How to Freelance with Less Stress and Anxiety

May 17, 2024
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Did you choose freelancing because of the freedom and flexibility it gives you? I did. I love working on my own terms. There's a potential downside to being your own boss, though. Stress and burnout are very real dangers. Some of the more common stressors we face include client-related issues, irregular income, and feeling isolated. I've dealt with all of these. I'm sure you have too.

My friend Sarah, a freelance web developer, left her corporate job to start her own freelance business. I was thrilled for her, and at first she thrived. She told me she loved being able to choose projects and set her schedule because as a single mom she needed the flexibility.

After about six months, Sarah asked if I had time for a chat. We jumped on a call and she started crying. Her son was sick with the flu. She had three project deadlines coming up and she was struggling to find time to work on them. And to top it off one of her clients hadn't sent their payment and she needed it for rent. I let her tell her story, offering comfort where I could. Then she told me that all of that wouldn't be so bad, but she felt like she was doing it all alone.

I asked if she wanted advice or just to vent. She wanted help. We talked through each of her situations, minus the sick kiddo. I recommended a few groups she should join, and we set up a regular call to keep in touch. She left the call with an action plan and a somewhat watery smile.

If you’re dealing with a similar situation, here are a few stress management techniques you might want to consider.

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Freelancing is Stressful

Stress comes with running a business. Acknowledging that is the first step toward managing your stress. You can't solve a problem unless you know what you're dealing with. Here are four of the biggest stress points I hear about when I'm talking with fellow freelancers:

Managing Your Time

Accepting too many projects in an effort to secure a steady income is pretty common. Especially when you first start freelancing. That quickly leads to an overwhelming workload. Not giving yourself enough time to focus on each project is another common issue. I remember a point about two years into my journey into freelancing when I almost called it quits.

The thought of a week away in the mountains drove me to take on four projects all due in the same week. Two were editing and two were writing. This was back before I had a handle on how long each type of project would take.

The first project turned out to be a nightmare. After spending three more days on it than I'd anticipated, I was seriously crunched for time on the other projects. I had a whole week where I only slept a few hours at a time so I could meet the deadlines. I got the projects done, but I was so exhausted on my vacation that I didn't truly enjoy it.

Inconsistent scheduling and the lack of a structured workday makes the stress even worse. When you manage your workload and your schedule, you're less likely to deal with major stress.

When the Money Comes in Spurts

Irregular income and cash flow issues are another common challenge for freelancers. I know it’s been a problem for me. Without a regular paycheck, juggling bills and other expenses are more difficult. That leads to financial stress and anxiety. Proper planning and cash flow management can help keep that stress at bay.

I highly recommend every business owner read Profit First to help with the process of structuring and managing your business finances. You might also consider working with an accountant who specializes in small businesses.

This post contains affiliate links, and I may earn a commission (at no extra cost to you) if you make a purchase after clicking one of those. I only recommend resources I use and love! Read my full disclosure.

Loneliness is a Thing

We all need human interaction to stay mentally healthy. Unfortunately, if you're a freelancer you have to be intentional about getting those interactions. Have you ever felt isolated as a freelancer? Social isolation can lead to “adverse health consequences including depression, poor sleep quality, impaired executive function, accelerated cognitive decline, poor cardiovascular function and impaired immunity.” Even if you don't feel isolated in other parts of your life, working alone every day can result in feelings of isolation and aloneness.

Clients Who Try to Run Your Business

Client expectations and tight deadlines create a high-pressure environment, especially if you are letting your clients call the shots. The constant need to meet these demands can add significant stress, especially if your clients aren't clear about their needs or if they change their expectations frequently.

The answer to this problem is client management. Setting clear boundaries with clients, making sure you clearly define scope, and having an onboarding process that covers communication preference, office hours, response times, and how deliverables are transferred can help manage these pressures.

Understanding your stressors helps you find solutions. Let’s look at a few stress management techniques you can use to make a significant difference in your life and business.

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Managing Stress Before it Manages You

Ignoring stress won’t make it go away. It can actually make it worse. Proactive action is the only solution to removing stress from your life. The strategies I've listed here not only improve productivity, they also enhance overall well-being.

Taking Control of Your Time

Time management is actually a bit of a misnomer. You can’t actually manage time. Every one of us has the same number of hours in the day. What you can do is manage your availability and your schedule.

Start by prioritizing tasks and setting realistic deadlines. Utilizing project management tools can help you organize your workload. I love Trello, and I use Notion for task management. I also use a tool called LLama Life to help keep me on-task during the day.

These tools provide a visual overview of tasks and deadlines. That helps reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed and it increases productivity. You might also consider setting a regular schedule for yourself. A structured workday allows you to manage your availability better. More control over your schedule means a significant reduction in stress.

Action Step: Start each week by planning your tasks and setting priorities. Use color-coded labels to differentiate between urgent and important tasks. Consider using a tool like Llama Life to help keep you on task.

Setting Boundaries

Ever had a client try to treat you like an employee? How about clients who agree on scope but then ask for far more? Boundaries are good for your client relationships, and they are even better for your mental health. If your clients are stressing you out, take a look at this article on setting boundaries.

One boundary I learned to establish the hard way was communication response times (thanks to a truly toxic client). I had a client who would message me on nights and weekends and then get upset when I wouldn't respond until the next business day.

Establishing clear work hours to clients is essential for both you and the client. It gives them guidelines on how you respond, and it helps you creates a separation between your work and personal life. It’s important to fully enjoy your personal time without work encroaching on it.

Action Step: Inform clients of your work hours at the start of a project during your onboarding process. Use email autoresponders to manage expectations when you're unavailable.

