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Freelancers and Entrepreneurs Need to Prioritize Their Mental Health

When I became fully self-employed three years ago, I had a long list of things I wanted to invest in to ensure my social media consultancy was a success. My checklist included standard items like getting a website, securing an LLC and finding a business banking account. Missing from my list was anything pertaining to my mental health.

There should have been.

Entrepreneurs experience higher rates of mental illnesses such as depression, bipolar disorder and addiction in comparison to their non-entrepreneurial counterparts.

“The prevalence and co-occurrence of psychiatric conditions among entrepreneurs and their families,” published in the journal Small Business Economics, found startling statistics about the prevalence of mental illness affecting entrepreneurs in comparison to the general population.

The report found that 30% of entrepreneurs in the study struggle with depression, in comparison to 15% of non-entrepreneurs.

Due to the uncertainty many entrepreneurs face, these results are understandable. We push ourselves toward our dreams. We grind almost 24/7. While our passion can be admirable, it can cause many of us to push through without prioritizing our mental health, with dangerous consequences.

I became a reluctant entrepreneur after losing my job, no less than 60 days after closing on my first house. To say I was stressed is a severe understatement. However, I could secure small client projects faster than hiring managers could ghost me, so I persisted without dealing with the angst I felt when I unexpectedly lost my job.

Since cash was scarce, the thought of seeking therapy was in the far back of my mind. My money went to food, shelter and my business. “I’ll get help once I close this deal,” I’d tell myself.

Except the deal would fall through, or not be as big I had initially hoped. Things continued like this for nearly a year. Then, the bills kept coming. My car got broken into, my furnace broke during the coldest day of winter and then my grandmother passed away.

Stress consumed me. I started to withdraw from my friends and family and became uninterested in writing, one of my favorite things to do. I became filled with so much anxiety, I feared making simple decisions. I was in a constant fog and felt heavy, like I was swimming through Jello. I essentially mustered enough energy so I could satisfy my client work, but I knew I was not doing enough for my business. I was simply existing, not sure of how to turn my circumstances around.

My cash reserves were running dangerously low, but I could not afford to ignore my mental health any longer. After doing some research, I stumbled on Betterhelp, a telemedicine therapy app, and decided to give it a try. After our first conversation, my therapist immediately gave me homework and exercises to try.

She helped me identify my depression and anxiety triggers, one being too much alone time. I implemented a new rule for myself. I no longer allowed to work from home all of the time; instead, I would go to the library or a coffee shop a few times a week. I started reaching out to my fellow freelancers to propose in-person working sessions so we could have some human interaction and a change of scenery. In addition to getting out of the house, I was becoming top of mind for the freelancers I met, which led to more referrals.

A critical turning point for me was when I noticed how my therapy sessions helped me streamline my business. Although my therapist was not a business coach or a social media expert, she helped me better control the anxiety triggering variables in my business.

No, I can’t control the hurry-up-and-wait nature of signing a prospective client, but I can offer firm deadlines and incentives to sign with me by a certain date, drastically improving my closing rate. No, I can’t control how much money a prospective client has in their budget, but I can guard my time by having project budget minimums and a pre-call questionnaire to weed out clients who aren’t a match.

When I first sought out therapy, I never expected it to have such a positive impact on my business. After seeking help, life did not magically get easier, but I felt like I had more control during the ups and downs.

As an entrepreneur, you might invest in business coaches, accountants, lawyers and public relations professionals, but it’s imperative that you don’t disregard your mental health. Nearly two years after my first therapy session, I feel empowered knowing I was able to survive one of the most difficult times in my life.

If you’re struggling, don’t be afraid to seek help. Not only can it transform your life for the better, it could be just the thing your business needs to thrive.

Photo by Pasha Gray from nappy.co