Working as a freelancer seems like it would automatically lead to a healthy work-life balance. You set your own hours, work wherever you like, and don’t have to deal with messy office politics. But this lack of external structure can be just as stifling and make it hard to set proper boundaries and behaviors for yourself.
Working freelance means you need to consciously take the time to practice self-care. If you’re not a self-care pro, though, what exactly is it and why is it so important for freelance writers?
What Is Self-Care?
These days it seems like self-care is synonymous with bubble baths, long walks on the beach, and chocolate. Don’t get me wrong, I love all these things, but self-care is so much more than that.
Self-care is about making time for yourself, replenishing your creativity, and doing things that make you happy. If you carve out time for yourself every day and practice self-care, I guarantee you will be a better writer because of it.
If you’re not sure where to start or if you’re a workaholic like me, follow these tips to kick start your self-care routine.
Self-Care Tips for Writers
Understanding the purpose and essence of self-care is one thing, but actually putting it into practice within your life is another. Everyone needs to find the strategies that work best for them but start with these top tips.
Yes, meditate. These days, everyone is talking about meditating and how they’ve managed to “transcend the noise” or “open up their chakras.” While it doesn’t need to be a full-blown lifestyle change, opening yourself up to meditation could have a great impact on your stress levels.
60% of individuals who experience anxiety at work showed marked improvement upon practicing meditation. Meditation has also been proven to improve focus, thus increasing productivity. Just a few minutes each day can significantly improve your well-being.
Create a Morning Routine
When I first began freelance writing, I would often roll out of bed, grab my laptop, and get to work before I even got ready for the day. As soon as I created a morning routine for myself, it changed my entire outlook of the day.
By grabbing my laptop immediately, I never created boundaries for myself, and my work life and personal life blurred together.
Be sure to establish a morning routine for yourself. Speaking from experience, even if you do decide to work in sweatpants for the day, change out of the sweats you wore to bed and into a new pair of sweats. It might sound silly, but this will immediately set up a boundary between your work life and personal life. Boundaries are key to self-care.
Find what works for you. I like to get up, have a cup of coffee, and read the news before I pull out my computer to write. Some people like to start out the morning with a quick walk around the block, make their bed, or take a morning shower to wake them up.
Every person is different, so find what routine best sets you up for a successful day.
Prioritize Your Health
Like always, keep your health in mind. That doesn’t just mean drinking a green smoothie every other day. Set up some form of exercise for yourself and stick to it. Exercising can reduce our stress, increase our endorphins, and improve our quality of health.
Don’t tell yourself you don’t have the time; just 30 minutes a day is all you need to see results! That can look like walking around your neighborhood or doing yoga in the morning. A few of my favorite exercise activities include:
- Online exercise classes
- Going for a run
- Walking around the block
- Dance classes
- Going to the gym
Maybe some days you exercise harder than others, and that’s okay too. The important thing is that you’re getting a little exercise and movement every day.
Pair this with eight hours of sleep, plenty of water, and healthy meals. You’ll feel the changes in your body and you’ll feel better prepared to tackle your day.
Don’t Take Your Work Home
It’s so important to create working hours for yourself and to stick to them to ensure a healthy work-life balance. Just like in a normal job, occasionally you will work overtime or outside your normal hours, but make sure this is the exception and not the rule.
The second you let yourself slide and fit in work whenever you have a free moment, you let your boundaries slide, and then your work life once again becomes your personal life.
As the time frame for your working hours is so flexible, it’s up to you to set a regular schedule. It can be tempting to procrastinate, but the more you procrastinate, the later your work schedule will slide, until you’re loosely working 10-12-hour days. Have a firm start and stop time and stick to it.
You’ll also want a designated work corner to get yourself in the right mindset and keep all your tools organized. Working from your bed has been proven to impair the quality of your sleep because your brain makes the negative association of your bed with work-related stress. Don’t put that evil on yourself.
