Freelancers: How Do You Manage Stress?

The freelance life can be a good life -- but, even at the best of times, it can also be stressful as hell. I'm curious how my fellow freelancers manage that stress.

For reasons too numerous and too boring to mention, I left social media -- IG, FB, Twitter -- years ago and never looked back, and never regretted it. I'm sure that spending zero time on those platforms has helped me avoid some of the stress or anxiety (I know they're not the same thing) that afflict so many of my friends, family, and colleagues. But few of us can avoid stress completely, and I have a few go-to remedies that I rely on -- spending time in nature, of course; re-reading favorite books and re-watching favorite old movies; random, unplanned walks in NYC; fishing with my daughter; a few others.

What strategies, behaviors, tactics have you embraced (yoga? meditation? kickboxing? base-jumping? yoga while base-jumping?) to handle the stress that comes not only with the freelance life, but contemporary life, in general?


  • All work comes with some level of stress, although having worked for companies and as a freelancer the source of stress tends to differ. For me, the feeling that it's 'all on me' is both the biggest joy and biggest challenge of freelance life. Connecting with people in real life is essential and carving time away from the computer. Going for coffee walks. Sitting and chatting in a cafe. Having in person meetings with project teams. If there's no people, a least hanging out with the birds in my garden!

    Sending you positive, calming, good wishes.
  • @Ricardo Cozzolino Ricardo -- Thanks for the response, and for reaffirming what so many others have already said: namely, that being *away* from work (through exercise, time spent in nature or with family and friends, etc.) is really key to a healthy approach to every aspect of our lives. None of this is surprising, of course. But it's still heartening to hear it. Cheers, B.
  • I try to put all my week day tasks in a schedule, regardless of how benign they are or if they even have anything to do with my projects. This helps me in feeling like I'm working through "the pile." I work out every morning before I sit down at the computer. After 5, I have a block of about 4 hours dedicated to "family time." I also, visit the local climbing gym and skate park once a week with friends. I listen to a lot of books and podcasts and read a lot, too.
  • I have to go for a walk every day. It lifts whatever mood I'm in. And it comes with a side effect of having ideas as soon as I step away from my screen.

    I listen to loads of podcasts too - not just ones for mental health. I find listening to a good chat between good people really nice and relaxing.
  • Social media is such a stress furnice! I find myself scrolling, and scrolling, and scrolling. For no reason at all. Then, I'm like "what am I doing?" So, I totally appreciate why you left!

    I find I HAVE to talk about things when they get tough. I am part of an "action learning" group, and we meet monthly. They are other peers within the creative industry and it gives me an opportunity to offload. I recommend finding a support network. :-)
  • Hi Benedict! I may not be a freelancer, but I know what it is like to juggle multiple projects alone working from home. I also stopped using most social media, but I found that doesn't go far enough. The more time I spend away from my phone - the better. I know that is almost impossible in this day and age, but taking the time to notice if you are mindlessly scrolling or watching videos, etc. can be helpful because you can stop and go do something meaningful instead. I suppose this applies to any activity that riles up your stress. If you can step back, breathe, and detach from an particular issue, it can give you perspective over how much stress it deserves. I think prioritising work is also extremely important because that tackles stress at the source, rather than trying to remedy it.
  • @Richard Cannon Richard, I think that last bit of advice -- "talk it through with someone whose judgement you can trust" -- is one that far too few freelancers embrace ... maybe because the Way of the Freelancer can feel like such a solitary pursuit. But I agree with you: having a friend or colleague who can serve as a sounding board when you're doubting yourself is absolutely crucial. (And *serving* as a sounding board for a friend or colleague who needs one can be a gift, too.)
  • @Ioana Luca Ioana -- Yes, definitely, stepping back and "detaching from the outcome" is an excellent tactic. Of course, that does not mean that one *doesn't care* about the outcome. But it does mean that we should not give more weight to the outcome than to the process or the task or the job itself. Balance is all.
  • @Alexandra (Lex) Hearth Thanks, Lex. And I offer my unqualified thumbs up to "calm time with a coffee."
  • You need to break it down. Look at the reasons your feeling stressed. If it’s for things you have no control you need to break it down and be proactive. No work! Then look into ways of how to get work. No money! Then look into ways to make money. I know it’s not that easy. Life as a freelancer never is but Stress for me is when I leave things to fester and do not face them head on. Put 100% effort and you will see rewards. Maybe not immediately but be patient and keep working hard. And always believe in yourself and talk it through with someone whose judgement you can trust.
  • That's a great question. I personally practice a lot of mindfulness (besides meditation and yoga on a regular basis), being aware of when I tend to stress out and what triggered it. When I catch myself being stressed out, I pause for a moment and detach from the outcome (or what my mind thinks the outcome should be), take at least 10 deep inhales and exhales, and even go outside for just a few minutes and notice what I see around me, instead of focusing on my 'monkey mind'. Then, when I calm down, I assure myself that all will be well, I don't need to know at that point 'how'. This helped quite a lot of times, especially when I was very stressed. As many of my clients say (coaches/healers), the more stressed you are, the more you actually need to step back for a moment, especially when you think there's no time. Those 10min of stepping back can make a huge difference.
  • Hey Benedict, for me, the thing which makes me feel the most stressed is feeling like I'm not moving forwards, or executing where I need to execute. So I find reflection time (it can be just calm time with a coffee to think), to check in, and then making sure I'm prioritising working on what it is I believe can take me somewhere I want to go, is a really fundamental process to keep my stress levels healthy. I also exercise first thing (usually around 6am), Lex x
  • @Paul Bridges Absolutely, Paul. I'm always amazed how even the smallest bit of exercise -- e.g., walking my dog around the block, just to get away from the screen for 15 minutes -- sort of re-orients me, so that I'm able to approach tasks with a fresh eye.
  • @Jakub Oleskevic Hi, Jakub. I agree. Taking ownership of our work, our personal time, etc., is key. It's not easy -- but it sure beats the alternative, which is having various aspects of our lives take ownership of us. For example, being in a position at this stage in my career to say "No, thanks" to work that feels meaningless, or silly, has freed up time so that I can pursue stuff -- both professional and personal -- that matters to me.

  • I am not sure if removing all the possible triggers leads to a happy, stressless life. I believe that on the contrary, making myself as strong to withstand any kind of turbulances is the key. Essentially it's about a sense of control. Making sure I have ownership over my work time, my free time, my sleep, my food, my rest and social life.

    Doing a bit of yoga while everything else is in chaos and out of control is not really helpful - learned this the hard way :)
  • Hi Benedict. Good question. Freelancers carry alot don't they? TBH the remote working is a game changer but still has it's moments of stress. Being home and working can often lead to being pulled left and right sometimes. I try to exercise to relieve stress and it usually gives me more energy for the rest of the day. Whether it's a Living Room Youtube workout or a run it does set you up well.

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