Anxiety can hit anyone, and if you’re a freelancer you might be especially prone to this mental health problem, because of the constant worries that you have on your mind: worries, like – when am I going to find my next project, when will my next paycheck be coming in, can I sustain myself in this way in the long-term? Having anxiety is bad for our health, and it is particularly bad news if it becomes chronic and starts interfering with our work, relationships, and social life. In fact, feeling anxious for a long time can increase your risk of depression, substance abuse, and suicide. So that’s why it’s important to take care of your health before serious consequences develop. Science has shown that there are certain things you can do to help you tackle this mental health problem, but before we get into this, we first need to define anxiety.
Anxiety is basically fear and feeling like you’re on edge. There are different types of anxiety disorders and one of the most common ones is generalized anxiety disorder. If you have this condition, you tend to worry about many things going on in your life – big and small, and these worries can keep you up at night. If a situation is ambiguous and you don’t know how to interpret it, this can be enough to trigger your anxiety and you begin to think of the worst. Maybe you got off the phone with a client who didn’t sound very friendly and now you’re trying to decipher what they’re thinking about you and you worry that you did something wrong. Maybe you sent an e-mail to someone and haven’t heard back from them in a week, and now you’re consumed by the thought that they might not want to continue working with you. And then you start to wonder how you will continue paying your rent and sustaining your lifestyle; the thought of ending up on the street even crosses your mind. When you have generalized anxiety disorder, the worries are uncontrollable, and you find it difficult to focus on your tasks because of anxious thoughts that keep circling your mind. Symptoms can include restlessness, finding it hard to fall or stay asleep at night, feeling tired and irritable, and having aches and pains.
Another anxiety disorder is social anxiety disorder. As a freelancer, you need to convince potential clients that you’re the person for the job, which means having to sell yourself, and to a certain degree, appearing charismatic and confident. When you have social anxiety and prepare for interviews and meetings, you dread the face-to-face interaction. In your head, you know the things you have to say to sell yourself, but when it comes time to meet the client in person, everything starts feeling like an ordeal. You might start sweating, blushing, and become unable to look the other person in the eye. When you have social anxiety, you fear criticism, and worry about being judged by others during social interactions.
The good news is that there are ways to overcome anxiety, and it’s all based on science.
Don’t replay conversations you’ve had with other people
If you have a tendency to go over conversations you’ve had with other people in your head, it’s important to stop doing this. Trying to guess what the other person might have been thinking during your interaction will only increase your anxiety. If there is a problem that is bugging you, see if there is a way to solve it and act on it, but without becoming emotionally reactive. This strategy is called problem-focused coping and it’s been linked to good mental health. When we respond to problems by focusing solely on solutions rather than on our feelings, that’s when we start feeling better and our anxiety goes down.
If you have anxiety, you might be prone to self-criticism: you put yourself down for perceived failures and are not kind to yourself. Imagine if you knew someone who constantly pinpointed everything that you did wrong and everything that needed fixing in your life – you’d probably want to boot this individual out of your life immediately, wouldn’t you? If you have anxiety, chances are you do this to yourself so many times that you don’t even notice it anymore.
So, next time you think you screwed up or start beating yourself up about a project you didn’t deliver on, forgive yourself. Forgive yourself for any mistakes you think you might’ve made now or previously and let it go. This can help you begin again as you leave the burden behind.
Do it badly
So many times as a freelancer, you want to do something perfectly. You have an assignment and you want to deliver results. I’m sure you would agree though that most of the time this perfectionism gets in the way because it can paralyze you and prevents you from taking action. One way to tackle this is to “do it badly”. Just jump right in and don’t worry about what your final product will look like. The point is to just get it done regardless of how it turns out. Of course, you can always come back to it later and fine-tune, but you’ll realize that most of the time, whatever you’ve “done badly” is actually not that bad!
“Do it badly” liberates you from the shackles of procrastination and indecision over how best to proceed. It gives you wings to try something new and you get rid of your anxiety about the outcome. So, my question to you is: how would your life change if you started using this motto?
Another thing you can do is mindfulness meditation. Sometimes life feels a little overwhelming and you’re not sure how to cope. In moments like this, there is nothing better you can do than get away from your thoughts and go to that oasis of peace found in meditation.