The intersection of creative living and mental wellness is a tricky space. Here’s how freelancers navigate through it.
Freelancing is on the rise, and it has been for a few years now. Writers, influencers, social media managers, photographers—many creative professionals are forsaking the typical nine-to-five job in favor of a career that’s more flexible and fulfilling.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re working part-time hours by the beach or from fancy home offices.
On the contrary, many creative freelancers find their work-life to be mentally and emotionally demanding (if not still preferable to a staff job). They need to secure clients on a regular basis, come up with multiple revenue streams, and manage finances. These responsibilities—and the uncertainty that comes with them—can take a toll on mental health.
That toll can be hard to notice at first. With physical health, a self-diagnosis is more obvious. It’s easier to say, “I’ll rest today because my back hurts like hell.”
But, with mental and emotional health, many of us brush the concerns under the rug, at least at first. We tell ourselves to suck it up, keep hustling, power through. This can lead to a loss of passion or burnout.
So, how do creative people deal with this? We asked some of our contributors to share how they balance their creative freelance life with mental wellness.
1. Elizaveta Galitckaia
I have been a stock photographer for six years now. I started my way in photography as a wedding and family photographer in 2007. I love my job very much. By nature, I’m a perfectionist; sometimes I give too much time to work.
First off, it’s important to have a plan for tomorrow. This creates a much-needed vision of the future, and your ability to control it, thus keeping you calm. Make a daily routine for yourself and be sure to dedicate enough time for rest.
Determine the suitable measure of daily information load—media, messengers, communication with people. These may be adjusted depending on your current emotional state, everyday tasks, etc.
And, of course, [enjoy] outdoor walks and sports. I made a rule for myself to do at least one activity per day—a walk or yoga or workout. All this allows me to maintain good mental health and keep doing what I love without burning out.
These life principles have helped me take care of my mental health.
2. Judy Kaufmann
First, I believe that we live in a world where creativity is necessary at every level—for things as basic as survival and for things as simple as disconnecting.
For those of us who work with creativity on a professional level, it can sometimes be difficult to understand the difference between natural and professional creativity. We easily confuse the need to take a walk to think, or have a beer with a friend to discuss an idea, with moments of rest, when they can be the most productive ones.
Likewise, sitting in front of a computer all day long can make me very nervous. I sometimes find it difficult to respect the time required for creative work in a world that qualifies productivity directly, without thinking about a process, but only the final product.
This year, I set a goal to spend more time working outside the studio—walking, interacting with nature, thinking with my head, and leaving the machines aside for small moments of the day. Let’s see how it works out.
3. Marina Zlochin
One of the reasons people decide to work as a freelancer is the expectation to have a flexible work schedule. You know, waking up when you want, working when you feel like it, to get dressed or to stay in your pajamas, to have lunch when you’re hungry and not according to the fixed schedule. But actually, that’s an illusion.
In reality, after working as a freelancer for a couple of years, you begin to realize that without а clearly defined schedule and time boundaries—both for yourself and your clients—you’re headed straight towards burnout.
I’d say that the most important thing is to have a clear understanding of how you want to start your day and finish it. Personally, I try to begin my day with a wakeup workout.
To step on a yoga mat instead of going straight to your laptop might not sound like a big deal but, for me, it’s a small achievement that sets the tone for the whole day. For others, it might be jogging by the beach or just taking a long walk in a park with your dog.
Another tip and, perhaps, a challenging one is to go to bed early and never finish your day in front of the computer. My experience taught me that there’s nothing more important for your mental health and productivity than a healthy sleep. And, you sleep best when you finish your day with some evening routine, like taking a relaxing hot bath, doing meditation, or something as simple as reading a book.
4. Andrei Cosma
Being a freelancer in a creative field is pretty stressful. Some say that being a freelancer is like being permanently unemployed in the sense that nothing is set in stone.
You could make enough for next month and keep going, or you could have a bad spell and be forced to try something else, threatening your whole lifestyle, not just your job, because being creative is a 24/7 job. This coupled with all the changes in the industry make it pretty hard to keep it all together.
In order to maintain mental wellness, it’s a bit of a paradox. But, for me, having a fixed schedule helps to avoid burnout and actually get work done. Ideas don’t come when you want them to, so noting them down whenever they appear is what I do. Staying on course and setting deadlines helps, or else one could never consider something “finished.”
Not taking rejections of my work too personally also helps, although it’s pretty hard to do. Also, setting realistic goals and staying on course is a must if you want to remain in this industry.
And, perhaps the most important thing to avoid—burnout. I try to find new, exciting things. New ways of doing things. For me, it’s important to find other ways to express myself, other than photography. It’s important to find other interests to unwind.
5. Angelina Bambina
The work of an illustrator expends a huge amount of spiritual energy. Emotional burnout in illustrators can occur when we strenuously and single-handedly expend all our strength, forgetting ourselves, having little rest, not replenishing our energy.
If we do not rest and switch to other activities, we’ll end up destroying our creative selves. Burnout makes other activities joyless, colorless, and uninteresting. We want to create, but can’t.
In this case, a reboot is necessary so that creativity brings positive emotions and not burden. Give yourself the opportunity to sleep, watch your favorite movie, lie in a bath, do fitness activities, go swimming, do yoga, go for an outdoor walk, and other activities.
Taking care of yourself helps reveal your creative potential.
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Cover image via Angelina Bambina.