Being a freelancer has several advantages but a few drawbacks, too. For many people, being able to manage your own time seems like a dream job. However, it can be hard to maintain a good work-life balance and take regular breaks. And what happens when you don't? Well, then the stress and mental exhaustion can lead to mental health problems.
We all need help from time to time. If you have any mental health concerns, you should consider seeking professional help. In this lesson, we'll go through the leading causes of mental illness in self-employed people and how to reach out to healthcare providers when you need mental health help.
How many freelancers have mental health issues?
According to recent studies, 46% of freelancers feel the work harms their mental health. The reasons are varied, but the main worries have to do with irregular income (86%), incomplete or incorrect briefs from clients (80%), self-doubt and mental load (77%), and long hours (69%). Additionally, 66% of self-employed people feel they have nobody to share their stresses with, and 46-48% feel the work is lonely and isolating.
When you're a freelancer, taking breaks costs money, so if you become unwell or need a holiday, your paycheck suffers. Unfortunately, if you feel this way and you continue to work, chances are you will be faced with mental health issues that affect both your professional and personal life.
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Why is it important to seek mental health treatment?
Some everyday situations freelancers have to deal with on a daily basis include unrealistic deadlines, contractor management (especially tricky if in international time zones), financial worries linked to delayed payments, an unstable income, and the difficulties of having to deal with tax and legal jargon.
If you don't get enough sleep, exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet, and manage to somehow generate a better work-life balance (these are all things we struggle with), your well-being could be impacted. When your mental health starts to inhibit your ability to work or enjoy life, it's a good idea to seek professional help so you can get back on your path.
When do you need to seek professional help?
There's rarely a sole factor causing stress, but the symptoms commonly associated with mental health stressors are the following:
- Inability to relax
- Sleep disturbances
- High antidepressant and antianxiety drug use
- Presenteeism, or a need to continue working even when ill
There are also some warning signals you can look out for that might indicate an impending mental health crisis. These include:
- Losing interest in things you used to enjoy or getting easily annoyed.
- Shutting down for no reason or acting erratically.
- Isolating yourself and taking space from others.
- Engaging in risky behaviors.
- Disassociating or separating yourself from reality.
What to do if you need a mental health break
We'll discuss reaching out and asking for help in the next section, but let's first discuss some things you can do to manage your mental health as a freelancer.
First, it's essential to establish your priorities. Freelance life comes with an inherited insecurity because you're never sure about projects and income. Of course, you need to find gigs, but not if they mean abandoning your interests and ambitions.
Try to take regular mental health breaks to avoid serious illness. Working from home can be lonely, so try to stay in touch with other freelancers and contacts. Schedule time to chat with coworkers, family, and friends, and change your surroundings once in a while (join a coworking space, work from a cafe, etc.)
If you experience stress for an extended period of time, burnout can sneak up on you. Burnout does not go away on its own; it's a chronic disorder that develops over time.
What is the benefit of mental health treatment?
If you leave a mental illness unacknowledged and unmanaged, it can become a severe problem that can affect every aspect of your life. There's no shame in getting professional help; in fact, there are several health services that specialize in remote workers and freelancers and can help you cope with anxiety and loneliness.
Seeking the help of mental health services can become crucial for your well-being. Life is made of constant ups and downs, and everyone experiences periods of anxiety, grief, and fear. Sometimes, the cause is a particular event in the past. Others, periods of prolonged stress that lead to burnout and disassociation or having to handle multiple contracts, invoices, deadlines, and tasks all on your own (a freelancer platform like Indy can help you manage your business a little more).
Given that hundreds of thousands of freelancers and small business owners suffer from mental health disorders, there should be no shame in pursuing treatment. In most cases, in fact, both their diagnosis and their treatment are relatively straightforward if handled by a professional. Unfortunately, many people suffering from mental health concerns do not reach out or heal or can become easily frustrated when a treatment doesn't work.
