The life of the freelancer can be like British weather — warm sunshine one moment, wind and rain the next.
As a web designer in particular, your work can be stressful, putting in long hours for clients who often don’t feel like they appreciate your efforts.
This can really take its toll on your emotional health, and the mental wellbeing of even the most confident freelancers can be fragile, with dizzy highs and difficult lows. Even celebratory moments like winning new clients carry with them the anxiety of starting a whole new project! Sustained difficulties when freelancing can lead to depression and burnout, leaving you unable to function well in both work and personal situations. And we don’t want that 🙅♂️
In this article I’m going to outline 6 ways in which self-employed web developers can look after their mental health, manage depression and put their wellbeing centre stage.
Note: this is written purely from personal experience, with the odd bit of data to back up where necessary. Your needs will vary from mine, so keep that in mind when reading. If you have concerns about your mental health, I’ve included some useful links at the bottom of the article.
#1 Keep a freelance journal to reflect on your thoughts
Firstly, you don’t need to write in it every day. That would probably be another cause of stress. But for me, writing down the way that I’m feeling and interrogating where those emotions are coming from is a great way to ground myself and manage those emotions.
I use Penzu to keep a private journal of my thoughts. I go through periods when I keep a daily journal — a log of what’s going on during a big project, for example — and other times I write very infrequently. Basically, I write whenever I need to.
Keeping a journal has been found to boost your mood and enhance your sense of wellbeing. In my case, it can even be a place to vent frustrations (if you searched my freelance diary for various profanities, you’d probably find more than a few!) 🤫
What’s best about journaling is the act of reflection that is encouraged as you dwell on what’s going on inside and out. I strongly recommend giving this a go if you’ve not tried it, as it can really help to manage your mood.
#2 Have a routine to keep organised
For me personally, having a routine really helps keep my mental health in balance. What works for me, though, is not being too regimented about it.
I don’t write down a detailed list of times and actions that must be followed — that’s a surefire way for me to fail and beat myself up. Instead, I give myself windows of time to do certain things. For example, I’ll typically be at the laptop for 7:30am-8am. I’ll typically exercise late morning or just before lunch, and I’ll typically goto bed 10pm-10:30pm.
This creates a sense of routine without the pressure to follow a strict pattern. In fact, some days look nothing like this, and especially at weekends how I spend my time looks very different. But, as Monday rolls around, I look forward to settling back into a predictable pattern that keeps me on track and helps manage my anxiety.
#3 Keep up contact with clients to stay in control
Even small web design projects can drag on, and sometimes clients go off the radar. When this happens, it’s easy to get distracted and work on other things. I might be waiting on feedback from a client or some materials needed to continue the work. It’s often tempting to just wait, but I find that if I do this I experience a build up of anxiety because deep down I know that I should have more control over the project.
It helps my mental wellbeing to keep regular contact with clients and not let things slip. I can always feel when things are slipping, like a nagging voice that gets louder over time. My solution to this is to just check in with my clients by sending a quick email. This could be to arrange a catch up call, remind them of something they need to do or simply to ask “how’s it going?”
Keep on top of your mental health by keeping on top of your client communication, especially when in the middle of a project.
#4 Keep learning to grow your knowledge and confidence 📚
Nothing keeps the dreaded imposter syndrome away like learning something new. For me, this takes the form of reading Medium articles, books and watching YouTube videos. And not just on the topic of web development. Anything I can do to get my brain mulling over some new ideas serves as a great way to stave off anxiety and keep my mental health in check.
When I’ve experienced slow-downs in my career, or a sudden loss of confidence, it’s because I’ve tuned out of the idea of lifelong learning.
#5 Keep busy in your downtime
Looking back over my career I have realised that the times when I’m least busy are the times my mental health is most susceptible to taking a nosedive.
I’ve worked in jobs where frankly, the boss hasn’t had enough work for me. Without that direction, in that environment, I feel useless. I mean when you’re employed, you’re supposed to have a job to do, right? When there’s no work there, that lack of purpose can be completely demoralising and bring about the onset of depression.
To avert this, keep yourself busy. When freelancing or running a business, there are always things to do. Yes, sometimes those things are really boring, but even the most dull work is preferable to staring at the wall feeling like everything is pointless. Keep busy during those quiet periods.
#6 Exercise to relieve stress and feel strong! 💪
No wellbeing checklist would be complete without mentioning physical exercise.
This is absolutely crucial for me. I don’t even have to do that much to feel a lot better. The problem is, if I’m having a bad day, good habits like this are the first to go. I’ll forget the treadmill and eat junk food, especially if I haven’t slept well the night before. The opposite is also true: if I’m feeling good, going for a run or lifting weights can make me feel great.
I generally try to get some exercise in every day, even if it’s a brisk walk around the local park. Linking back to tip #2, I work exercise into my routine to make sure there’s space for it. Sometimes my mind is too busy to let me get away from the laptop, but thankfully this is rare, as for me, physical exercise is critical to my performance at work.
How to stay mentally healthy as a freelance business owner
You might be reading this from a bad place. Or maybe you’re feeling pretty good about things. Either way, as I said earlier: the freelance lifestyle is stormy.
But by practicing some of the wellbeing tips I’ve mentioned here, hopefully you can weather the storm on the bad days, and fly even higher on the good days. Wherever you are, keep up the great work ✊