Self-employment is attractive to many: it offers a promise of more control over your own time and the work you do, more flexibility to juggle other commitments and passions, and the opportunity to build a business that’s truly yours.
Yet working for yourself also comes with a unique set of challenges. You may have given up the office politics, the commute and rigid ways of working, but you’ve also potentially stepped away from having a supportive team and someone responsible for your mental health at work.
Whether you want to call it mental health, managing stress, or just coping with what life throws at you - making sure you’re actively considering your own wellbeing at work is a critical part of working well. And when you’re your own boss, you don’t have sick days - so you might not be able to afford stress getting the better of you.
Leapers is a project that helps anyone working for themselves to support their own mental health. Here are the five things we suggest for anyone starting to think about their own mental health at work when self-employed.
1. Remember the basics
Eat, drink, exercise, rest. Your physical health and your mental health are absolutely intertwined. Make sure you’re not forgetting your lunch break - both to take a break from work, and to eat! Good food, regular exercise and good sleep make sure your brain is able to better focus during the day - and not drinking too much alcohol or caffeine makes things easier too.
2. Stay on top of your finances
Financial worries are the single biggest negative influence on our mental health - in the UK, over 70% of people aged 18-34 have felt their mental health affected by money. And those of us who are self-employed also have to deal with the irregularity of income, invoices being paid late, getting our heads around taxes and pensions, and putting cash aside for rainy days (not to mention pandemics!).
There are so many aspects of financial wellbeing to consider, but start with the fundamentals - know what your bank account looks like, what you have in your savings, how much you need to bring in each month, and what you need to put aside for tax. Having a plan which you can refer back to helps reduce anxiety when or if things suddenly change. Beyond that, start to think about saving for emergency funds and life beyond this year: such as pensions or for starting a family.
With a Monzo Business account, you’ll get a notification whenever you’re paid or make a payment. And if you go for Business Pro (£5 a month), Tax Pots help you save for taxes automatically. No more unwelcome surprises!
3. Set some boundaries
One of the reasons you probably started your own business was to say goodbye to the 9-5 routine - but having some structure to your day is really important. It’ll ensure you make enough time to switch off and rest. Even if you don’t want a rigid schedule, giving yourself a clear end to the day where you switch work off is essential to looking after your mental health.
If you’re working from home, consider adding a ‘commute’ to the start and end of your working day, where you do something that makes a clear distinction between work and not work. For example, you could leave the house for 30 minutes to take a walk or get some exercise, listen to some music, or read a book.
This boundary setting is also important for your digital communications - just because you’ve switched off for the day doesn’t mean your customers won’t stop contacting you. Consider carefully whether you’re going to reply immediately, or if it's something that can wait until tomorrow.
4. Commit 15 minutes a week
This can already seem like a load of things to do: setting a routine, exercising, resting, boundaries, a pretend commute… so don’t try and do it all at once!
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by it all, start by committing 15 minutes each week where you’ll spend some time thinking on how you’re feeling, and what you can do to continue working well.
You don’t even need to use that time to make new plans. You could just spend it reflecting on the week, and considering what made you feel great and not so great. This can give you both a moment to breathe, but also help you understand what influences your mental health both positively and negatively. You may be surprised!
You can spend more than 15 minutes, of course, but the foundations remain the same: reflect on how you’re doing, identify patterns you’d like to change, and don’t forget the future. We’ve got regular 15 minute sessions at Leapers which you can drop into, with guided reflections to help you through.
5. Don’t do it alone
Most important of all: you might be working for yourself, but you’re not by yourself.
All too often, the self-employed can feel isolated. Not because they’re sat alone - but because they don’t have anyone they can share their experiences with.
Build yourself a support network. Find others who do similar work, or work in similar ways, and share if you’re struggling. Find a tribe you can be part of, and share how you’re doing. Even if you’re not struggling, others will appreciate that you’re there to answer their questions or listen to their challenges. And if nothing else, it’s great to have a team of others you can just share an afternoon cup of tea with!
Leapers is one of those groups - but there are many. Some are sector-specific, or tailored to groups like parents or remote workers. See if you can find a tribe that offers what you need. And if you can’t - why not create one?
Visit www.leapers.co for free support and resources, for freelancers to better look after their mental health.