Don’t Neglect Your Social Life
If you are still working a sliding scale of 10-12 hours per day, it can be hard to imagine fitting in some social time. But friends can help keep things in perspective and call you on your crazy behaviors. Seeing your loved ones (safely) is a great way to reset, reduce your stress, and remind yourself that there are other areas to a well-balanced life. Try and set at least one day a week where you’ll be nurturing your friendships and socially resetting.
Avoid the Screens
When I say socialize, let’s be clear: I do not mean social media. While it may feel like interacting, it’s not going to give you the same self-care. As you’re already glued to a screen eight hours a day, try and minimize how much extracurricular screen time you impose on yourself.
If you’re giving yourself a little break between projects, read a chapter or call a friend. Excessive screen time can impact the quality of your sleep, and social media tends to eat up your free time with little return.
Let me repeat this — take breaks! It’s so easy to get lost in your work, only to look up and realize it’s 6 pm and you haven’t left your computer. This isn’t healthy and it will lead to burnout.
If you're like me and become so consumed in your writing that you forget to take breaks, set alarms to remind yourself. And when that alarm goes off, don’t just push snooze. Finish writing whatever sentence you’re working on, shut your computer, and take a real break.
That could just mean sitting at your desk staring at a wall. That’s fine! Give yourself permission to rest and recoup. Your brain won't work if you don’t. As a writer, your idea generator (AKA your brain) is your money-maker. Don’t burn that out.
Write in a Journal
Not long ago, I started journaling. Although I used to write many diaries as a teenager, that was something I had abandoned. Now, at every end of the day, I take the time to write my thoughts, reflections, and dreams. It has been a wonderful self-care experience that I'd recommend for everyone. And after all, as a freelance writer, you know how therapeutic writing can be.
Get in Touch with Nature
Another tip to promote self-care in your daily life (that works for me) is to connect more with nature. I have taken advantage of sunny days to practice yoga in the garden, even if only for fifteen minutes. The simple contact of my feet with the grass leaves me feeling grounded and calm.
After incorporating this into my routine, I started to think - how can we forget the power of nature? I got used to always being inside, whether to practice yoga or another activity. But I guess that in the midst of all the things quarantine has taught us, a big one was not to take this time in nature for granted.
So whatever you like to do in your free time, if you have a backyard or live close to a beach or park, why not go there? Trust me, a fresh breeze will give you a sense of well-being like nothing else.
Find a Creative Outlet
If you’re a creative freelancer, this might seem like a bit of a challenge. Maybe you work in a creative field, but it’s so closely tied with work it doesn’t feel like a fun activity. Do a little exploring and try new hobbies!
When I was locked up in quarantine, I took up drawing and painting. I’m not particularly talented at these activities, but I always felt far more relaxed after work and felt as if I’d used my time productively. It doesn’t need to be something you’re talented at, but giving yourself a creative outlet can be a tremendous form of self-care.
This may not feel intuitive, but saying no is an act of self-care. As a recovering people-pleaser, I try to say no as often as I can! Saying no means setting healthy boundaries for yourself; you know how much room you have on your plate and what you’re able to entertain. It’s also an empathetic behavior to others: you’re giving them a guide to working with you, with boundaries and limits, so they can move more confidently through interactions.
Give Yourself Permission to Relax
This one is nearly impossible for me. As a creative entrepreneur, I find myself constantly needing to go go go. If I’m not working, I feel like I’m lazy. This is a dangerous mindset. We’re taught that if we’re not productive, we are worthless to society.
This is completely false. It’s OKAY to take time for yourself and relax. In fact, not only is it okay, it’s incredibly important. No human is meant to work 24/7. I think as writers, sometimes we're so busy hustling to meet our next deadline or craft that perfect pitch, we forget this.
If you need to sit on your couch and watch every Bridget Jones movie (hi...I highly recommend this), then please give yourself permission to do so. Rest and relaxation can refuel your batteries.
Caring for Yourself First
Freelancing means taking on all components of your business, but it also means you’re responsible for taking care of yourself. No one’s going to blow the whistle and tell you to take a break, so do what you can to make sure you’re working sustainably. Get creative, reduce your screen time, and make time to see your friends. Running a business is hard, and you need all the self-care you can get.