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Take Regular Breaks

How many times have you gotten so involved in a project that you realize you haven't moved in hours? Or is it just me? We need breaks for our brains and for our bodies. Incorporating short breaks into the workday enhances focus and reduces mental fatigue. Techniques like the Pomodoro Technique, which involves working for 25 minutes and taking a 5-minute break, can be very effective (especially when used with a tool like Llama Life).

Practicing mindfulness during breaks can also help you reduce your stress levels and refresh your mind.

Action Step: Set a timer for your work sessions and breaks. Use break time to stretch, meditate, or take a quick walk.

Step up the Physical Activity

Regular exercise is a powerful tool for stress management. Whether it's a daily walk, jogging, or yoga, physical activity can improve mental health and reduce stress. Exercise releases endorphins, which are natural stress relievers, helping to maintain a positive mood and increase energy levels.

The benefits of incorporating physical activity into your routine are far-reaching, including enhanced mental and physical health.

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t get enough exercise. But I’m in the process of changing that! I have a walking pad and standing desk in my office now, and I am gradually incorporating it into my routine. I also got a rebounder trampoline, and I love bouncing while I’m watching videos or catching a podcast episode.

Action Step: Schedule regular exercise sessions into your calendar, just like work meetings. Find an activity you enjoy to make it a habit.

Are you using any stress management techniques? If so, share it in the comments!

Find Your Community

Knowing you have people you can go to for advice and support can make the difference between surviving and thriving. I belong to several communities where people offer support and share their experiences. Through them, I learn better ways to do things and I find comfort in knowing I’m not alone in my struggles. Here are some ways you can build a strong support system.

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Network with Other Freelancers: Consider joining online communities or local meetups for freelancers. These communities offer a platform for sharing experiences, advice, and resources, helping you feel connected and supported. We don’t have a Boss Responses community up and running yet, but it’s coming! If you are interested in offering content strategy as a service, check out Strategy Bosses. Action Step: Join a freelancer group on social media or attend local freelancer meetups. Participate actively to build meaningful connections.

Seek Professional Help: Consulting with therapists or counselors can provide you with professional advice and coping strategies. Therapy can help address underlying issues contributing to stress and provide personalized techniques for managing anxiety and preventing burnout. Action Step: If you feel overwhelmed, seek out a therapist who specializes in work-related stress. Many offer online sessions, making it easier to fit into your schedule.

Financial Management Strategies

Financial instability is a significant source of stress for anyone. Adopting smart financial management strategies can alleviate this stress and provide a stable foundation for a successful freelancing career. Here are some practical financial management tips you might find useful.

Budgeting and Saving: If you haven't already, think about creating a budget to manage income and expenses. A budget helps you plan for irregular income and prioritize essential expenses. If you want an additional safety net, start building an emergency fund. Know what money is coming in and exactly where that money is going is freeing. Action Step: Use budgeting apps or spreadsheets to track your income and expenses. Set aside a percentage of each payment into a savings account for taxes, savings, and emergencies.

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Invoicing and Payments: An unpaid invoice is stressful. You can encourage prompt payment is by setting clear payment terms. I set my rates, send the invoices, set the due dates, and make other financial decisions for my business. My clients don't. Will I work with a client if they have set payment terms? Sometimes. Other times we find a way to work around the system. Action Step: Implement invoicing software like Hello Bonsai, FreshBooks or QuickBooks. Clearly outline payment terms in your contracts and follow up promptly on overdue invoices.

By managing finances effectively, you'll be able to focus on your work and less on financial worries. Achieving financial stability is a key component of maintaining a healthy balance.

Maintaining a Healthy Work-Life Balance

I'm using the term work-life balance because that is what most people are searching for when they need to fix an issue in this area. To be honest with you, I don't think such a thing exists. It's all life. I want to love my work as much as I enjoy my play. I want time in the office to be as fulfilling as time with loved ones.

If you want to prevent burnout and ensure long-term success in freelancing, make sure what you are doing is what you want in your life. Make sure you are pursuing personal interests, setting realistic goals, and practicing mindfulness, so you can create the life you want.

Pursue Personal Interests: Make hobbies and activities outside of work a priority. By pursuing interests other than work, you're giving yourself a mental break. That break will help you recharge and maintain enthusiasm for professional tasks. We all need to focus on our mental health before we have a problem, not after. Action Step: Dedicate time each week to a hobby or activity you enjoy. This can be anything from painting to hiking.

Setting Realistic Goals: Defining personal and professional goals helps you set realistic expectations. Goals prevent overcommitment and reduce stress. The provide the guide you need to make sure you are always moving forward. And that's important in both your business and your personal life. Action Step: Set SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) goals for your freelance business and for your life. Review and adjust them regularly to stay on track.

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Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques: Did you know practicing mindfulness techniques, such as meditation or deep breathing exercises, can improve mental clarity and reduce anxiety? They help you manage stress by promoting relaxation and focusing the mind on the present moment. While daily practice is the ideal, even focusing on relaxation once a week will have a positive impact on your life. Action Step: Start your day with a short meditation session or deep breathing exercises. Apps like Headspace or Calm can guide you through these practices.

Just Say No to Stress

Managing stress and avoiding burnout is necessary if you want long-term success and well-being. And I know you do, or you wouldn't be reading this article. How you manage the stress will depend on you and your situation, but don't bury your head and pretend the problems don't exist.

You have to take care of yourself first so you can reach those goals of yours and then keep going. Which techniques do you think will help you where you are right this minute? Let me know in the comments!

Author

  • Treasa Edmond

    With 30 years in the workforce, 15 of those running her own freelance writer and content strategy business, Treasa has worked with all kinds of clients. It took her years to break out of an employee mindset so she could become the boss of her business. Now she's sharing her proven client management strategy and communication process so you can become the boss of your business today!


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