Back to Basics is a perfect theme for Mental Health Month after two years of pandemic upheaval. Whose psyche hasn’t been trounced by stress, isolation, and uncertainty? Add to the mix the unstructured, unsupported work life of a freelancer, and you quickly approach the mental health danger zone.
We knew this double whammy was taxing our Teamwrkr community, so we asked them what actions they are taking to support their mental health. Generously, they shared their tools and personal struggles. This candor is huge, as many still view mental health conditions as “something that afflicts other people” (i.e., not me), while an estimated 44 million Americans live with some type of mental health disorder in any given year. That is about 19% of the total US population, so this is clearly a topic that needs attention and action.
Stress management and prevention (aka self-care)
Many of our solo workers have specific “self-care” practices to prevent burnout or to regroup when work and life derail them. Anticipating stress and having an action plan is ideal for everyone, but many freelancers have the added stress of no guaranteed paycheck or workflow which puts them at greater risk for anxiety.
As one Teamwrkr advises, “I think you’ve got to schedule that (self-care) in. Otherwise, it tends not to happen.”
Another adds, “Learning to balance structure and flexibility … I pad my schedule with extra time; I have the freedom to tackle my ‘have-tos’ my own way and still leave space to do something for myself.”
While many solo workers cite schedule flexibility as a primary reason for choosing professional independence, many do not take advantage of it.
“It’s up to you if you want to go outside on a beautiful spring day and walk, run, or cycle for 30 minutes. No one is watching and it is one of your freelance ‘perks’.”
“You know, instead of an FSA healthcare benefit, your ‘flexible spending’ account consists of discretionary time.” For better mental health, capitalize on that flexibility and don’t allow the fear of stepping away to keep you chained to your desk. Spend those flexibility assets and take the breaks you need.
Self-care pursuits vary: For some, it’s “listening to some podcasts and an audiobook for time out!” or “stepping away so you can clear your mind and focus on something other than work, like focusing on YOU!”
Set your own rules for work and find the right formula for you – one that helps you thrive. As one member of our community opines, “The 40-hour workweek is BS. We are so much faster and more efficient at work now than when the 40-hour workweek was introduced in the 1940s.” So make your own workweek rules!
For some community members, self-care is all about movement. It can be simple like “Taking breaks … get up and move every thirty minutes or so, and it really improves focus.”
Some use tracking devices to nudge them. “When I am immersed in a task, I can lose track of time, but my Fitbit pings and reminds me to move. It works!”
Or it can be more deliberate and structured: “Working on my fitness has been a game-changer. There are so many added benefits that come as a bonus to working on your health.”
Many freelancers correctly cite the importance of rest to mental health. “Letting yourself rest is one of the most important things to learn. You can’t be creative if you’re burnt out.”
And research is clear on this: “Brain activity during sleep has profound effects on emotional and mental health. It fluctuates during sleep, increasing and decreasing during different sleep stages that make up the sleep cycle. Each stage plays a role in brain health, allowing activity in different parts of the brain to ramp up or down and enabling better thinking, learning, and memory.”
Good nutrition is another area that researchers and freelancers agree contributes to better mental health. One of our members mentioned the book Eat to Beat Depression and Anxiety, by Dr. Drew Ramsay who also founded the Brain Food Clinic in New York to help people struggling with mood disorders improve their diets.
She likes his catchy mantra as a guide when grabbing a snack or prepping meals: “Seafood, greens, nuts and beans — and a little dark chocolate.” Now, when she bakes those procrastination brownies, she uses dark chocolate and throws in some nuts.
A need for community support is a key reason founder, Phil Sipowicz, created Teamwrkr for independent professionals. He recognized the need for a forum in which they could support and learn from one another or just vent about common stressors. And for Sipowicz, this included both moral and professional support.
“When imposter syndrome kicks in, it’s so important to have other people to talk it through with!”
Positive self-talk through gratitude exercises, affirmations, and journaling are also reliable tools for Teamwrkrs. “Choosing to love ourselves helps us overcome a huge deal of obstacles.” “Talking to yourself kindly and hyping yourself up; it can be silly but if you look at the mirror and hype yourself up at least once every day, it increases your confidence.”
Basics can go a long way to prevention and maintenance but it’s important to recognize when you need more. Amber Rhodes, a fellow Teamwrkr, is open about this in her interview with Phil Sipowicz. Rhodes was fortunate to have a friend who recognized that she needed more than rest and platitudes and helped her find professional help after her family dismissed her depression and anxiety claims.
She eventually accepted the friend’s help after a chance encounter with a family friend that convinced her: “The first time I saw something about mental health medication that normalized it for me was my dad’s best friend on Facebook talking about taking Lexapro and I was like, ‘Hold up! You’re like in your fifties and you’re on antidepressants!’ and he was like, ‘Ya, I am, and it helps me’, and that really just changed my worldview.
I have probably had untreated depression for a very long time and was finally diagnosed when I was 24 or 25, and I guess I had a really bad downward spiral and had to start taking medication … and the more that I have had to confront my history of depression and anxiety, the more I am able to speak to the benefits of doing so.”
Talk therapy has helped many Teamwrkrs not just to get back on track but to stay there. Many cite similar issues that often accompany the freelance experience: people pleasing, limiting beliefs, self-imposed burdens like comparing yourself to others.
One member of our community shared, “I went to a counselor when I realized something was wrong and could not figure out what. But I also went to therapy for years because I needed an outsider to tell me what I could not see … We then set up a plan to help me set boundaries, stop comparing and people pleasing, and identify if something really is my responsibility”.
And her final comment helps normalize other mental health options with a bit of levity… “As always, if your brain does not make enough chemicals you need, store-bought is fine.”