Especially during the prevailing times, anxiety knocks on many people's doors. As part of my anxiety disorder, I have been battling with the rush of fear, the sweaty hands and the quickening pulse for years, and anyone who's regularly experienced that will agree that it's surely not a nice feeling.
Anxiety can have its roots from an infinite source of possibilities. I remember my husband once said, "But at some point you'll have to run out of things to be afraid of."
I laughed. Hard.
Sadly, you can be scared of anything, rational or irrational. With my pregnancy going on at the moment, I have encountered an entirely new and vast field of opportunities to be afraid of. And when you're a freelancer, fear of failure, fear for your existence and the permanent fear to hold and gain new clients is a permanent companion for most. If I counted down the fears I've had in the past year alone, it would be quite a list.
The problem with anxiety is that it paralyses us, as the sympathetic nervous system kicks in and leaves only the fight or flight instinct. Great if you want to survive, not so great if you want to get creative. Although the present situation is very challenging for most smaller businesses and freelancers, anxiety must not dictate our next steps, as we need to be creative now more than ever. So how can we deal with anxiety better and probably even overcome it during our everyday lives?
When I tell you, you might think of these methods as banal and most likely have heard them in some relation various times before, but the sad and happy truth is, it really is that simple to gain a more positive and less anxious mindset. There are no elaborate tricks to alleviate anxiety, but for these methods to work, it is essential to practise them regularly, so your body becomes familiar with them and can react much quicker when needed.
The methods I have put together here, I have partly taken from my HypnoBirthing book by Hollie De Cruz, as well as a fantastic article on the subject called How To Manage Anxiety If You're An Anxious Entrepreneur, originally published by Tara Bixby on the Honeybook.com blog. Some of my personal suggestions are sprinkled on top. All of them work for me and have helped me ease out of anxiety easier and quicker when it attacks during the day.
Have a Dance Session or Exercise
I know, I know, the dreaded "do sports" thing, but fact is, it really helps. Exercise releases endorphins and kicks in the parasympathetic system, which cannot be active the same time your sympathetic nervous system has the say, so you get relaxed and the anxiety alleviates. Many people suggest Yoga to decompress and relax, and although I highly recommend the benefits of Yoga, I'd do something a little more active to distract your brain from the fear. Dancing, in my opinion, is particularly beneficial because you also have music with it, and music is one of the most reliable wonder methods to get into a better mood (or worse mood, depending on what you put on...maybe not Radiohead). Songs that I can recommend to make my mood soar up instantly are, for example:
A brisk walk, maybe with music, can also work wonders, as it means to leave your home and go outside. Especially when you work from home, getting outside now and then can be balm for your soul, and seeing other people just live their lives helps put things back into perspective.
Meditation and Breathing Techniques
Especially when the mind is whirring and we feel anxiety knocking, we often tend to go into overdrive to keep the negative thoughts at bay - or we numb ourselves with watching Netflix or YouTube. Neither are helpful and will leave you feel more burned out and restless than before.
Quieting the mind is a skill most of us seem to have forgotten in these hectic times, but it is essential to order your thoughts and make informed and calm decisions. When you simply cannot put your mind to rest in the beginning, it can help to do a guided meditation (you can find plenty on Spotify). This way your mind is occupied with doing something like visualisation and your thoughts can stop spiralling for a moment.
Breathing is also a must-have tool in your anti-anxiety box, as it helps your sympathetic nervous system to shut down and enter a state of relaxation. Anxiety often comes from sitting hunched over a computer desk and breathing shallowly. When your body is not nourished with enough oxygen, it is much easier to slip into panic mode.
One of my most favourite and simplest breathing techniques stems from Hollie de Cruz's HypnoBirthing book. You simply take a deep inhale (about 4 seconds) and think Peace. When you exhale (ideally 6 seconds or so), think Tension. So you inhale peace and exhale tension. It is a fantastic exercise that can be done anywhere you are, and you can incorporate it into a meditation as well.
Rest and Sleep
This point is very well explained in Bixby's article on Honeybook.com, and although most of us already know how rest is essential to our mental health, we tend to simply skip it "just to do this one more thing." Especially as freelancers we tend to have issues with switching off and allowing us to rest. In our workaholic-induced society, "rest" almost feels like time wasted, but it certainly is not.
Only with enough sleep and rest, hormones like endorphins and oxytocin can release properly and we are calmer in our minds. Being calm in our minds benefits our creativity and lets us make better decisions - two aspects that mostly are direly needed in any freelance business, as well as everyday life.
Now as I am in my last trimester of my pregnancy, I find that I have to allow myself to rest regularly, as my body direly needs it. Still, I feel guilty and "useless" doing so, even though my body is currently growing another human. It proves how deep these "ambitions" go and how little we care about tending properly to our bodies - if even a pregnancy doesn't give you the "right to rest" anymore.
One method that has helped me stay rested and which Bixby also describes in her article is scheduling your rest time. This way, there is less of an option to simply skip it and keep working. Mark them down with a permanent marker in your diary or daily schedule and, ideally, try to rest at the same time every day, as your body will learn it's time to relax now. Do not watch television, as watching TV actually just numbs your thoughts but doesn't really relax you.
Alternatives would be:
Socialise and Distract Yourself
Plenty of our spiralling thoughts stem from being too much alone and having time to fully focus on all these anxious thoughts that come in. I always believed I had to deal with every little snippet of thought that crossed my mind, until I realised most of them simply went away when I had a structured and full day of meeting people, socialising and getting out of my space.
My psychotherapist also said that distraction is one of the major keys to reduce anxiety in your life. Now, what sounded like denial to me at first is actually a fantastic method to get out of your head space, for let's face it, most fears are kind of irrational and come from being alone with your mind for too long.
Working from home as a freelancer, I am particularly prone to experience such spirals, and the best way to get out of them is to ring up a friend and invite them over or go into the city and feel life unfold around you. Just taking my laptop into a cafe in the city has helped tremendously to get out of my negative mindset and realise I am not alone in this world. Getting a new perspective can diminish your fears, especially when they're irrational or about something you simply cannot change.
Having a life outside work is essential to maintain a healthy mental state and reduce your anxiety-filled thoughts that seem to take up all the space. My worst bout of depression came shortly after I became an independent content creator and worked from home. I could literally feel my mental health deteriorate, so I started teaching again to get me out of the apartment a few times a week and connect with people.
Writer. Editor. Blogger. YouTuber. Freelancer. Traveller. English fanatic.