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The rise of ‘freelancer depression’ and what to do about it

Being a freelancer can be liberating, but the solitude and uncertainty can also lead to moments of doubt and depression, says Jenny Stallard, founder of new website Freelance Feels

Self-employment is seen as a Holy Grail. More time to do what you want, when you want, being your own boss, setting your own agenda – the list is seemingly endless. But it can actually be a hot bed of negative emotions, and lead to moments or bouts of depression.

That’s what happened to me – in March 2019, I was at home after finishing a short-term contract. Emailing, but to no replies, applying for more contracts and getting radio silence, the afternoon would dawn and I would end up scrolling through social media, where the inevitable comparison would begin.

living the freelance ‘dream’, I felt utterly alone and very much like a failure

That woman there had a book launching – why didn’t I? Another posted a job move, or a freelance win, and I felt even more useless.

By the middle of the month I found myself having a regular cry at around 4pm – that time of day when, in offices, people might break for a natter around the water cooler or kettle or start discussing something on the Internet. But at home, living the freelance ‘dream’, I felt utterly alone and very much like a failure.

freelance depression - freelance - comparisons

Comparing yourself to other freelancers on social media can lead to self-doubt.

In those moments, I realised it was ‘stick or twist’. And, an idea, which had first formed the previous summer, began to finally show it had taken root, and peek through the surface with a tiny green shoot.

Thursday June 20 is not only National Freelancer’s Day, it’s also a day that sees the launch of that idea – Freelance Feels: Wellbeing for humans who work for themselves. The very act of setting up this blog and soon-to-launch podcast has been cathartic.

But here are five other ways I have used – and recommend – to get yourself out of a ‘Freelance Depression’. Here they are:

#1 Get away from your desk – and outside

freelance depression - freelance - exercise

It is important to remember to exercise and get fresh air.

Getting away from your desk is so important, and we don’t do it enough. Think about all the times you leave your desk in a regular office job. You often go out at lunchtime, and you sure as hell go to speak to other colleagues. And so it is with freelance life. We must – MUST – move about.

One trick I use which I find works every time is to get dressed into my workout gear when I get up. Then, when it gets towards lunchtime, I go for a run. Not a long one, just about 3k. But having my kit on means I have to go.

Otherwise, it’d be pretty embarrassing, even just to myself, to change from my kit into ‘regular’ clothes with no run. Even if you go for a walk around the block, get moving when you’re freelance.

Movement can also help ideas flow and formulate in your mind. A swim or yoga are ideal if that’s your thing, as they mean you have to ditch the phone.

#2 Talk to a freelance friend

You need someone who understands and, with the best will in the world, often friends and family aren’t on the same wavelength. I have a very good friend who has been my ‘freelance phone call’ for a while now.

We have what we call Freelance meetings – a good chat on the old fashioned phone. Finding a mentor is key, too. Someone who can spur you on, tell you things will be okay – and sometimes that it’s best to drop an idea that is getting you nowhere.

You also need to be prepared to be honest; to say when you think anxiety or depression might be taking hold. You’ll most likely find that the people you speak to can relate more than you expected. After all, we’re all feeling the Freelance Feels.

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Find a mentor or freelance friend to meet with – in person or over the phone.

#3 Know when to can an idea

It takes a lot of guts to say ‘this isn’t working’ and abandon a project.

I do this more regularly than I used to, for sure! As a journalist, I pitch a lot of ideas, and the people I send them to don’t always have time to respond, and sometimes I have to accept that’s because an idea isn’t hitting the spot.

One thing I also do is focus more on those who do. After all, it’s a bit like dating: If a person doesn’t reply to you over and over again, why talk to them? Instead, communicate with the people who do and build on those relationships.

#4 Get networking

Networking can be a very scary thing to do, especially when you are feeling deep in the freelance depression. I certainly was when April dawned and I knew I needed to go out and meet more people to help formulate the idea of Freelance Feels.

Networking can be scary, especially when you’re deep in the freelance depression

I began to say yes to every invite, every event I saw advertised. And those first couple of events were excruciating. After all, taking an already self-conscious mind to an event where you have to sell yourself is not easy. But it’s helped me blossom.

It’s also important to remember #3 here: If an event isn’t floating your boat, it’s ok to leave. Just because you’ve gone doesn’t mean you have to stay until the end.

#5 Ask for medical help

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There is no shame in meeting with a doctor or therapist if you may be feeling depressed.

I was close to doing this back in March. I worried I was heading towards full-on depression, and wondered if I should speak to the doctor. I managed to cope without doing so, but I am a strong advocate of professional help – whether that’s medical, or psychological.

Perhaps you need to talk to a therapist (I’ve done this in the past) about where things are at. Or you need some support with CBT or other therapies to help you stay balanced in this freelance life.

Whatever’s going on, I advocate asking for professional help if you really think it’s needed. There’s no shame in calling the GP to talk things through.

If you’re working in-house, there might be a mental health first aider who can help you decide what to do next – use that resource!

June 20 is National Freelancer’s Day.  Click here for details. 

Freelance Depression - freelance - Jenny Stallard - headshotJenny Stallard is a lifestyle journalist and founder of Freelance Feels. Exploring wellbeing for humans who work for themselves.

Visit her website and follow her on social media@freelance_feels.

She is available for guest posts, commissions and public speaking. Get in touch


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