Freelancer Working from Home and Playing with his Dog

The Hidden Mental Health Issues of Freelancers and Remote Workers

ChatOwl Anxiety, Depression, Online Counseling

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There are many joys to working from home. People working Monday to Friday in a small office cubicle with a long commute tagged on each end are jealous. You’ve probably heard a few comments from friends and family about how lucky you are and they aren’t wrong.

It is liberating to work remotely. You become your own boss, manage your own schedule, take time off when you want, and can work in pajamas if you want. There is a lot to be said about the freedom, flexibility, and peace you can find as a freelancer.

What your friends and former colleagues often don’t appreciate is the hidden mental health issues which come from working remotely. You might not have considered the side effects of freelancing before you got started, but now you are feeling them. Working alone, under pressure, with no accountability (except to yourself) can impact on your mental health.

Depending on what type of remote work you do, it can be very isolating. With no office banter, no meetings, and inconsistent income, it’s reasonable to feel like freelancing isn’t for you. It’s hard to talk about the downsides of freelancing work because many people don’t understand. If you complain, will your non-remote friends sympathize?

The Rise of the Freelance Economy

Coworkers Talking in a Coffeehouse

Upwork, a go-to jobs-marketplace for many freelancers recently released a report with some staggering statistics about the remote work community. Close to 50 percent of millennials now consider themselves freelancers. This number is expected to grow. By 2027, over half of the US workforce will work remotely in some capacity. People are moving towards this gig-based economy because of freedom, flexibility, and increased income.

Compared to a traditional position, freelancers are always learning new skills. As per the Upwork report, 55 percent of freelancers gained new skills in the last six months, which is 20 percent more than their traditional counterparts. This continued pursuit of new skills has made remote workers and contractors more positive about their future options. Why do we say this? Over half the current US workforce is nervous about whether or not their job will exist in 20 years. Freelancers, not so much.

The freelancer community is booming, thanks to technological innovations making it easier than ever to work from home. Some workplaces are entirely remote, including Buffer Trello and Workform. Even conventional office spaces are allowing employees to work from home a few days a week in an effort to improve employee satisfaction. The home office is a new way forward

How Does Remote Work Impact Mental Health

Freelancer Working from Home and Playing with his Dog

A 2019 report published by Buffer (in partnership with Doist, Hubstaff, Remote-How, RemoteYear, Trello, Workfrom, and We Work Remotely) highlighted aspects of remote work which don’t get the attention they deserve. According to those surveyed, remote workers have a few common struggles.

At the top of the list were issues with coping with working hours. Freelancers struggle to unplug once the work day was done (22 percent). Furthermore, 19 percent found loneliness to be a big issue. Not surprising, considering the report demonstrated 17 percent of workers found collaborating and communication were problems from a home office.

In the words of Amir Salihefendic is CEO of Doist, “we need to acknowledge that isolation, anxiety, and depression are significant problems when working remotely, and we must figure out ways and systems to resolve these complex issues.”

Working from home, while appealing in many ways, has several hidden costs you might not consider until you’re knee deep in them. One of the biggest complaints about remote work is this lack of connection.  For example, you might not feel a part of the team back at the office. Or, if you are a freelancer, you may not have a team at all. Remote workers often feel left out when they don’t have colleagues around the corner to chat with, or don’t get the after work invites like they used to.

With the freedom to work from anywhere, at any time, you might also struggle to turn off at night. At an office job you get scheduled breaks and once the clock hits five – you head home. If you work from a home office, you may feel the need to be always plugged in. Even on your breaks – you fit in chores, errands, and inbox management. As quoted in the Huffington Post, Jane Scudder, a certified personal development said, “working remotely creates a unique pressure to appear busy.”

How to Maintain Your Mental Health as Freelancer

Report Graph On Issues of Remote Workers
Source: Buffer State of Remote Work 2019

If you have found yourself struggling with the side effects of a chosen freelancing career path, you are not alone. The numbers of people living a location independent, remote work, gig-based, or freelancer lifestyle are growing. There are more people than ever before that can relate to your experience of loneliness, anxiety, and depression.

If you find yourself questioning your decision to move into a digital nomad lifestyle – here are a few suggestions to maintain your mental health:

Counseling Support Services

Having the support of an unbiased professional, who always has an open ear, is invaluable. If conventional in-person therapy doesn’t fit with your remote lifestyle, consider the many online options available today. Online counseling is uniquely suited to the freelancer schedule. They are available whenever you need, through chat, phone, and video supported sessions. If you are working from a coffee shop, home office, or tropical beach location – they travel with you.

A certified counselor can help work through the lingering feelings of anxiety, doubt, and guilt that come along with the freelancer life. While it’s always helpful to have someone ready to listen, therapy digs into the underlying issues and comes with real-life solutions.

Community

Where does your community hang out? If your company has a team divided between in-office and at-home locations, how can you participate in community events? Make it a priority to see your colleagues in person on a weekly or monthly basis. What if you are totally gig-based, and don’t have a team to connect with? No matter your field, there is an online community of people doing exactly what you do. Reddit, Facebook, and Meetup are great options to find your remote working tribe.

Coworking Spaces

There is something to be said for setting up the perfect home office, but for some people, a home office exasperates the common issues of freelancing. Putting on a pair of pants, getting out of the house, and keeping up that water-cooler office banter might be what you are missing.

Coworking spaces are popping up around the globe and for affordable rates. Enjoy the freedom and flexibility of working remotely, while also enjoying the comradery, communication, and accountability of an office setting. These spaces are designed to brighten your mood, increase productivity, and often come with perks. Plus, as a contractor, these are recognized business expenses and valuable come tax season.

Lunch Breaks and Working Hours

When you work in an office, you are more likely to take your breaks and clock out on time than if you work from home. Freelancers are notorious for thinking, “Breaks? Who needs them!” But everyone needs a breather.

Taking time away from your screen improves your productivity and your mental health. Set timers, log off, and do something fun. If you have trouble following a break schedule, explore working with the Pomodoro technique. Working hard and undistracted for 25 minutes, followed by a 5-minute break can mean a world of change for your work week.

Use Your Vacations Days

The assumption is that most remote workers are on an unlimited vacation. When you first start, it can feel that way. But according to the 2019 update by Buffer, most freelancers take a very average number of vacation days – between 2 to 3 weeks a year. Only 20 percent take more than three weeks a year.

Vacation is good for mental health, especially when you make it a priority to unplug fully. Leave your phone on airplane mode, set your out of office, and unwind. Considering many remote workers get an unlimited number of vacation days – you may want to take advantage of them.

If you live the freelance lifestyle, you know it’s not all pajama parties and snooze buttons. Remote work comes with its own set of issues that you might not expect as you start out. Take steps to nurture your health and wellbeing as a freelancer worker, just like you would in an office.

There is an often undiscussed tendency with remote workers towards anxiety, and loneliness.  It’s time to talk about it. Reach out to people in your community, work with other freelancers at a coworking space, and find solutions to stay connected.