Is there such a thing as a work-work balance? Like the thrill of a giant roller coaster, chasing down clients, securing new projects and reaching new career heights is an exciting ride, but after a while, that queasy feeling catches up with you and the rush wears off. Since becoming a freelance writer, I’ve never experienced that pre-work Sunday night anxiety, I tend to feel it from Monday through to Friday! The stress of my workload whilst on the lookout for new opportunities weighs heavy on my mind. While I always allocate time to job searching, hustling to find new clients has a tendancy to get in the way of the work that I already have going on. 

Working at night.

Forget a work-life balance, a lot of us freelancers never switch off and turning down clients can feel like the sin of all sins. My work stimulates me, I can easily spend all hours of the evening researching and reading articles before realising it’s now well into the small hours and my alarm is set for 7am the next morning! This cycle of constantly hustling for new jobs whilst pleasing existing clients ain't easy, and it turns out, I’m not alone.

Freelance photographer, Mike Brigg wrote an article ‘The Myth of the Freelance Photographer Work-Life Balance,’ that explains how even when he’s finished working for the day, the pressure to work continues. “As my time to ‘clock-out’ came, all those tasks that I had not completed for the day clogged my thoughts and led to distracted time spent with loved ones.” Likewise, freelance writer Charlotte Jansen discusses the continuous workload that freelancers grapple with, which led her to write again just five days after she gave birth! She describes how she has come to accept “lying awake at 3am, writing on my phone” as a regular occurrence.

Stress while freelancing.

Having a positive work-life balance was one of the key reasons I became a freelancer, however, it can feel more like a merry go round with no way to stop it. Freelancers are business people and like all businesses, there often isn’t an off switch, so the potential of ‘burnout’ is real. As freelancers, our work and personal lives are interconnected as we’ve often turned our hobbies and passions into careers. ‘Me time’ is an abstract concept that I have yet to experience.  

Whatsmore, freelancing requires a lot more work than many people think. It is rewarding when working on a passion project but who enjoys dealing with emails coming in at all hours or constantly researching and developing project ideas? I just want to turn my freelance brain off for a few hours. As well as hustling for new work, we are bookkeepers, accountants, negotiators, and project managers.

Mental health and freelancing.

So what’s the impact on our mental health? The stress and anxiety of a feast or famine income can hit freelancers hard. Extreme highs are met with extreme lows and it’s easy to never feel quite comfortable or settled in your career. The control of one’s hours and working environment that freelancing brings has long been hailed as a better option for an individual's mental health, however, as more people turn to freelancing we are seeing that it can go both ways and can actually worsen an individual's state of mind. Writing in The Cut, Cinnamon Janzer describes how “days without much work bled into weeks, and somewhere along the way the catastrophizing, negative thoughts began to creep in.”

The only way to really ‘win’ at freelancing is to be passionate about the jobs you get, learn to say no from time to time, switch off for real, and give yourself a break. I know freelancers who bought into the fantasy of a luxury lifestyle and soon found out the hard way that its not all lattes in your PJs. If you choose to enter the big bad world of freelancing because you think you’ll be working abroad, sleeping in and have shorter working days, be warned, these perks are rare in the early years and the challenge is to enjoy them when you've got them. Hustling comes as part of the freelance lifestyle but from time to time, you have to get off the rollercoaster, take a break and bid farewell to the fun of the fair.