Go Offline: Is self-care still possible as a freelancer?

Self-care and freelancing—two terms that have gained popularity these past few years. Also, two terms that are often misunderstood. Self-care is not a one-size-fits-all thing and freelancing is not all fun and chill.

Starting out as a freelancer, you’ll probably find yourself working more than 40 hours a week, trying to build your business. This is also usually when burnout happens. When you’re trying to make something work, you might overlook burnout or consider it as something else — like being lazy or not in the mood. Hustling doesn’t mean self-care isn’t possible. In fact, it’s during this time that you need to practice it even more.

What does burnout look like?

The first step is to know what burnout looks like, so that you know when to ramp up your self-care practice. Burnout doesn’t look the same for everyone! However, there are common signs…

  • Loss of motivation
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Trouble focusing
  • Overwhelming self-doubt
  • Sleep problems

Burnout looks like you’re trying to make something work but you don’t know where to start and you don’t have the energy to figure it out. At the same time, you hate yourself for not having the energy. It looks like uncertainty has taken over your life. You doubt your skills, your choice of leaving corporate to go freelance, pretty much all recent choices you’ve made. Burnout also feels like no matter what you do and how hard you work, you don’t feel productive. 

During the beginning stages of building a business, all these things can look like they’re part of the process. You’d think if you could just power through, you’ll soon be a successful freelancer. If you just sleep less and work more, you’ll soon figure things out. Keep in mind, there is a fine line between the challenges of paving your way with freelancing and burnout. If you don’t take care of yourself, you’ll end up with the latter and that can break your business.

How to balance self-care and building a business

Self-care is very possible while building a freelance business. Balancing the two is both tough and easy. This requires you to improve self-awareness. Listen to your body and have honest conversations with yourself about how you’re feeling. Don’t be too quick to shrug off exhaustion. The more you listen to your body, the more you develop your self-awareness skills. From here, you can use the tips below and add more that suits for building a freelance business without compromising your physical and mental health.

1. Set boundaries and honor them

Boundaries can be difficult to establish, but they’re necessary. Always remind yourself that building a business doesn’t mean you need to forget everything else. Boundaries like, “only work 6 hours a day” or “don’t reply to emails beyond 6 pm” can help you create a sense of schedule and stability while enjoying the flexibility of freelancing. It can help build a separation between work and personal.

2. Listen to yourself, especially your body

If you feel tired, rest. If you’re losing motivation, reflect. If you’re feeling lazy for weeks on, step away from work altogether and give yourself a long break. Maybe a week. Have conversations with yourself to know where these feelings are coming from. Lack of motivation, anxiety, overwhelmingness—these things don’t just come out of nowhere. When you notice them, pause and listen. Find out what these feelings are trying to tell you.

3. Put a hobby or two on your priority list

Your business is important but so are your hobbies and creativity. I once made the mistake of forgetting these things. I thought it was a waste of time since they weren’t helping me make money. Well, a few years in and I felt totally lost. It took a lot of self-reflection to realize that not doing the things I enjoy was a mistake. Because as cheesy as it sounds, it really felt like I lost a part of me.

4. Invest in yourself, not just in your business

If you’re comfortable spending some money for your business, be it hiring a social media manager or enrolling in a course, you should also be comfortable spending money on yourself. Treat yourself to a good spa or buy a bigger, better work table to work more comfortably. Oftentimes, we’re good at neglecting ourselves. We’re good at thinking our needs are not really necessary. Yet, we find it easy to enroll in something if that means improving our business. Keep  it balanced, you deserve the good things in life too.

5. Find your people 

Having a few people who understand you can go a long way. Go out and have coffee dates with them. Go shoe shopping, if that’s what makes you happy. Have dinners and talk about personal stuff and, maybe, a little work stuff. In an industry where you need to build things from the ground up, having your people is necessary.

Practicing self-care is an everyday choice

With the tips above, you may have gotten the sense that self-care is an everyday choice. It’s not just one warm bath or one bottle of wine and a fancy dinner. It’s a practice and it takes dedication and patience. You need to show up for yourself before you can fully show up for your business.

And believe me, I get it… it’s easier to skip these things because we only have 24 hours a day and succeeding as a freelancer takes a lot of time and effort. Even when you get to the point where you’re making your monthly income goal, if you’re not taking care of yourself you won’t really be happy. You’ll simply feel lost.

Success is not measured by how much money we make or how big our clients are. Success is having that work-life balance we never thought we could have. So as you choose to open your laptop every day to do the work, make sure you’re choosing to do something for yourself, every day too.

We’re not yet done. Self-care is equally as important as business growth… Be sure not to miss our next Go Offline post.

CategoriesRemote Work
Tammy Danan
Tammy Danan

Tammy Danan is a storyteller who reports on environmental and social issues. She also covers productivity, creative pursuits, and the future of work. Her words have appeared in VICE, Audubon.org, ZEKE Magazine, Shutterstock, Toggl, among others. You may find her on Instagram @SlowFreelancing.