Freelancing comes with many perks. Working for yourself, building a brand, making your own schedule, and doing something you’re passionate about can feel liberating and rewarding. At moments, however, it can also be stressful.
This is especially true in times of uncertainty, due to the higher potential of losing clients or budget cuts that decrease your income. Tallia Deljou, a personal development and positive psychology coach based in Atlanta, works with freelancers and also freelances herself. “When you’re working on a client-by-client or project-by-project basis, there’s no structure, no discipline,” she explains. “You have to create it for yourself.”
Since the lines between personal and professional lives can easily blur in the freelancing world, it's even more crucial to intertwine self-care into your daily life.
What is self-care?
Before diving into the practice of self-care, it’s important to distinguish what it actually means—its rise in popularity comes with many misconceptions. While many people assume self-care must be bought or earned, or that it looks the same for everyone, it goes much deeper than that—and it’s far from a one-size-fits-all approach. Sharon Peykar, an associate psychotherapist based in Los Angeles, explains that it’s more of a lifestyle.
“Self-care is any practice, ritual, or boundary that makes me feel a sense of stillness and equilibrium,” she says. “It’s creating a life that nurtures things that help me continue doing what I love and staying aligned with my own needs and values.”
Without teammates or managers to encourage balance, freelancers often neglect self-care. Luckily, there are some easy ways to get started, and you don’t have to worry about perfecting your routine right away. We spoke with therapists and freelancers to pull together 5 actionable tips to help you begin your self-care journey.
1. Check in with yourself
Paige Slaughter, founder of Fruition Studio and a Mailchimp partner based in Carbondale, Colorado, shared that checking in with herself is the most profound tool she uses, and it has become a constant state for her.
She starts her mornings journaling, using prompts centered on how she’s feeling, what she’s thinking about, and anything else that’s on her mind. Most of her checking in throughout the day is done mentally. She’s gotten to the point where she can mentally check in, pause, reflect, and feel OK accepting whatever feelings or emotions show up. After she completes a task, she checks in before moving on, and asks herself questions like, “Is this how I want to spend my time? Is this serving my bigger goals? Is this in alignment with what I care about?”
Paige conveyed the importance of checking in and reflecting so you can produce your strongest work. “If you’re not giving yourself what you need, you can’t show up open-heartedly, generously the way that you need to,” she says. “The marketing skills have never been a challenge for me—it’s been all the mental stuff.”
2. Set boundaries, not rules
“A lot of times when we’re in panic or we’re fearful, our gut reaction is to say yes to absolutely everything,” says Amanda E. White, a licensed mental health therapist based in Philadelphia. Boundaries for yourself and others can be difficult to initially establish, so it’s OK to start small. A boundary could be taking a break, saying ‘no’ to a project you don’t have the bandwidth for, limiting your time with technology, sticking to your rates, or prioritizing rest. When establishing your boundaries, Sharon adds that it's important to listen to your inner voice and intuition. “They will let you know what your limits and boundaries are,” she says.
Try to give yourself grace when you’re putting these boundaries into place and expressing them to others. It’s OK if your boundaries evolve over time, especially during periods of uncertainty. Amanda encourages her clients who are freelancers to focus on setting boundaries, as opposed to rules. “Rules create something that is good or bad, right or wrong, whereas boundaries can shift, change, and move, as needed,” she explains.
3. Move your body
Because freelancers spend so much time immersed in solitary work, it can be easy to fall into a pattern of constantly being wrapped up in thoughts. Tallia believes it’s important to remember that you are much more than just your working mind. “There’s the mental body, physical body, and emotional body, and we, especially as freelancers, spend most of our time in our mental body. We’re never not thinking about work,” she explains. “It’s about getting out of your mental body and into your physical body. You are a whole, complete being with different parts that need attention, nurturing, and care.”
Tallia chooses to start every morning jumping on her mini fitness trampoline outside, but this can look different for everyone. It could be something as simple as standing outside for 5 minutes every morning or practicing yoga before bed. Try to focus on what feels good to you. “Your body will tell you what it needs,” says Sharon. She recommends that you make movement, in some way, shape, or form, a priority on a daily basis.
4. Organize to energize
A large element of self-care for freelancers is staying organized and prioritizing your daily tasks. Sharon reminds freelancers that, as humans, we’re wired for consistency. When times are uncertain, it can be difficult to stick to the same exact routine every single day, but it’s beneficial to have some sort of structure.
Amanda encourages freelancers to split the day up into different categories, based on what your energy looks like that day. “Learn what is an energy giver, versus something that takes your energy,” Amanda says. “Prioritize things that give you more energy and do them at certain times in the day, depending on what’s going on in your life.” If you’re able to, you can also consider bringing on someone to help and delegating tasks.
When organizing your days, Paige advises freelancers to be intentional about scheduling self-care—otherwise, it’s easy to get lost in work. “In my planner, I schedule a siesta,” Paige explains. “I try to use different words that remind me of what my intention is with different parts of my day.”
Tallia reiterates the importance of scheduling time off, whether it’s for an hour or a week.
“There’s so much you’ll gain from taking that time away that we don’t think to take, because it’s not like we have a specific number of vacation days we’re working against,” she says. Try to stay cognizant of including time in your schedule to recharge your batteries. We’re all human, and we all need rest.
5. Invest in your relationship with yourself and with others
Depending on their working environment, freelancers might spend a majority of their time alone. Affirmation and positive reinforcement can be incredibly motivating, but without others to turn to for that, it’s important to look within. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or down, try affirming yourself by celebrating your successes.
Paige encourages freelancers to practice this frequently, for all wins, big and small. “Don’t put off the joy and the reward,” she says. “Those things can’t wait.” For an extra confidence boost, Tallia recommends physically keeping affirmations from clients that you can draw on to feel grounded and remind yourself why you do your work. “Print out testimonials, emails, and stories from clients that light you up,” she suggests.
While your relationship with yourself is arguably the most important, connections with others also play into self-care. Loneliness can easily set in for freelancers who don’t have an office to go into every day or a direct team to work with. Tallia expressed that relationships are one of the 5 main ingredients to a high-quality life. “We need to find ways to take better care of each other and learn how to structure some community, connection, and engagement, because we need it as social animals,” she says.
Find like-minded peers in similar industries who can empathize with you, lift you up, and give feedback. Decision fatigue is very real amongst freelancers, so Amanda emphasizes that it’s important to have a community you can lean on.
Paige also focuses her energy on building and guiding her community. “I’m really trying to venture into supporting people on their own paths, like freelancers and small business owners, and walk alongside my people,” she says. “Everything overlaps between what we’re doing professionally and how we’re growing personally. To me, that’s where all the magic is.”
Claire Currie is on the Partner Marketing team at Mailchimp and based in Atlanta, GA. She is also a city guide freelance writer.