Far removed from the traditional and sometimes rigid notion of employment, professional autonomy in the modern era has increased dramatically and those enjoying such autonomy – like freelancers – do not always have the coveted ‘safety net’ offered by an employer.
This can lead to anxieties and depression and without the tools to cope and thrive, the situation can devolve drastically.
Stability is the goal that generally binds all actions and developments in civilization. Everything we learn and do, is in service to the idea of gaining and maintaining stability.
A world where we do not learn language for effective communication or develop value systems to guide our morality so that societal harmony can be achieved, and a world in which we do not strive for a unifying idyllic goal (like life, family, and liberty) is an unpredictable world – one in which people cannot believe in or effectively function in the long-term. The result is that people cling to social constructs like traditional 9-to-5 jobs, which lend stability to their lives.
However, sometimes there are those that decide to think, and do things differently as the world becomes more globalised, and different revenue streams become more prominent and enticing.
Freelancers exist in nearly every global sector and under a variety of titles. The 21st century, and all the societal facets which define it, have caused a paradigm shift which has redefined how people not only survive, but how they thrive.
Freelancers have been revealed to be consultants, contract workers, temporary collectives and lendable labour without long-term commitments. Professional freelancers can be think-tanks, creators, and so much more.
However, because traditionalism (and what some would consider to be an archaic perspective) continues to make up the unyielding foundations of modern society, there is tension about how new or redefined sources of income are taking their place in higher and valued respected institutional levels.
Unfortunately, as the world is being made and remade, freelancers are those who suffer the brunt of often:
- having to justify their career choices
- defending progressive thinking, working, and advancements
- placating traditionalists that their entire way of life is not being made redundant
- maintaining multiple streams of income for basic survival
Therefore, as mental health has been commendably prioritised over the past few years – both in the personal and professional spheres, it has become evident that there are very real phenomena which need to be acknowledged, accepted and addressed, namely, freelancer depression and anxiety.
Here are the realities of freelancer depression and anxiety
Freelancers do not always have anchors and supports, two things that play a major role in maintaining optimum mental health. According to clinical psychologist, Dr Colinda Linde, feelings of isolation and vulnerability as a freelancer can be balanced out by having a support system in place.
Clinical psychologist and mental health consultant Alexa Scher explains that because freelancers often find themselves in uncertain situations, it’s common to experience self-doubt. If these thoughts spiral out of control, freelancers can get stuck believing they’re not worthy, resulting in demotivation, which impacts behaviour. The more a freelancer struggles with motivation to function, let alone work, the more uncertainty they face, which can cycle into depression and anxiety.
Being a freelancer comes with its own unique challenges, says Scher, which is why it is important to take note of how these challenges affect them and find helpful ways to navigate these effects.
Judging and comparing yourself to others can result in becoming more depressed and anxious, which is not helpful. Reach out for support to know you are not alone and to find ways to cope. Scher notes that ‘toughing it out’ is not a constructive way of coping with feelings of being overwhelmed, scared, or sad. Communication, whether with a professional or someone in your support network, is a good step to take – a step you take before the situation gets out of hand.
In conjunction with expert words of wisdom, here are three tips to help you cope with mental health as a freelancer and to help you thrive at your own healthy pace.
1 Mindfulness helps bring awareness to what you’re experiencing, without judgment. Apps like Headspace or Smiling Mind help you practice mindfulness by teaching you how to control what you pay attention to, and how you pay attention to it, which prevents you from becoming overwhelmed by difficult experiences when they arise..
Recommended by Scher, these apps can be instrumental in “gently placing your attention on something in the present moment”, and guiding you towards feeling more balanced, so that you can be fortified to solve problems.
2 “Filter what you are watching, reading, and listening to” advises Dr Linde, a board member for the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG).
The phenomenon of ‘doomscrolling’ has been coined by mental health experts as being particularly rife during this time when people have both reputable sources, as well as fake news outlets available across social media, television, literature, and radio.
To better maintain your mental health and not spiral into a depressive state, it is advised that people stop consuming large quantities of negative information and news, especially in one sitting. Even better, find a hobby that sparks your interests and passions and would allow you to give up a few hours of digital time for something that you find rewarding and fulfilling.
3 Reach out! Dr Linde says that SADAG is ready to pick up a call from you, if you need advice or support in some measure. With family and friends also living through this tumultuous time, staying connected and making sure to communicate regularly and healthily, is a priority. Linde advises: “Talk to your therapist, create a WhatsApp or Facebook support group. Stay connected with people via technology – do more video calls, phone friends to catch up, etc.”
Having mental health struggles is not an issue to be ashamed of. There are triggers of trauma, and unresolved bad habits which many people have accepted as being part of who they will forever be.
After reading reports by experts, as well as learning to deal with daily personal anxieties, I have realised that mental health is an ongoing process, much like fitness. It takes good and small actions, over a long period of time to really maintain an equilibrium that balances your mind, how your body feels and how you end up living and working.
Freelancers should find and learn about the tools that help identify their feelings and behaviours and what causes in their freelancer anxiety and depression. They should be committed enough to their health to be ready for proactive action.
Liezel van der Westhuizen is an accomplished presenter, adaptable virtual emcee, global branding specialist, and beloved keynote speaker. She (a Masters graduate in Business Communication) is also owner of The Giraffe Academy, which is dedicated to a mission of personal brand building – assisting clients to stick their necks out and cultivate their power to stand tall and be unique. This, she believes, is the key to marketplace success.
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