Freelancing – as a writer, editor, designer or photographer – is a tough gig with lots of pressure. Roxanne Reid gives some pointers on how to dodge the stress bullet.
Yes, the La-La-Land theory is that as a freelancer you can say no to jobs you don’t want to do and take a break whenever you feel like it. But the Real-World truth is that if you want to earn enough money to survive, you never say no. Sometimes you work 18-hour days and through weekends just to keep up.
And that’s not even talking about all the other stuff freelancers have to do. Like finding clients, pitching ideas, marketing yourself and building a social media platform, not to mention handling your own admin.
Small wonder, then, that stress is a freelancer’s constant companion.
When you’re stressed, your adrenal glands pump out more and more of a hormone called cortisol. While small amounts of cortisol are good, lowering sensitivity to pain, improving memory and helping to regulate blood pressure, too much of it for too long can threaten your health, even lead to burnout. Studies show that some 75-90% of visits to the doctor are stress related.
How do you know if you’re stressed?
- Do the small pleasures of life fail to bring enjoyment?
- Are you constantly tired and worn out?
- Have you noticed a change in your sleeping or eating patterns?
- Is your mind an endless spin-cycle of worries?
- Do you suffer from chronic pain, headaches or backache?
- Do petty problems upset you unduly?
- Do you have flashes of anger at things that never used to bug you?
Answer yes to most of these questions and you’re definitely stressed.
How can you reduce stress?
- Get at least five servings of fruit & veg daily, and drink 6–8 glasses of water each day to keep your body cleansed and charged.
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine. You may think they help you cope, but in reality they slap you with a post-boost slump and interfere with sleep.
- Don’t skip meals, and choose low GI foods like whole grains, baked beans, lentils, brown rice, apples and oranges, vegetables and low-fat yoghurt to release energy slowly and keep you going for longer.
- Get moving. Exercise energises and makes you physically fit – and the fitter you are, the higher your stress tolerance.
- Don’t spend lunch hour manacled to your desk, no matter how busy you are. A 20-30 minute walk in the fresh air will ease tight neck and shoulder muscles, open your lungs and clear out the mental cobwebs, making your afternoon more productive.
- Don’t skimp on sleep. It helps refuel body and brain, and fends off attacks of crabbiness that may scare clients away.
- Tackle one thing at a time. When you’re stressed, even a normal workload seems intolerable. Pick one urgent task and work on it. When that’s done, choose another. ‘Ticking off’ tasks one at a time is empowering; running around like a chicken without a head definitely isn’t!
- Practise optimism. Pessimistic thoughts sap energy and can become self-defeating. Studies even indicate that someone who looks on the bright side gets sick less often than a gloomy Gus who’s always expecting the sky to fall.
- As author Richard Carlson says, ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff – and it’s all small stuff.’ Stressing about things you can’t change or aren’t important in the big scheme of things is a waste of valuable energy. Ask yourself, ‘Will it really matter a hundred years from now?’ Chances are it won’t.
- Give in occasionally. Arguing intensifies stress so if you meet constant opposition from a client, rethink your strategy. If you know you’re right, by all means stand your ground, but make allowances for other opinions and be prepared to compromise.
- Just say no! It’s astonishing how destressing this is when you really don’t want to do something or don’t have time in your hectic schedule. Instead of agreeing and then trying to weasel out of it later, say no from the get-go.
- Being polite is important, but sometimes spearing a rude or unreasonable client with a sharp remark can put new spring in your step. Just don’t go too far if you plan to keep the client. (‘You’re a mental midget with the IQ of a fence post’ may be the truth, but it won’t win repeat business!)
- Schedule regular bonding me-time with friends, family or colleagues; it’s a wonderful tonic. Studies show that people with supportive relationships are less likely to suffer from stress and negativity, so work your contacts to ease your load – even if it means asking mom-in-law to pick up the kids from soccer when you’re on deadline.
- Treat yourself to a session with a trained body stress release practitioner (http://www.bodystressrelease.co.za) to release muscle tension. You don’t have to strip and it’s not painful. If you prefer hands on skin, try therapeutic massage (http://www.mtasa.co.za) to get deep into stress-knotted muscles. You’ll be walking on air.
- Never lose your sense of humour; laughter is wonderful therapy. And it’s free!
Follow Roxanne on Twitter: @RoxanneReidSA
Roxanne Reid is an independent writer and editor who belongs to the Southern African Freelancers’ Association http://www.safrea.co.za/