With news this week that schoolchildren are to receive lessons in dealing with the "Fear of Missing Out", and many of us more likely to suffer from anxiety than any other generation, it's no wonder stress is on the rise.
If you work for yourself, then your mental health could be even more at risk. That's because of the associated pressures and worries of clients, getting paid and having to deal with all sorts of issues alone. The insecurities and concerns of freelancing can be enough to tip anyone over the edge.
So what can you do to combat this growing problem and stay productive and healthy? If you've been lying awake at night, staring at the ceiling and fretting about anything and everything, then the following tips should help. Above all, remember that you are not alone; this is a widespread affliction. One that we all endure from time to time.
1. Stop comparing yourself to others
It's healthy to consider the competition. It encourages you to improve. But when things get out of hand, and you're comparing yourself to others too much, that's when you've encountered the dreaded "compare and despair" syndrome. It's when you feel like you're just not good enough, and that everyone else is more successful.
It's a waste of time and energy to continually look at what other freelancers are doing, and compare yourself negatively. You're just opening yourself up to unnecessary self-criticism and stress. Remember, that everyone is presenting the very best of themselves – and they'll often be bending the truth to appear more talented and in demand. It's called PR, darling. It doesn't necessarily mean that they're better than you – they might be better at promoting themselves.
It might also be good for you to hear that everyone suffers from feelings of inadequacy. Imposter syndrome is rife in the creative industries. It's completely normal. Just ensure you recognise and deal with it.
2. Focus on yourself
Instead of comparing yourself to other freelancers, focus on yourself. After all, that's the only thing you have control over. And this is perhaps why comparing yourself to others leads to such anxiety – you can't control what others are doing; you can only steer your own ship. If you take your eyes off where you're heading, you'll go round in circles. It's fruitless.
By taking charge of your own business, and figuring out what you need to do next, you'll feel in control and therefore reduce stress and anxiety. In the meantime, your business will thrive, and you'll soon wonder why you worried about anyone else.
Focus on your strengths. What makes you stand out? Why do clients come back to you? Can you improve these areas? Or make it more clear on your website that these are the reasons why people should hire you?
In this game, you should never stop working on your own business. Yes, do some good research and see what the competition is doing. But don't let it overwhelm you.
3. Understand that you're not perfect
With the above in mind, it's also time to give yourself a serious break. Perfection is impossible to reach, and you're never going to achieve everything you want in life – so stop worrying about whether you're good enough.
Happiness lies in setting yourself realistic goals. Because if you set objectives that are too ambitious, you'll always feel like a failure. Sit down and write three achievable goals to tackle in the next six months. It might be that you want to improve your design skills and take an online course, or you may want to update your website.
When you tick things off, you'll feel fantastic for doing something positive and, even better, you'll feel as though you're in control and improving.
4. Cherish downtime and loved ones
In a global economy, it can often seem as though other freelancers never stop working. It can make you anxious about downing tools, worried that everyone else will get ahead and beat you. Stop. Time away from work is essential for a healthy heart and mind. And it prepares you for the next working day.
If you think being "chained to your desk" is going to make you superior to the competition, then you're probably suffering from a little FOMO and stress – something that can only be tackled if you prioritise those moments away from your computer.
Spending time with family and friends is particularly beneficial to your mental wellbeing; having a strong support network will ensure a positive mindset and help you through any darker periods.
5. Get moving, and the rest will follow
If there's one thing you can do to combat anxiety, it's exercise. Exercise boosts endorphins, which interact with the receptors in your brain that reduce your perception of pain. They also trigger positive feelings and reduce stress. I feel euphoric after a bike ride or run and ready to take on the world. Build exercise into your daily routine. Even if it's just a lunchtime walk in the fresh air. It will clear the cobwebs in your brain, and help you figure out how to overcome any issues.
Another great thing about exercise is that it naturally creates knock-on effects. For instance, it encourages you to make better food and drink choices. Do you fancy that regular beer or glass of wine after a post-work run? No. Because you've tackled that need to unwind. You've had your "and relax" moment by working out, rather than reaching for the bottle. Besides, booze changes the levels of serotonin and other neurotransmitters in the brain, which can worsen anxiety rather than combat it. Consider that when you next think a refreshing drink will solve your problems.
When you exercise, you also don't want to eat junk food because your body will crave nutritional treats instead. You'll want to fuel your next workout, and replenish yourself with healthy carbs, fats and protein.
And when you're eating well and not drinking as much alcohol, you're sleeping better too. It's amazing how merely putting on your trainers and going outside for a jog can transform your life, and reduce anxiety.
6. Ditch social media
Yes, we're all guilty of the dreaded infinite scroll. And I'm sure many of you have your iPhone resting on your armchair each night while watching the latest Netflix Original series. It's all too easy to check Facebook or Instagram every five minutes – you know, just in case anything interesting has happened.
It might feel harmless, but social media can massively add to our anxiety. Not just because we're always online and switched on; but because we're also seeing what other people are doing and that can make us suffer FOMO too.
Be disciplined and leave the iPhone and tablet in the other room. Avoid using Instagram or Twitter at night, and allow yourself to unhook from the internet. It'll do you a world of good to be present and switched off. Even better, turn off the television and read a book – escape to another world, fall in love with some fictional characters, be whisked away. Your frazzled brain will thank you for the much-needed break from technology and flashing screens.
7. Don't be overwhelmed by choice
The amount of choice we have these days is unprecedented compared to previous generations. We can live and work pretty much wherever we want. We can travel to every corner of the globe. We can even freelance and see the world at the same time. It's a fantastic time to exist.
However, having all these choices is sending many of us mad, particularly when we're constantly bombarded by happy and successful people, exploring the world and sharing their adventures on social media. It leaves the rest of us wondering whether what we're doing is good enough.
Choice is enough to leave any sane person anxious. Too much choice can leave us feeling unworthy and restless. If you've been feeling worried about 'choice', then understand this – you can't be everywhere at once, and neither can anyone else. We only have a certain amount of choices in our lives; you have to decide what to prioritise.
In the meantime, have a digital detox. Ban any use of laptops, smartphones or tablets during downtime. Count your blessings daily. And be thankful for what's happening right now. Live in the moment, because now is all we ever have.
And if you think everyone else is having a fantastic time, think again – people only project the best of themselves on social media, which distorts reality. So while it seems as if others are always travelling and sharing beautiful images of sunsets on a Thailand beach, you do not see the full picture. Those same people won't share with you when they're unwell, suffering from hard moments in their lives or any mistakes they might have made. Repeat after me – social media isn't real.
8. Look on the bright side of anxiety
Finally, if anxiety is still getting you down – consider the bright side. Being anxious can force us to rethink our businesses and make constant improvements.
It can be a kick up the arse when deadlines loom, or bills need to be paid. It can push us out of our comfort zone and encourage us to make difficult, but necessary decisions. Anxiety can be healthy in small doses. Just make sure that you keep it under control so that it doesn't become the thing that breaks you.