Freelancing can be heavy on the nervous system. Sometimes it feels like I carry the weight of the world on my shoulders: Will my business succeed? Will I be able to pay my bills on time? Can I avoid getting sick?
Additionally, I also spend a lot of time alone in a world most 9-to-5ers don’t understand. And when I do get a chance to socialize, it can be tough to confidently paint a picture of what it is, exactly, that I do.
...which can lead to social anxiety.
Top that off with the regular existential anxieties of just being human, and it starts to feel like gravity is working backwards - pulling the world onto me, not me onto it.
And I know I’m not alone. So, I wanted to share a few strategies I’ve developed for staying in the world, not under it.
1. Do for others
Oftentimes, anxiety isn’t a far cry from navel gazing. We’re so tangled up in our own thoughts and fears that it’s almost as if we’re wandering around a carnival maze of mirrors.
Rather than spending more time fretting over myself, I try to push myself to do something for someone else. It can be as simple as bringing flowers home for my roommates, chatting up a cashier and really listening to them, or calling my mom.
Anything to get me out of my own head and into empathizing with others.
2. Keep a daily blessings, achievements and goals journal
Journaling has some serious therapeutic powers.
First, I write down all the things that have come to me by way of good fortune. I find it makes me more grateful, which helps me feel happier and more at peace.
Next, I add my achievements. Writing them down reinforces my confidence and sense of accomplishment. Now, when I start doubting myself, the list shows me that I can do more than I think.
Finally, I add my goals. The results are less immediate, but putting down my dreams in writing every day gives me a sense of direction and focus.
If you already meditate then you can skip this one because chances are you’re well-aware of the benefits of a little quiet time each day.
If you’re like the me of a few months ago, you’re probably groaning or going, I just can’t meditate!
Here’s the deal: It totally does feel weird at first. I felt self-conscious, like I was trying to be a hippie or the Dalai Lama. I really, really wanted to check my phone. And every time I got pulled into a whirlpool of thought - which meant I must be “failing,” I wanted to quit.
But eventually I found my stride. Now I look forward to meditation time. It makes my brain feel like a groovy fish floating downstream on vacation.
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4. Produce more than consume
I love to read and the proliferation of great content on the internet seems like a good excuse to spend my downtime trawling through it. Because that’s basically productive, right?
Well, no, it’s not.
I started to realize that I couldn’t hear the music for the noise - it all sounded the same and nothing was inspiring. Not a good sign if you’re trying to sing.
Now, I set articles aside to read at a prescribed time. When it’s time to work, I actually work. And when it’s time to be idle - like when I'm standing in line at the grocery store - I just hang out and handle my feelings rather than taking refuge in my phone.
5. Join a community of other freelancers
Sure, it still feels like a 9-to-5 world, but with a growing population of 53 million freelancers, the tide is changing.
Connecting with people who really get my day-to-day makes me feel less like a weird, alien aberration and more like part of a special set of cool people.
My freelance friends are diverse, interesting, passionate …and also plagued with the same freelance anxieties I face every day. Hanging with them is like a cross between #squadlife and a support group.
These strategies take me out of the anxiety spin cycle and into all the joys and disappointments of real life. It’s not always easy, but ultimately I’d rather be living in the world than carrying it.
What are your tips for battling freelance anxiety?