How do you keep the black dog away?

Being a freelancer can have its ups and downs and this can take a toll on our mental health. The challenges are numerous: isolation, distressing content, financial strains, long hours, short deadlines, loneliness, pressure from social media… so how can we manage all of this and keep ourselves well?

This question is particularly pertinent to me and one I spend a lot of time thinking about. During my time at university, I struggled with depression and anxiety, cumulating in having to take a year out of my studies in order to get my head back on track. Throughout this year, I also questioned whether I wanted to continue with my studies, the idea of a year abroad was terrifying. But ultimately, I knew it was what I wanted to do. It took a lot of hard work, courage and support to return to university but ultimately, it was the right decision. When graduation was fast approaching, I had the same choice again. Do I choose something safe, low risk, secure? Or do I pursue my ideal job, doing the thing I love with the freedom and flexibility of freelancing?

You can guess what I decided.

So how do we keep ourselves well and how do we make sure we value ourselves and our mental health above our jobs?

1.      Talk to people

Let people in. Talk. Share. Listen.

They say a problem shared is a problem halved. So, let’s reach out to our colleagues and ask for their opinion. They may well have dealt with a similar situation and have incredible insight to offer. Talking breaks the silence and shatters loneliness. It reminds us that we don’t have to have all the answers and shares the burden.

This is particularly crucial if we’ve dealt with distressing subject matter. I once had a pro bono job looking at the impact of Boko Harem on local communities. It was eye opening and harrowing and possibly the most important text I’ve translated to date. But it was hard. It was draining. It was relentless. For me, it was essential to have this conversation with others, to be able to feel it, acknowledge it, discuss it and move on.


2.      Give yourself safety nets

One of the best things I’ve done is to be kind to myself and put things in place to take the pressure off. I’m outgoing and can have a tendency to push myself to the limit. To stop myself crashing and burning, I’ve incorporated safety nets into my business structure. I have a month’s salary set aside so that should I ever want to leave the industry, or it didn’t work out for me, I had enough to cover my essentials. I set money aside so that I never run my accounts down completely and give myself a buffer for late payments. Wherever possible, I build a buffer into my deadlines, meaning I’m not working to the last possible minute and that I can usually deliver jobs earlier than expected.


3.      Give yourself perspective

It’s important to take a step back and reflect on what you’ve achieved: where you started and where you are now. It’s also important to remember that social media is a double-edged sword. We all present the best versions of ourselves on it and gloss over some of the challenges and set backs we face. It’s easy to compare our worst points with everyone else’s best points. Part of the skill is being able to recognise when we do this so that we can stop these unhelpful thought patterns.

As a perfectionist, I can often get wrapped up in the minor details and stress about the insignificant things. However, it’s essential to see the bigger picture. I often use the 10 rule: Will it still matter in 10 minutes? 10 hours? 10 days? 10 weeks? 10 years?

4.      Value yourself

In the immortal words of my mother, you only have one set of health. As a freelancer, you are your most important resource. Nobody can replace you. We need to make sure that we recognise this and act accordingly. Part of this, is figuring out what matters to us most and acting accordingly. Another part for me, has been learning to say no. To recognise my limits and also to ensure that work doesn’t consume every waking hour. After all, there’s far much more to life than simply work.


5.      Do what you love

As freelancers, we are so lucky that we have more freedom than most in terms of work. We should capitalise on it wherever possible. Pursue the jobs you love. Turn down the ones you find soul-destroying. Ditch the clients which give you a headache. Appreciate the clients who make your life easier. Schedule your day so that you can incorporate the things which make your day brighter: yoga, going out for lunch, picking the kids up from school, reading…

Self-care is a phenomenon sweeping the nation but the concept is simple: look after yourself. Eat well. Exercise. Get out. See people. Journal. Drink more water. Take a break from the news and social media. Read great books. Travel. Take time off. And above, be kind to yourself.


What are your top tips for looking after yourself and keeping your mental health intact? What are the biggest challenges you face?