Mental Wellbeing When You Work Alone
Physical health is crucial, so it’s natural for individuals to take it seriously; however, many people tend to brush off mental health, when this is just as important. Mental Health Awareness Week 2020, which runs from 18-24 May, is all about raising awareness and inspiring action that promotes good mental health for everyone, which we completely agree with at Gorilla Accounting.
We believe you should take your mental wellbeing into account when working alone, whether due to the lockdown restrictions or because it’s the nature of your job. So, in this article, we’re discussing how important mental health is and how to ensure you stay healthy.
The Impact of Working Alone
We have previously discussed some tips on how you can make the most out of working from home during quarantine, but now we’re turning our attention to the mental wellbeing side of things, as we’re aware this is such an important matter.
While working alone is an attractive idea for many individuals, the truth is that it can be isolating as well. In fact, for many people, lone working contributes to poor mental health, since people have little to no contact with colleagues and peers, and are missing out on a huge part of being in a team, such as sharing ideas and worries, banter and support.
Therefore, the feelings of loneliness come from spending long periods of time in isolation, as well as from lack of support around them. The lack of co-workers and comradery is also a key element in this, as are the lack of work outings.
Over time, this loneliness will develop into stress, depression and anxiety. Dealing with the issue before it comes to that is vital, so that you can enjoy good mental health.
Who Is at a Higher Risk of Loneliness?
There are some employees who have a higher risk of feeling isolated and lonely, such as petrol station attendants, cleaners, maintenance workers and postal staff, for example. Contractors and freelancers, however, are at a much higher risk overall, considering isolation is often the nature of the job.
In the beginning, it can be empowering; you work from home, set you own hours, work on the projects you want and don’t have to deal with people you don’t like. But loneliness can set in faster than you may think. It will creep up on you when you’re busy growing your business, so it’s important to stay alert.
For most self-employed people, working from home is the norm, which can feel especially isolating when places like cafés – which can be many freelancers’ favourite locations to work from – are not open at the moment due to the current circumstances.
As contractor accountants, we’re aware that there are many sectors and industries where loneliness is a bigger obstacle, which means freelancers and contractors who work within them have a higher chance of becoming depressed and anxious. This includes IT contractors, artists and digital creative professionals.
Once social distancing and lockdown measures are eased or removed, some self-employed individuals will be able to return to working with others; however, there are still a large number of contractors and freelancers who are unable to do the same due to how their job works.
For instance, locum doctors and vets can work with clinics, so they’ll have the opportunity to spend time with co-workers, even if temporarily. An artist or even someone working in media and entertainment (such as running a successful YouTube channel) will be more likely to work alone.
It's crucial, therefore, that you learn some ways of dealing with the feelings of isolation that may come with being your own boss. Warning signs that loneliness is affecting you include trouble sleeping, caring less about your appearance, getting upset over little things and spending more time on social media (even if it’s not helping).
Mental Health Challenges When You’re Self-Employed
We've been providing accounting for contractors for enough years to know that, while isolation and loneliness are common causes of poor mental health, they’re not the only elements. Many challenges facing those who work alone include lack of job security, since they don’t have sick pay, no set salary at the end of the month and no certainty when it comes to contracts.
Being your own boss is great, but it’s important to remember that this choice also brings with it some uncertainty. Of course, there are ways to mitigate this, like working on several projects at once, networking and upskilling, but it’s only natural to be concerned. However, it’s also critical that you see this as what it is, a challenge, and not as an unsurmountable obstacle that is stopping your dreams. It's easier to end up frustrated and stressed otherwise.
The lack of structure also bothers some contractors and freelancers, as most are used to working a set number of hours and to have their workday outlined for them. As a self-employed individual, you need to have self-discipline in order to meet your deadlines; if you don’t and you tend to procrastinate, this is a slippery slope to feeling depressed or anxious.
Structuring your day as if you were still going out to work can be a good way to avoid this. In addition, why not create a schedule in which you work a given number of hours on a project and spend the rest of the time networking or looking for new gigs? Organisation is every contractor’s and freelancer’s friend.
Another challenge is an increase in workload. When you become self-employed, you have to do it all yourself: spending time updating your CV and looking for work, chasing invoices, using social media in order to develop your brand, negotiating contracts and doing your taxes. This can lead to you feeling overwhelmed and stressed.
But even if you work alone, you’re not truly alone; when it comes to your accounts and taxes, we can help. Whether you’re looking for limited company accountants or sole trader accountants, our professional team will handle your finances and help you to grow your business, which will already take a huge amount of workload off your hands.
