Freelance Writers, Are You Looking After Your Mental Health?

Tips on keeping yourself in balance despite the endless juggle


Photo by Peggy Anke on Unsplash

Juggling has become a way of life, especially for solopreneurs. And with all the changes in 2020, the chances are you’re juggling even more. First of all, there’s the juggling you do for your business, where you have to be the entire C-suite on your own. After all, if you don’t look after the work itself, the marketing and your business finances, who will?

Beyond the four corners of the screen, there’s even more juggling. You may be looking after children or elderly relatives, or you may have volunteer commitments. Plus, there’s the additional stress of coping through a pandemic, when there’s more to think about, and income may be under strain. Is it any wonder that sometimes we feel overwhelmed?

If you happen to be one of the lucky ones who has plenty of work, there’s still another risk: burnout. Many long term freelancers are familiar with burnout, as it seems to roll around every few years. It’s that mind-numbing feeling of lassitude and incapacity that’s way beyond overwhelm.

Here’s my PSA on the subject of mental health: you owe it to yourself to look after it. That means a shift in attitude to your writing business and your life.

Though I’m not particularly religious, I’m a big fan of the Serenity Prayer.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.

It may just be the way my mind works, but that simple three-step structure suggests a great approach to creating a healthier life, both mentally and physically. My three steps are:

1. Recognizing that you can’t do everything.

2. Prioritizing what’s most important to you.

3. Giving yourself permission to release the rest.

Each step has its challenges.

1. Recognize Your Limits

Many of us were brought up to think that we can do it all and have it all. I don’t think that way any more. Time is finite, and so is energy, especially as I get older. At a certain point, if you know you have an early deadline the next day, you’ll probably have to make the sensible but boring choice to avoid the all night party with your friends. Sometimes, you just have to recognize that you have mental and physical limits, and that will help with the next step

2. Prioritize What’s Important

If you can’t do everything, then some things take precedence. You’ll have to decide your priorities for yourself. Some freelancers value work they enjoy doing above work that simply pays the bills. Others have personal commitments that provide emotional nourishment.

When my daughter was young, collecting her from school was the point at which the workday stopped and family life started. I never scheduled meetings or other engagements for that time. I figured she’d only be young once, and I’m glad I took that approach.

3. Release the Rest

Priorities established, you’re left with the rest. For your freelance writing business, these probably break down into:

  • essential tasks that you have to do yourself.

  • essential tasks that someone else can do for you.

  • non-essential tasks.

Here’s how you handle those, in reverse order. First, stop doing the non-essentials. Next, if you can afford it, outsource the tasks someone else can do. Already, you’ve got rid of two-thirds of your workload, and it can feel pretty good.

I know that whenever I’ve outsourced a soul-destroying but necessary task to someone who loves it more than I do and will do a great job, I’ve had a great feeling of relief and liberation.

Finally, take the tasks you have to do and plan them. I find it useful to drop them into calendar slots, though a to-do list will work just as well. For myself, the important thing is not to schedule too many tasks on the same day. It’s the best way to avoid overwhelm.

Setting the Context for Better Mental Health

Following these three steps can protect your mental health, and help you avoid burnout and overwhelm. But there’s one more thing you can do. Since you’re the boss, allow your employee side to take the occasional mental health day. Just as you schedule everything else in your work calendar, plan an occasional day off to recharge, regroup and get back to a feeling of balance.

How do you look after your mental health?

© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2020

Sharon Hurley Hall is an anti-racism writer, a professional B2B writer and blogger, and co-host of The Introvert Sisters podcast.