Freelancing is supposed to be a liberating career move.
You no longer have to work for a business that you don’t care for, and don’t have to worry about your boss’ expectations or evaluations.
However, many freelancers quickly find that going at it alone is more stressful than working a steady 9 – 5.
When working for yourself, you are the one responsible for finding clients and meeting deadlines.
You set your own work hours, too, which can quickly lead to overworking and burnout.
To maintain your productivity — and sanity — you must learn to recognize the signs of stress before they spiral into burnout.
Learning to recognize the signs of stress can help you maintain a healthier work-life balance and ensures that you can stay motivated through the highs and lows of freelancing.
Common Signs of Work Stress
Everyone experiences work stress at some point in their career.
Whether you’re a seasoned paralegal or a start-up software engineer, you’re going to get stressed out at some point.
Short bursts of acute stress can actually be good for your overall health and well-being.
A quick shot of stress gets you firing on all cylinders and ensures that meet your deadlines or meet your goals.
Chronic stress, however, is terrible for your health, well-being, and productivity.
Chronic stress builds up over time and usually presents itself as an unshakeable sense of dread or anxiety.
Usually, your body starts to produce signs that you are experiencing chronic work-related stress before you realize there is an issue. You may experience symptoms like:
- Tension Headaches: Headaches that feel as though you are wearing a tight headband. They aren’t unbearable, but they’ll certainly interrupt your workflow.
- Fatigue: You feel tired at the start of the workday, and always feel as though you can’t get enough rest.
- Stomach Problems: Difficulty digesting your food is a sure sign that you’re stressed beyond normal limits.
- Difficulty Focusing: Brain fog is an indication that you’re not working at your full potential. Stress is interrupting your ability to focus on the task at hand, and is limiting your productivity.
These are just a few signs that chronic stress is interrupting your day-to-day workflow.
Chronic stress typically occurs when you’ve taken on too much work, are struggling with some aspect of your home life, or are unsatisfied with your current job.
As a freelancer, you’re particularly susceptible to digital burnout.
You probably spend much of your workday alone at a desk and get most of your social interaction from emails and video conferencing software.
While digital technology makes working for yourself possible, it can sometimes become burdensome if you can’t take a break from the screen or software.
The early signs of digital burnout include:
- Prolonged feelings of loneliness.
- You think about work during your leisure time.
- You work more hours than you want to.
- You’re constantly comparing yourself to others.
If you suspect you’re suffering from digital burnout, but can’t afford to take time off work, consider switching up your current work schedule.
Instead of working from your home office, visit a local coffee shop or park and pack your laptop.
Your productivity may take a hit, but your mental health will improve thanks to social interactions and time spent in green spaces.
At the end of the work day, turn all of your devices off and try to limit your screen time.
Replace TV and social media with walking and reading; pick up a hobby like crafting or knitting; spend more time cooking your meals and cleaning your living space.
Spending time away from digital devices can help you unwind and feel refreshed when it’s time to turn the PC back on and get to work the next morning.
In an ideal world, you’ll never become stressed and you will balance all of your tasks and responsibilities perfectly. However, most freelancers don’t live in an ideal world and are often overwhelmed by competing deadlines and tricky clients.
You can better manage your stress as a freelancer by learning to breathe deeply and slowly.
Slow, deep breaths can mitigate your stress response and even change the chemistry of your brain.
If a few deep breaths don’t calm you down, consider downloading a mindfulness app like Calm or Headspace.
Try to plan your workweek to make the most of your time off. Plan a walk in the countryside, or visit a local attraction that you’ve been meaning to visit.
Building your workweek around your leisure time will ensure that you don’t overburden yourself and gives you something to look forward to when you finish your daily tasks.
If you work alone, consider reaching out to friends or picking up a new hobby that helps you socialize. Look for events in your area, or start a support group yourself.
Even simple changes, like joining a sports team or attending a book club, can make you feel like part of your local community and mitigate your stress.
Mental Health Support
Self-help can reduce your stress and help you see life’s silver linings. However, sometimes you just can’t get yourself out of a rut and need to reach out for help.
If work stress has you feeling anxious or depressed, get in touch with a licensed therapist.
A good therapist can help you work through the cause of your stress and make lifestyle changes that improve your health and well-being.
You can find help for stress management online, too.
Digital therapy platforms like Talkspace and BetterHelp host a directory of therapists who specialize in stress management.
You’ll be able to choose from dozens of mental health professionals, meaning you can get help at a time that suits you.
Working for yourself is a blessing and a curse.
You have complete control over your work day, but you still need to meet the client’s deadlines if you want to earn enough to pay the bills.
For many, the stress that comes with freelancing can spiral out of control and lead to burnout and fatigue.
Recognizing the early signs of stress can help you make changes to your lifestyle.
Plan some time off if you start to experience tension headaches or brain fog and try to limit your screen time.
If breaks and deep breathing doesn’t help, consider reaching out to a licensed therapist who can help you address the root cause of your work stress.