10 Ways to Overcome Freelance Depression

When you’re working a 9-to-5 job, it’s easy to crave the independence of a freelancer. And once you’re a freelancer, it’s easy to crave the stability of a full-time gig. The grass is always greener, right? 

In April, I took the leap and decided to work for myself - I knew it wouldn’t be easy. But I didn’t expect to fight bouts of depression and feel my anxiety take on a life of its own. 

Friends have asked how it’s going, and I tell them it’s going well, but that it’s hard. And they say, “Oh yea, it’s so much work putting yourself out there!” But in truth, the work isn’t what’s difficult. It’s the lack of a schedule and office banter that’s exhausting. 

I can go an entire day without speaking to another human. I can both sleep and work in my pajamas, and no one would ever know. I can flip through photos on the couch, background-binging episodes on Netflix, and it wouldn’t matter. Except that it made me feel like a potato, molding into the living room furniture. Despite the email sending and photo editing, it felt like I was wasting away. 

As a person who has always been extremely self-motivated, this new lack of direction was disconcerting. So, I took to the internet to see if I was losing it, or if these self-doubts were felt across the freelance board. Turns out, I’m not alone

With this new-found knowledge, I began implementing practices to relieve the feelings of self-doubt and anxiety. Here’s what’s helped so far:

1. Research the freelance depression phenomenon

You’re already off to a great start! After looking up the correlation between freelancers and depression, it was incredibly freeing to realize I wasn’t alone in my feelings. I felt empowered and able to tackle the sadness and occasional darkness I had been experiencing. 

It didn’t mean that I wasn’t cut out for the freelance life or that I’d never want to get off the couch again. I needed to give myself time to grow into this new lifestyle I’d chosen.

So, when those feelings start to creep in, I remind myself that it’s normal, and more importantly, to be easy on myself. “This too shall pass.”

2. Stick to a schedule, or at least close to one

One of the things I looked most forward to with a freelance life was the ability to sleep in as late as I wanted. Turns out, that’s not great for the mental health. 

Humans love structure and routine. So, unless you’re the exception, getting to bed late and waking up whenever you feel like it is setting yourself up for failure. 

Starting early, getting to the gym and enjoying a healthy breakfast and cup of coffee have helped me immensely. And on the days I sleep a bit later, that’s okay. Rules are made to be broken. 

3. Live like you wanted when you worked for someone else

Chances are, you quit the 9-to-5 because you craved the ability to make your own schedule, because giving a company 40 hours of your life a week just didn’t feel right. 

When I worked as an in-house photographer, I dreamed of going to the gym in the mornings, having time to prepare healthy breakfasts and the simplicity of enjoying a hot cup of coffee on the deck. But when I actually left, it was months before I made any of those dreams a reality. 

Today, I try to take in my surroundings. I explore local hikes a few times a week, and I stay out a little later than I should, reminding myself that email can wait an hour more. I go for a swim in the middle of the day because I can. And I binge-watch episodes of Queer Eye because… I CAN!

Some days are non-stop shooting, smiling and directing. The days that aren’t are mine, and I determine what I do and when. You made this change to live life differently, so do it!

4. Move your body 

It may not seem like it, but you actually moved around a lot in the thick of the rat race. Walking from the bus, to the printer, to the Starbucks and back, or simply using a standing desk utilized your legs a lot more than moving from the couch to the kitchen does. 

If you work from home, make an effort to get up from your work space at least once an hour. Stand, stretch and maybe do a squat or two. As stated above, getting to the gym can help create routine, but it will also keep your muscles from deteriorating after chanting, “Yaas Queen” all day. 

Alternating between the gym and at-home weight routines has been the key to my success. Paired with healthy meals and a good night’s sleep, my body is feeling healthy and strong, making my mind brighter and more motivated. 

5. Step outside

It’s easy to stay inside all day when there’s no reason to leave. But just stepping out and breathing in the fresh air is such an easy way to reset. Bring your coffee out there, do a stretch, step awaaaay from the computer. 

6. Work from coffee shops 

Take it one step further and get out of the house for the day. Instead of going back home after the gym, bring your laptop with you and head to a nearby coffee shop.

Even if you only talk to the barista, at least you’re talking to someone. And then there’s the other coffee enthusiasts you can watch who aren’t the Fab Five. (I know, I could spend all day with them, too.)

A new environment will inspire new ideas, will perhaps put a smile on your face, and will help get you out of that freelance funk. 

7. Take a three day weekend 

This echoes number three - you don’t have to confine yourself to the traditional Saturday/Sunday, two-day weekend. You make your schedule. So, if you’re feeling like a three-day camping trip, do it. If you want to take off on a Thursday instead of a Friday, you can. And best of all, you don’t have to ask anyone for permission. 

Embrace that freedom, baby!

8. Get out of your comfort zone

It’s easy to pick up some hermit tendencies when you don’t leave the house for days at a time. So, you need to get out of your comfort zone. 

Explore local trails, accept that Facebook invite you otherwise would have ignored, join a book club, pick up new hobbies. 

I accepted an invitation to attend a yoga/essential oils class earlier in the week. When it came time to go, I really wanted to stay at home and relax on the couch. But I pushed myself and had a really lovely time. Now I’m looking forward to the next class and made new friends (and contacts) in the process.

9. Employ the one-minute rule

I heard about this rule on a podcast the other day. It’s simple enough, and I suppose we all inherently know it. But hearing someone spell it out helped put it into practice.

Simply put, it’s easy to save little chores for later, but those little chores quickly pile up and become monsters of a task. So, if it takes only a minute or so to complete, do it now. It will ensure you have a clean living/work space, which will free your life and mind from clutter. 

Done with your coffee cup? Put it in the dishwasher instead of the sink. Have an email you’ve been neglecting to answer? Send a quick note back. Those receipts you’ve been meaning to record? Put em into that accounting software.  

I know this sounds simple, but it’s really made a difference in my day-to-day. 

10. Remember that you control your destiny

Nothing is forever. And if you decide that the freelance life just isn’t for you, that’s okay. Every life change is an adjustment, and moving from a workplace filled with other people to one that is just you is huge. Give yourself time to adjust. 

But if your mental health continues to decline or you’re simply feeling unhappy, maybe it’s time to rethink whether this is right for you. And if it’s not, look for something that puts a smile on your face. Find a lifestyle that brings you joy and purpose. 

Leaving the 9-to-5 that you’ve had for so long is no easy feat. Yes, you’ve eliminated a daily commute. You’ve got more free time to make your own schedule. And you now have endless opportunities to curate your own happiness and freelance future. But that empty horizon can feel daunting. 

So the next time you’re overwhelmed or feeling low, take a deep breath, step outside and remember that you are in charge of your happiness. Talk with your friends and fellow freelancers and tell them how you’re feeling. Chances are, they’re feeling it, too.  

Nothing is forever, and if the freelance life isn’t what you dreamed, you can move on to the next adventure and find a place and career that makes you happy, healthy and looking forward. 

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