So you’ve finally gained enough clients to start working for yourself and the thought of full-time freelancing fills you with excitement. But a few months or even years down the line, a sense of loneliness starts to creep into your life. A couple of weeks without work starts to make you question whether freelancing was the right choice in the first place. Juggling multiple clients brings on a suffocating feeling. The unpredictability of income causes anxiety in the middle of the night. Last year, 1.4 million people were referred to NHS mental health therapy, but what role do self-employment and freelance work play in this surge? 

“Money and mental health are very strongly linked. Money worries can lead to mental health problems, and mental health concerns can lead to our taking on more debt. Most freelancers aren’t in it for the money, but the unpredictability of income can make it very hard to work out budgets, and plan,” explains Chris O’ Sullivan who works for The Mental Health Foundation.

stress and freelance work

This comes as no surprise, as we can all related to the thought of how we are going to pay our rent and bills every month with an undeniable mental strain. “People with mental health problems are three times as likely to be in problem debt,” claims charity ‘Money and Mental Health’ who focus on ‘the link between financial difficulty and mental health problems.’

Unfortunately, it isn’t only money that can trigger mental health issues in freelancers, it’s the loneliness. “Many of us get a huge amount from our work relationships – whether that’s camaraderie around the job, lunchtime walks, lifelong friendships or just the physical presence of others,” expresses Chris.

loneliness and freelance work

Humans are basically social animals: we mostly do better in the company of others,” says NHS Psychotherapeutic Counsellor and UKCP Humanistic Psychotherapist, Courtenay Young. He goes on to explain how depression can take hold if an individual “is unsure of oneself, or doesn’t get enough positive feed-back, or feels isolated, or has a basic lack of motivation.” He describes how anxiety can be caused if one is “unsure of one’s creativity and productivity, or because of one’s fear that other people will forget about you, and your contributions; or you feel left out of the team.”

The Good Life Report released earlier this year surveyed 400 self-employed workers and flagged health and wellbeing as being a risk factor for those working for themselves. This point was also supported by a 2014 paper that found “evidence of a causal relationship between mental health problems and self-employment,” the paper’s results suggested that “individual difficulty in the wage-and-salary employment market is the likely mechanism for this connection between mental health and self-employment.”

networking as a freelancer

Just like anything else in life, freelancing is something that an individual needs to mentally prepare for, as it’s a starkly different reality to working a 9 - 5. Courtenay suggests regularly partaking in social events “where you meet other people; have a coffee afterwards and get their phone numbers for other social contacts,” is vital in aiding positive mental health. Chris recommends that freelancers begin by “recognising that they have mental health, which needs to be as carefully managed and maintained as financial records and data,” he continues, “there might be a regular meet-up you could join, or you could set a couple of face to face coffee catch ups in each working week.” Courtenay explains how freelancers must have a routine that “fits in with your pattern of life; once you have a routine, make it work for you.” This is reiterated by Chris who proposes having “set working hours that you plan for the week to come, and a physical space distinct from the rest of your home environment which is a ‘work zone.’” If things get too much, he advises contacting the “ Samaritans on 116 123 or via”

Mental health charity Mind lists ways to deal with workplace stress which includes “trying different coping techniques to use as soon as you start to feel pressure building,” “focusing on the here and now can help you to create space to respond in new ways to situations,” and “looking after your physical health.”


It’s not all bad news though, after all, there must be a reason why more and more UK workers are trading in the traditional office for a life of self-employment. An Axa Business Insurance survey from last year discovered that “self-employed people are less stressed, have a better work-life balance and better mental health than other workers.” This was demonstrated through their findings which detailed that 78% of self-employed people said they were stressed to some degree at work, compared to 90% of workers in full time employment.

Like any other type of work, freelancing is not for everyone. But for many, the fantastic pros and the independence outweigh the cons. It is vital, however, that freelancers make addressing and maintaining their mental health a priority and something that they regularly assess. With this, self-employment can be an even more rewarding, productive and sustainable career choice.

Tips for keeping on top of mental health as a freelancer:

  • Recognise what causes your stress, anxiety and depression etc...

  • Try mindfulness.

  • Ask for help - friends, family, fellow freelancers.

  • Implement a structure and routine.

  • Take regular breaks - you are not a working machine!

  • Don’t neglect your personal development – consider further study, training courses and conferences etc….

  • Connect with others - join evening or morning classes, find a freelance community.