Freelancing and mental health: top tips for seeking balance as a freelance writer

three top tips for freelance writing portfolio

This blog is about looking after your mental health as a freelancer. But, that’s not where this story starts.

I’ve been working for communications agencies in writing and editing roles since I was 21. 

What does this look like? Long hours, exciting work, travel, if you’re lucky. Expectations can be high. So can the rewards. The last agency I worked for was based in an office that looked like a 5-star hotel (before the pandemic, I spent a lot of time there, so this was a definite benefit). 

I both loved this life and found it challenging, as I’m sure is the case for many. Conscious of the demands, I found ways to care for my mental health (sometimes more successfully than others). I exercised, rested, and attempted to manage my time well. 

Self-care works, as they say. 

After I had my children, I still loved it. Agency life: the atmosphere, the work, the people…but it was more difficult to exercise, or rest, or manage my time as I had been (What time? What sleep? Etc). I wanted to try a different way. To take back a little control. So, I turned to freelancing, as so many do. 

Things did change. But, surprise surprise, I didn’t suddenly have no worries or cares, and all the time in the world.

Let’s delve a little deeper. 

Freelancing and mental health 

Don’t get me wrong: working for yourself is an amazing thing. There are many perks. You see them every day, don’t you? Tales of quitting 9-5 roles, becoming unbossed and the magical six-figure salary instantly landing in your online banking app.

That being said, being a freelance writer can be tough. 

When I create content for my health or medical writing clients, I owe my audiences well-researched fact and the benefit of experience. 

When I write about the realities of freelancing, it’s no different. You need to know how becoming a self-employed writer has impacted my mental health and what I’ve done about it. Disclaimer: I can’t tell you how it will affect yours, because every story is different.

So, whether you’re just getting started or have been writing freelance for some time, check out my top tips for seeking balance and looking after your wellbeing.

Start the day right

I love the idea of having ‘me time’ before everyone else has woken from their peaceful slumber (even if my toddler is very much against it right now). This works for me because I’m a morning person, up with the larks (just not 4 am, please). If you’re a night owl, you may read on…

Hearing others discuss how their day is defined by how it begins sounds… ideal. We all need a little time to ourselves. 

Any parents reading this will know it can’t be guaranteed, especially in those early years of parenthood. But if waking a little earlier than everyone else gives me the chance to hydrate and enjoy some rare silence before the chaos begins, I’m in. NB: I’m not quite at the stage of working out early doors, but if that’s you, I salute you!

Tip 1: Get up early

Take ten minutes to creep downstairs, grab a drink of water (then a coffee), and open the back door for some fresh air. It’ll make a real difference to your mental health. 

Your new working day

You’ll surely have read many posts telling you that as soon as you escape from the office, you’ll have freedom: to choose your clients, your working hours, where you work. 

Indeed, whilst there are positives to this ‘freedom’ of choice, being in sole charge of your time and what you fill it with can take its toll, especially in the early stages of freelancing. Chances are, you’re going to need to work hard to establish yourself. I certainly did. 

Setting up your portfolio, your website, your socials: it’s a big old to-do list. The urgency to find success, however that looks for you, will demand your energy and focus. 

Each day, you start off with good intentions; a glass of water carefully placed on your desk next to the post-it note reminding you to take a break. Before you know it, it’s midday and you haven’t got up from your chair. Time flies, so much faster than it did during your 9-5, it transpires. 

Tip 2: Set boundaries for your day

Time can really slip away when you don’t step away from your devices, so finding your own down time is important.

Break up the day with fresh air. Get away from the screen, drink, eat, exercise. Whatever works for you. Give yourself a pocket of time that has nothing to do with work and everything to do with you. Your mental health will thank you. 

And, have a cut off point: close your laptop and put your phone away for the day. Embrace that precious evening time with your loved ones and take a well deserved rest from your freelance business. 

You’re in it for you

There are a lot of opinions out there on how to ‘be a freelancer’. A lot of voices. I’m one of them!

On the one hand, this is a brilliant thing: even though you may only connect with other freelancers via social media platforms, you never feel alone. The problem is, with all those voices, opinions and noise, it’s way too easy to lose sight of YOU. 

You start to compare. You get inspired to the point of discretion. You might even experience jealousy. While I’m an advocate for learning from others, I know I need to actively refocus on my own business from time to time. 

Tip 3: Focus on your own goals

When you feel you’re getting carried away making new plans inspired by other people’s success, remember you are running a business for YOU. Go back to the start: your business plan, the first note about your business you made in your phone. Network and socialise, sure; but remain focused on the goals you set for yourself.

Posting priorities

If you’re freelancing, you’re more than likely active on at least one social media platform. 

The best advice I ever got was to allocate time for it. Build posting and engagement time into your working day. It’s so easy to get lost in the habit of scrolling, posting and replying and it can very soon become addictive and chip away at your time, and your mental health (oh, the doom scroll!). 

Yes, social media can support your business and yes, it might bring you clients. But social media is not your business. 

Tip 4: Use social media wisely

Set yourself clear boundaries and expectations for the platforms you are using and consider what the purpose is of each.  

So, what about right now?

Go get an early night. You can go again tomorrow. 

Thank you so much for reading. I’m always open to networking and I’d love to hear more about how you look after your mental health in the freelancing world. 

  • Take a look at my previous blogs to learn a little bit more about my story.
  • Drop me a line if you’re interested in one-to-one mentoring from a health writer with a decade of experience.
  • Reach out if you want to connect on a health or medical writing project.
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I work Tuesday through Friday. I’ll aim to get back to you within 24 hours during the working week.