5 Simple Ways Freelancers Tell Us They Manage Stress

Feb 14, 2014

By Katherine Hamill

It may be more fulfilling than a 9-to-5 job, but freelancing also has its traps; the downside of making your own schedule is that it’s easy to never fully escape from ‘work’ mode.

With that in mind, we asked a few busy freelancers how they manage stress and avoid burnout. After all – what’s the point of freelancing, if you can’t have some fun?

1. Find joy in the work

“Honestly, the best form of stress relief is getting a jubilant email back from a client. If they're happy, I'm happy”, says Cecilia Senocak, a freelance photographer who works in New York and California (find Cecilia’s work here).

Finding ways to celebrate small victories is key to stress relief. If you don’t derive much enjoyment from your freelance work, you might want to explore other options, or a new aspect of the same field – life is short!

2. Set reasonable expectations and boundaries

Actor and freelance programmer Jack Haley balances the demands of not one, but two different careers. He makes it work by setting his own parameters – and communicating clearly with clients:

“One of the things that can be incredibly stressful is trying to deal with schedule issues. I'm now completely up front with the corporate clients about being an actor. I used to dodge that question because I was afraid they would see me as a ‘flaky artist’. But I no longer hide it, and it hasn't cost me any work yet. Now, I don't have to do the excuse-making dance to deal with my schedule. The fact is, I do my work well, so once people work with me a little, they know they can count on me.”

Being clear about your schedule and outlining expectations reduces your stress levels and puts you back in control. Setting reasonable boundaries also ensures happier, healthier client relationships!

3. Take time to work out – and veg out

An unscientific poll of my fellow freelancers has revealed four favorite relaxation activities: eating (“nachos and Oreo cookies” for Haley, innumerable bags of popcorn for me, and “abusive overconsumption of gummy vitamins” from a graphic designer friend) binge-watching Netflix, exercising, and yes – drinking a glass or two of wine.

While it’s easy to feel guilty about indulging in less-than-productive downtime (House of Cards, anyone?), recent studies have shown that allowing time to veg out

actually spurs creativity and improves productivity. In other words, don’t fall into the ‘Busy Trap’.

Exercise is, of course, always a great option. Check out the free yoga classes at Freelancers Union Hall, or go for a short run – you’ll be shocked how little you need to move to release endorphins.

4. Be social

“Meeting a friend for dinner or drinks is a nice way to unwind”, says Senocak. “Having someone around helps you get things off your mind, or talk them out.”

Freelancing’s vaunted work-from-home flexibility can sometimes translate to isolation. Humans are meant to be social creatures – taking an hour or two to meet a friend can help you draw a clear line between Work time and Leisure time.

5. Give back

If you’re really feeling stressed out, taking time to help others can, paradoxically, bring clarity and calm to your own life – while affording you a chance to socialize. Reach out to a friend, mentor a colleague, or help a friend with a project; you’ll be building the balance in your Love Bank, and move closer to becoming a self-actualized, 360 Freelancer.

How about you? What do you find most stressful about your freelance work – and how do you chill out?