5 Stress-Busting Tips for a Happier, Saner Freelance Life

Dec 3, 2013

by Tara McCoy

Tara McCoy works as a Health Coach for Collective Primary Care serving Freelancers Medical where she is inspired daily by her creative, hardworking patients. She is certified as a holistic health coach and plans to pursue a career in integrative medicine with a focus on healthcare innovation. In her free time she can be found wandering around Brooklyn looking for signs of nature and enjoying her borough's enthusiasm for food trends.

Many people transition into freelancing hoping for a calmer lifestyle without necessarily anticipating the host of new stressors freelancers commonly face: the feast and famine style of work, financial stresses, tough clients and social isolation.

Not surprisingly, anxiety and stress are some of the most common concerns we see at the Freelancers Medical, and it can be incredibly taxing on your health and mental wellbeing. If you’re not quite ready to take up a serious meditation practice or go on a permanent vacation, where can a stressed out freelancer turn?

Here are some our top stress busters:

1. Stop stressin’ about your stress!

HUH? Watch this TED talk for all the details. If you are too busy to spend 15 minutes watching, here’s the take away:

While we’re all likely very familiar (and slightly nauseated) with hearing all the vast benefits associated with positive thinking and reframing, this theory takes it a step further, postulating that your relationship with the stress in your life determines whether or not it negatively impacts you on a physiological level.

Or in slightly different words, we know that stress is a contributing factor to most major chronic illnesses but its impact stress has on your body may depend more on the way you frame it than the amount you experience in your life.

The take away? Accept that stress is always going to be a part of your life and rather than demonize it or fear it, make stress your friend. Think of it as a vitalizing force that allows you to get the most from life and energizes your body to take on the task at hand. This one simple reframe may save you from a host of stress related illnesses.

2. Go hang out with your friends

The stress response is inextricably linked to your survival instinct, thus stress can trigger some freaky thoughts about our mortality and make us feel pretty damn vulnerable. If you use stress as motivation to reach out for social connection and support rather than isolate, this can serve as a protective factor for some of chronic stresses scarier health outcomes.

Bottom line: When we use stress as motivation to reach out to others for support and nurture our social connections, stressful times won’t negatively impact your health as much. Knowing this, make an effort to use your stress as an excuse to connect with others rather than hiding away in a cave until it passes.

3. Set Boundaries

Blurred Lines doesn’t just refer to the slightly misogynistic song of the summer, it also aptly describes one of biggest challenges freelancers face.

Many freelancers lack the traditional office hours and physical office space that inherently provide some clear boundaries between work and the rest of existence. Without these, lines can get a little blurry.

This can lead to chronic stress as it may feel as if you’re never fully working and never fully relaxing. This is incredibly taxing on the nervous system, which needs moments of full relaxation and play in order to function best. ** Because of this it’s necessary to come up with your own working set of boundaries that helps you truly switch out of work mode, for at least a little time every day.**

This may look like setting “work hours” or having areas in your home that are “work free zones”. At the very least schedule some down time and force yourself to stick to it. For some, this may look like scheduling a coffee date with a friend and sticking to it as if it’s an important work meeting. For others, this may mean catching up on a couple of episodes of Scandal. If you need extra motivation, remember that some of the world’s greatest geniuses had their best ideas when they weren’t working. See true down time as a mandatory part of your overall productivity plan.

4. Hug a tree

The stress reducing powers of Gaia are fairly astonishing. Turns out we humans have evolved to function most optimally when we spend parts of our existence outside. We’ve all probably had the experience of the soothing effects of a hike in the woods or a trip to your favorite local park, but the evidence is in, nature rocks!

Don’t fear, urban dwellers, even just looking out a window at a tree has been shown to improve health and stress levels. As it turns out being in nature has a restorative effect on our brains and our ability to focus, as well as lowering our heart rates and increasing our immune function. If you can’t spend extended time out of the concrete jungle, make sure you are frequently visiting your local park or being mindful of all the amazing, resilient trees and plants growing along the sidewalk as you trek around the city. For more details on why nature is amazing and relaxing click here.

5. Make your exhale longer than your inhale -- repeat a few times each day

Your yogi friends are on to something…the breath truly is your greatest tool to managing your stress and anxiety.

Yet, it’s not always realistic that you’ll spend 30 minutes in the lotus position each day (if you do, serious props), but never fear, eliciting the relaxation response is simple. You can trick your stressed out body and mind into believing you are a Zen master by simply making your exhale longer than your inhale. This cues the beloved parasympathetic response (“rest and digest”), which automatically lowers your stress hormones, leaving you feeling calmer.

Even just three breaths will make a difference. I recommend making your exhale twice as long as your inhale. For example, inhale for the count of 2, pause, exhale for the count of 4. If you prefer a deeper breath, try inhaling for 4, noticing the pause, then exhaling for 8. Do this for a few breaths and reclaim your sense of calm as many times as you need to each day.