Ways to Protect and Improve Your Mental Health
Take your mental wellbeing into your own hands, just like you did your professional life, and set up measures that will protect your mental health, lift your mood and even make you more productive by giving you a boost of motivation.
Go for a Walk
It can start as simply as getting some exercise. Going for a walk can clear your head and help your physical health, and you will likely come across other people along the way. Even if you don’t interact with them, just the simple fact that they’re around you can help you to feel less isolated.
Once social distancing is lifted, you can join walking groups as well, something that will help you to combat loneliness. After all, not only will the physical exercise help, but you will also be able to chat to people, laugh and share your interests.
Keep in Touch with People
Even before the current lockdown and social distancing measures were in place, many self-employed individuals were falling prey to loneliness and low mood – this can be due to the fact that they weren’t interacting with other people as much as they should. Someone in full-time employment has co-workers to talk to during the day but, if you’re working alone, you’re not talking to anyone for long stretches of time.
Keeping in touch with family and friends is important. While you still can't meet in person, you can certainly take full advantage of video call apps like Skype or chat through WhatsApp, for example.
Create or Join Virtual Working Spaces
You may be working alone, but that doesn't mean you have to be lonely. Co-working spaces are a great solution that can help you to feel less isolated, so you may want to give it a try once you have the chance.
However, a virtual working space might be just what you need at the moment. Whether it’s a support group on Slack or a weekly meet-up over Zoom, virtual spaces allow you to interact with other people, to give and receive advice and help, and to celebrate achievements.
Being sociable is a big part of full-time employment, so many people miss it when they make the switch to self-employment. By creating or joining a community for people who work alone, you can help to protect your mental health, as well as your peers’.
Embark on a Partnership
Depending on the type of work that you do, you may be able to find a partner who shares your vision and who wants to work on a project together. Most contractors and freelancers will prefer to retain control over their projects, however, so you can form a collective instead. Having a group of like-minded individuals working towards the same objective or sharing an issue may help you to combat stress and depression more easily, since you feel less alone.
Have Some ‘Me’ Time
Taking a break from everything to take care of yourself is equally important. Working too much can be stressful, especially if you’re going at it alone, so put your projects on pause for a day or two and recharge batteries.
Make time for your hobbies, complete that 1,000-word puzzle you’ve been wanting to do, listen to your favourite music, unwind with a book or, if you enjoy it, start a DIY project – the list of options is endless. The key takeaway is that you need to take care of yourself in order for your mental health to thrive.
Don’t Bottle It Up
Making the move to self-employment is many people’s dreams and, because you’re doing it all yourself and finally bringing your vision to life, you want to succeed. This is completely understandable, but it can mean that people are less likely to admit when things aren’t going well. Be honest with yourself and share your feelings, since other people will be feeling the same.
If you’re feeling down or anxious, don’t let these feelings fester, as it can make them worse – all you have to do is not keep them to yourself. You can even find other people who are in the same boat and who you can develop relationships with.
Getting enough hours of sleep will do wonders for your physical and mental health. It may seem simple, but just the fact that you let your brain rest can help you to wake up reinvigorated and ready to face the day. Lack of sleep can lead to abnormal brain activity which, in turn, leads to stress and anxiety. Our brains are not programmed to thrive on four hours of sleep – on the contrary, several studies have shown that most people require, at least, seven to nine hours in order to feel truly rested.
Rejection is part of being a freelancer or a contractor. It's a fact that, sometimes, things don’t work out exactly how you want them or that clients choose not to work with you. This is daunting for all self-employed people, as you don’t have a regular salary to pay the bills and put your mind at ease. It’s important not to let yourself be consumed by pessimism and stress, as this won’t help you.
Juggling several projects and clients at once can help you to feel less worried about the rejection of a potential contract you had in the pipeline because you have a safety net.
To stay productive and motivated to keep growing your business, don’t neglect your mental health. There's only so much work you can do when you’re stressed, overwhelmed and lonely, so it’s important to stop things before they get to that point. You wouldn’t walk around on a broken leg, so don’t postpone your mental wellbeing either, as they’re equally valid.
Gorilla Accounting’s goal is to help contractors and freelancers, so we’re happy to take the weight off your shoulders and handle your accounts for you. Contact us today on 0330 024 0406 to learn more about our services, and our specialist team will answer all of your questions. Meanwhile, please feel free to use our contractor tax calculator, which can give you some peace of mind by helping you to figure out your take-home pay.