For many, freelancing is synonymous with living the dream. A better work-life balance, less stress, more time with family and friends, turning a passion into a career.  However, with erratic working hours, an unpredictable salary and days spent alone at home, it’s easy to become somewhat of a ‘self-employed precariat.’

According to Epson research, 25% of freelancers have experienced depression and 21% have felt suicidal due to loneliness. This is something that needs to be addressed now, as in just over a year the Office of National Statistics (ONS) has predicted that half of the UK workforce will work remotely.

Freelance and stressed

Tamsin Balcanquall, a freelance costume daily has had her own struggles with mental health and notes how “the anxiety of it all can be the most destructive.” “Right now is a good example because my job [a freelance contract] of a month and a half is coming to an end and I don't have anything lined up to start right away. That sense of the unknown can really bring me down when I'm having a bad day,” she continues.

Tamsin also speaks on the inevitable loneliness that freelance work brings. “At the end of every job you go from working intensely long days with these people that become your life and when it’s over, not only is the job gone but they are too and your life is suddenly starkly empty.” And she isn’t the only freelancer feeling this way, an Epson research survey revealed that 48% of freelancers have found their work 'lonely' and 46% found it to be 'isolating.’

Laptop, working from home

The stresses of the freelancing rat race are often magnified by an internal pressure to accept all work offered to you in fear of opportunities running out. “It’s easy to feel like there’s no off button and no walking away from work; I always feel like I’ve got to answer emails or search for opportunities, which can be tiring,” explains freelance photographer Mary Sullivan. Freelance workshop facilitator Bilal Khan describes how he finds “structuring in downtime to ensure I am taking a break” to be a challenge.

On the flip side, freelancing also brings periods without any work at all. From a few days at a time to long stretches waiting for a breakthrough. 52% of freelancers experience irregular work and 41% have an inconsistent cash flow, according to a research report by Aldermore.

overworked and stressed

“When I'm not working I realised that it gets me really depressed, however, I don't notice it at the time” mentions Tamsin.

Freelance photographer Alberto Romano reiterates this point, explaining how “there’s always that few days or a week that makes me feel like I’m stuck and makes me worry about my income and/or my creativity getting me nowhere.” Tamsin describes times of little to no work as being the “doom” which she characterises as  “the moment a ton of bricks falls on your head because you think about the bills you have to pay and the work you don't have lined up. So you start running through the Rolodex in your head thinking of anyone and everyone that you could email.”

So what are the solutions to nourish mental health while working as a freelancer? London based freelance photographer Saira MacLeod speaks on how she stays productive. “One of the things I am balancing is the work for my existing clients versus finding new work. I may start implementing a weekly booking bases whereby I ‘book’ myself in to retouch this job or edit that job and then spend half a day looking for new clients or updating my site.”

Self employed working from home

Mary also has ways of combating low times “having my morning workout really helps keep me sharp for the day and manage my anxiety around my work.” It really is the simple things that help ensure your mental health is better looked after. “I turn my phone on aeroplane mode whenever I’m in intense periods of concentration,” says Bilal. Tamsin supports this point with her own ways of staying healthy, “I put a lot of focus on self-care and I try to keep a routine by creating daily lists of what I need to achieve that day.”

Being self-employed often provides a very rewarding and self-directed career. The report by Aldermore found that, despite the mental health challenges that come with freelancing, 93% of self-employed people still love being their own boss. “You have to be positive and keep pushing,” says Alberto. The freelance life isn’t for everyone, but for those willing to take care of themselves and their mental health in the process of finding work and completing projects an exciting and diverse career awaits.