Constant dissatisfaction with any of one's work or other activities
- Lack of sleep and/or poor sleep quality
- Seeking relief through external coping methods
- Unexplained physical problems
These are the signs of burnout but do not try to diagnose yourself. If you feel like you match with many of these physical and emotional symptoms, see your doctor for a consultation.
Burnout creates serious mental health problems that many people face. Mental health issues are debilitating and may make it difficult for you to work or continue your daily activities. Chances of burnout increase when working long hours without time for yourself after they end.
Freelance work isn’t all rainbows and sunshine. Common challenges faced by freelancers are not necessarily a predictor of future mental health issues. However, you should prepare for the possibility of dealing with mental health issues in your future.
The signs of a problem may be subtle and hard to recognize if you don’t know what to look for. Be on guard so that you are more likely to handle an emerging problem, or identify one that might already exist.
Being aware of the challenges you may face is a key component to success.