Are you happy being a freelancer? Sounds like a strange question and one you probably wouldn’t expect being asked on a blog promoting freelancing, but I just have to finally address the elephant in the room. Freelancing is hard work, it often goes unrewarded and it can lead to depression, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Whether it’s the uncertainty regarding when you are going to find your next client, the fact that one of your current clients is avoiding you and not sending you that much anticipated paycheck or you simply can’t deal with social isolation anymore, many freelancers learn sooner or later that depression is a real thing.
But why exactly does freelance depression happen and what can you as a freelancer do to cope with it? In this article, I’ll first delve into the top 4 reasons freelancers get depressed and then offer you 7 what I believe are best ways to deal with freelance depression as a freelancer.
Why Depression Happens to Freelancers?
When you look at it from the outside, there shouldn’t be much of a reason for you to feel depression or anxiety. After all, we have much more freedom in choosing when we want to work and with whom we want to work. So why should freelancers feel depressed. Turns out, there are at least four reasons.
- The feeling of isolation
As someone who is working from home as a freelancer I can tell you first hand that the lack of strong human relationship can often chip away at you. The result of this isolation that often comes with the job is a major factor in depression. And, if you’re an extrovert and thrive when other people are around you, it can get even worse. Isolation also brings with it a number of health risks comparable to obesity and smoking.
- Payment issues
Most freelancers encounter a non-paying client at least once in their career. Or, at least, one who avoids sending a payment until the final moment. Often, freelancers have to wait for weeks or even months for the client to respond to their invoice. Unfortunately, knowing that non-paying clients are simply a part of the deal doesn’t make it any less a depressing fact.
- Clients can fire you at a moment’s notice
Here’s one sad truth about your relationship with a client. It can end at any moment. You might think that all is going so well, the client seems happy with your work and then BAM! The client has decided to end your contract because they’ve end up in financial troubles themselves or have found another, perhaps cheaper freelancer to replace you.
- Finding new clients can take a long time
If you are just getting into freelancing and are trying Upwork for the first time, you can witness first-hand how difficult it is for a new freelancer to get a first job. Although my first two clients came as a result of recommendation, getting my first job on Elance or Odesk wasn’t easy and it took me a month before I got the first project on Odesk (I never had much success on Elance, though I quickly gave up on it). That was when freelancing wasn’t nearly as popular as it is today and when less people wanted to get in compared to today. By all accounts, today it’s even harder.
How Can You Beat Freelance Depression?
Knowing the root of the problem is, of course, the first step in solving that same problem. Depression is certainly not something to be taken lightly as it can often have devastating consequences. I want to give you a few ways with which you can beat depression if you’re a freelancer. Keep in mind that I am no expert on mental health and if you feel that depression is seriously undermining your life, please, see a psychologist. Trust me, there is nothing wrong or embarrassing in seeking help for it.
Hopefully though, these 7 tips will help you get over freelance depression:
- Go on a holiday
Burnout is a big problem, no matter what profession you are in. That’s why people invented holidays to get their minds of work. Unfortunately, no one told freelancers that holidays apply to them as well so you’ll often see them working as tirelessly on New Year as they do on any other day (I actually did that a couple of years ago, not sure if that’s a sad fact or not). My point, mark the calendar for at least those big holidays like New Year, Christmas, Eastern and your birthday and don’t touch any projects then. Just a word of caution, you probably should tell the client beforehand that you’ll be taking a few days off.
One more advice about going on a holiday. Travel. See different places. Especially if you’re telecommuting.
- Take a break
Taking even a five minute break is beneficial in more ways than one. First, it allows your brain to rest and reset so you can come back with fresh ideas later. Second, it’s not healthy to sit for a prolonged period of time, so get up and get out for a walk. It will do you good. I always go for a walk or a run, as this helps me clear my mind. When I return, I am able to deliver much better results than before.
Read a book, watch a movie, take care of your pet or animals, play with your kids. Anything that takes your mind off work is good for you.
I already mentioned that I sometimes like to go for a run when I’m taking a break from writing. Physical activity is a good way to get rid of anxiety and stress. If you don’t like running, you can join a gym or find a few buddies to play basketball with. Trust me, nothing beats endorphins when it comes to reducing pent up stress. Not to mention that you ought to pay attention to your physical health due to the nature of freelancing and that you probably spend a good amount of time sitting in front of a computer screen.
- Talk to a family member or a friend.
We already established that isolation is a big problem and a huge reason for depression in freelancers. This is why finding who you can talk to is incredibly important. This can, of course, be your spouse, other family members or friends. If you’re working at home, don’t always lock the door so that no one can get in. Often, the stress you feel when you look at a difficult project can be easily reduced over a cup of coffee or tea with your loved one or a drink with your friends.
- Join a community
Unfortunately, while your family and friends will genuinly want to help you if they see you need it, being themselves removed from your profession (freelancing), they often won’t be able to. That in itself can be a trigger to getting into the “no one understands me” attitude and thus lead to further depression. Fotunately, you are actually not alone as a freelancer. In July 2015, 1 in 3 workers in the United States, or 53+ million were freelancers, according to the Monthly Labor Review of Bureau of Labor Statistics, United States Department of Labor. Guess what? They all have the same problems more or less as you, including dealing with depression.
My suggestion, therefore, is to find a freelancing community and start spending more time with like minded people. There are plenty of groups on Facebook, Reddit or Google + where you can find amazing people. Just be sure you don’t join for self-promotion solely, but actually contribute to the conversation and aim to help other members as much as they are helping you.
- Get rid of bad clients and other toxic influences
You know that one client that, no matter how hard you try to please, never seems to be satisfied with your work and always has a critique? Stop trying to please them and fire them! Seriously, you don’t have to put up with that. Or that friend that sometimes just rubs you the wrong way? Break contact with them as well. You don’t need toxic people in your life. It’s much too short to waste your time on them.
- Get help for your depression from a professional
Finally, as I already said, if depression becomes a more serious problem and is starting to affect not just your work, but also life in general, be sure to ask for help from a professional therapist. I’m not ashamed to admit that I went to see a therapist a few years ago, to deal exactly with depression and anxiety (before I started freelancing) and just a few sessions did wonders. So I wholeheartedly recommend you to try it as well.
How do you deal with freelance depression? Let me know in the comments below and don’t forget to share the post or subscribe to my blog if you want more articles about freelancing.