The consequences of the absence of mental health treatment
Without mental health treatment, the consequences of certain illnesses can become staggering. Untreated issues can lead to substance abuse, unemployment, poor quality of life, and suicidal thoughts.
In most cases, mental illness does not go away on its own. You can wait for things to feel better, and they might in some cases, but it takes time and effort to change certain habits. One thing that is important to remember is that working proactively towards improving your mental health can be a rewarding experience, with benefits that stretch far beyond regaining control of your time and well-being.
The benefits of finding the correct mental health treatment
Mental illness brings unnecessary suffering to people all around the world. Although much has been done to battle stigma, we're still a long way from making treatments readily available to everyone.
Good mental health contributes to a longer life and better physical health, as well as:
- Improved self-awareness and insight.
- Greater interpersonal and communication skills.
- Better emotional regulation conflict resolution.
- More effective coping mechanisms and better decision-making.
- More confidence and self-esteem.
- An increased ability to solve problems.
Common therapies used for mental health treatment
Counseling is an excellent choice for anyone interested in exploring their own mental health, no matter the time in their lives. Whether the issues you notice arise from work stress, family issues, or problems with a relationship, you can always benefit from mental health counseling. So, how does it work?
Trained professional counselors (or therapists) typically guide you through a journey. Sometimes, all you do is talk about a problem so you can come up with the best solution; in this case, they might ask certain questions or give you tools so you can explore these options on your own.
There are several evidence-based therapies that have been long proven effective in dealing with mental health issues. Let's go through them in some more detail.
Group therapy and individual therapy
Group therapy usually consists of groups of 5 to 15 people and one or more therapists. During a session, you are usually supported and, in some cases, challenged by your peers. This helps put problems into perspective because you can listen to others' concerns and see how others handle their problems and are willing to make changes in their lives. Individual therapy (or psychotherapy) is a collaborative process between a single patient and a therapist. This type of treatment is more effective for certain conditions, such as bipolar disorder, depression, and serious illnesses, that need to be treated on their own.
Cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT
Cognitive behavioral therapy (also known as CBT) is a type of "talk therapy" that explores the difference between the things you say you want to do and what you do in reality. Its approach is more matter-of-fact, highlighting behaviors and thought patterns so you can understand the relationship between the two. The ultimate goal of this type of therapy is to adjust these problematic patterns and behaviors by targeting beliefs, images, and attitudes that cause emotional turmoil. Once identified, you can learn new ways to manage your thoughts and feelings.
Contingency management therapy (CM)
This type of therapy or approach is all about thinking in terms of positive incentives. As a patient, you get rewarded or 'reinforced' when you make positive changes in behavior. It's considered quite an effective treatment for behavior disorders and has been used successfully in psychiatry to increase abstinence.
This counseling method can help you resolve conflict by finding the motivation required to change behaviors. This is more of a short-term process, often used as therapy for managing physical health conditions (such as diabetes, heart disease, or asthma) and changing the behaviors that can prevent you from making the best choices about your health. Motivational interviewing is particularly useful if you feel you need to be more motivated or prepared to make proactive changes and can show results in just one or two sessions.
Family therapy or counseling can help family members resolve conflicts and enhance communication. The goal is for everyone involved to be transparent and choose closeness. If you attend a session, you will probably be motivated to reframe relationships, change behaviors, and restructure your family system. Although not directly related to freelance work, this type of therapy can be incredibly helpful in dealing with family dynamics that can affect your professional life.
Anxiety, depression, burnout, and loneliness are all commonplace for anyone running a freelance business and/or working with a flexible schedule and inconsistent income. If left untreated, though, these conditions can develop into serious mental health issues that require a little extra support.
Being a freelancer comes with its challenges, yes, but you probably chose this career path because you value your freedom and flexible schedule. If you feel stressed, anxious, and feel like you're losing control, don't hesitate to reach out to a professional. There are lots of different therapies you can try so you can become a healthier, happier, and more successful freelancer. You can also use a productivity platform like Indy to help you manage projects, create contracts, share files, send invoices, and more. See how Indy can simplify freelancing for you today.