When you’re a freelancer, you’re your own business – and if you don’t prioritize your health a bit, your business will suffer.
The good news is that one needn’t be some six-packed, relentlessly cheerful fitness model in order to make a couple of tweaks!
Most of us can benefit from following a few guidelines – making small adjustments to edge, however ruefully, towards better health.
This is not a guide to creating perfect, sculpted bodies; it is 3 simple tips for freelancers who want to be healthier, without compromising their busy schedules.
It is a primer for those of us who hated gym class.
1. Attempt to do some kind of real physical activity - almost every day
I am the kind of person that only really understands the virtues of running when a) being chased by a bear b) pursuing the ice cream truck.
But I still strap on my cheap, painfully unhip sneakers and begrudgingly run around my neighborhood a few times a week, because the difference in my mood and stress levels is remarkable.
It takes me from “I CANNOT DO ALL THIS WORK I WAS INSANE TO TAKE IT ON AND NOBODY CAN EXPECT AN INSANE PERSON TO DO WORK SO I QUIT” to “surely I can finish this project, because I ran today, and that initially seemed impossible, too.”
I also do yoga, because it induces a sort of pleasant, glow-y relaxed haze that makes me slightly less likely to use colorful language when my fellow New Yorkers will not practice proper subway etiquette.
But YOU do not have to run; you do not have to do yoga. You can work out at home! You can walk.
Perhaps you can sign up for races that give you fun t-shirts no matter how slowly you finish, or splash around at a YMCA, or do that aerial silk stuff that makes everyone look like a crazy Cirque du Soleil acrobat.
You can find an exercise that you enjoy, or that at least feels worth the effort – yes, you, Internet reader.
Listen, my gym teacher in high school wrote “refuses to participate” and “attitude problem” on almost every report card – but if even Former Eye-Roller and Champion Non-Violent Resistor me can become addicted to the benefits of exercise every day, so can you!
Making a commitment to do some kind of physical activity almost every day makes a huge difference for most freelancers, who are all-too-inclined to be voluntarily chained to their workspaces.
It is also a GREAT way to burst through mental blocks. I can’t tell you how often I’ve despaired over a creative problem only to have an Eureka moment after a particularly grueling run. All of those endorphins also provide a nice buffer to freelance stress.
Make time to move your body – after all, what is all this vaunted freelance freedom for, if you can’t make time for health in your schedule?
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2. Eat natural stuff – especially plants
There are one zillion articles on the Interwebs instructing you what to eat, and how. Raw veganism is the answer – no, wait, veganism will kill you and meat is the key! No, wait – eat only fruits! No, don’t eat any fruits, they’ll kill you!
I am so disinterested in joining this chorus. What I CAN say is that almost any scientist will agree that natural foods – foods that are LESS processed, and CLOSER to their natural state – are better for us than highly-processed foods.
As Michael Pollan says, “Eat [real] food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
Personally, I’m not a big believer in “good” or “bad” foods. I do think, however, it’s almost irrefutably to our benefit to incorporate MORE “real” foods – especially veggies – into our lives.
You might as well occasionally sub out snow peas for chips while pulling a late-nighter – I confess it doesn’t have the same salty zip, but it’s better for overall energy. The more we freelance types can get natural, minimally-processed foods in our systems, the better we tend to feel.
Another truth: freelancers are hard workers, and we tend to eat while working. That might not be ideal, but it’s often reality.
I have, however, recently found great virtue in taking breaks – and using the time to really eat meals. It not only lets my brain power down for a bit, but also makes me feel more satiated and aware of what I’m eating.
Bonus: cooking yourself a healthy meal is an invaluable procrastination technique: “I’m not avoiding work! I am a Very Impressive CHEF!”
3. Make time for mental health
Take real breaks – both during the workday and work week. Build relationships with other people, and maintain them. Know who’s in your support circle; reach out when you need to, and support them in kind.
Find ways to let off stress, even if you have to regularly set aside time to mercilessly beat a bunch of pillows. If you feel like you want or need therapy, investigate options. Take care of yourself.
Mental health is a much-overlooked component of being a healthy, happy freelancer.
I do think that for most freelancers, some stress is a normal part of the gig – but that stress shouldn’t be debilitating. Freelancing can be wonderful, but it can occasionally be isolating and overwhelming.
Combat that by taking care of your mental health; demonstrate as much compassion and love for yourself as you would for your very best friend.
Exercise and incorporating healthy foods can help with stress, but they can’t do everything – complete the triangle by making time and space to nourish your precious mind.
Take care of your health, friends; it’s one of the few things you can’t contract out to other people. It only takes minor tweaks to start promoting health in your life – try it now! No perfect six-packs required.
Kate Shea lives and works in New York City, where she consumes an inordinate amount of Sriracha daily. You can catch up with her on Twitter at @katerone.