If you’re a self-employed creative professional, you’ve taken on responsibility for not only sourcing clients and doing the work…but also the admin, customer service, invoicing, marketing, the list goes on!
It’s often easy to forget to add your own well-being to the to-do list. Investing in your mental health often falls to the bottom of your priorities.
This eventually can lead to the likes of imposter syndrome, creative blocks, confidence challenges, frustrations from late payments and isolation…the list can feel endless!
Fact: Creatives are 3x more likely to suffer from mental health issues.
In this post, we’ll outline some of the solutions that could help you with any pitfalls you might face, especially from an ever-increasing remote world. We’ll present mental health tips, guidance and practices to keep you feeling your best!
This blog is based on Wishu research and report and a report by the Association of Illustrators titled “Working Well, Good Mental Health and Creative Freelancers” aiming to shine a light on the most common encounters creatives face with their mental health.
P.s. Not every tip or theme discussed will be relevant or applicable to everyone as a blueprint to overcoming internal troubles. But I do encourage you to take away at least one tip!
Common Challenges: Money
Freelance income is erratic and hard to predict. As a creative freelancer, you are running a small business and any small business can take time to turn a profit.
Even then, some years will be more profitable than others.
Then there are the unforeseen factors and long-term planning. A bill will appear from nowhere, for example, or you’ll get sick and won’t be able to work.
At some point you might want or need to retire: how will you fund a pension?
Financial challenges can present themselves at any stage of your career. You might be lucky to have financial support from family but, even so, not having a financial safety net can be stress-inducing.
Tips for resilience:
Look into getting insurance that will cover you if you’re sick. Wishu partnered with an insurance provider Superscript, providing you with 10% off your insurance. Get yourself covered (check out more detail here).
Speak with an accountant about managing your finances and planning for the future.
Talk to and network with people with the same struggles to earn a living. They can be reassuring and supportive and may have great practical ideas, too.
Don’t think that most other creatives are earning a lot of money: remember that people often talk about their successes more than their struggles
Common Challenges: Imposter Syndrome
“The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.”
Steven Furtick, Pastor, Songwriter and Author.
Tips for resilience:
Measure your success impartially – write down what you’ve achieved each week. This will help you to focus on what’s going well and that you are making progress, even when it doesn’t feel that way. There are many journals online that can help you – for example a mood journal such as Moon Turtle.
Report to friends – share your successes and let them know where things haven’t gone so well. Staying connected with the outside world, your friends, family and communities will help to keep perspective and a sense of proportion. People in your network can help to encourage you but also to help regain your sense of balance. Let them help to celebrate your successes and be there for you during the inevitable rejections.
Common Challenge: Rejection
For those who share personal creative work, it’s crucial to build resilience to withstand the criticism and rejection, as well as the praise and success that comes with it. Remember that although you control the amount of effort you put into the submission, you cannot control how it lands at the other end.
Tips for resilience:
If your work involves applying for commissions set yourself a goal of applying for five times as many jobs as you need to make your finances work. You are not going to secure every commission, and this will help you to get used to the unavoidable process of rejection.
Keep professional boundaries: it’s easier to manage difficult conversations when they’re kept within the confines of your business life. These conversations should be constructive and aimed at you-as-an-artist, not you-as-an-individual. This might help the rejections to feel less personal.
Stay grounded by remembering how this area of creative business works: that rejections involve personal response, not objective truth.
Get involved with a peer group so that you can hear about other people’s struggles, too.
The only certain way not to succeed is not to try: give yourself every chance of success by persisting through the rejections and continuing to find ways to improve.
Hard work is the most common and also the most rewarding way to success, and when you get there, you might even be glad of the knocks you took along the way.
Common Challenge: Social Media
Social media is a great opportunity to build your online brand, reach new audiences, and get your name out there with agents, commissioners and publishers in real-time. But social media is also well known for perpetuating ‘Insta-perfect’ lives, edited so much that they bear no resemblance to reality.
Be reassured that no one is as elegant, successful or witty as their social media feed – and just like you, they’re probably doing it in their PJs and a dressing gown, hopefully waiting for some likes.
Yes, social media is a fantastic business resource for your marketing toolkit, but it should be used as that.
Tips for resilience:
Be strategic and analytical, not emotional. You can find social media strategies online and there are regular training events and workshops run by your professional association that can help.
Try not to let your online presence intrude too much into your personal life. Think carefully before you share personal stories or details about children or relationships. This doesn’t mean don’t do it, but it does mean do it carefully and thinking ahead. You ARE allowed your private life.
Be careful about posting when your mental health isn’t good, when feeling vulnerable, or in the heat of the moment. Share your feelings with a genuine friend first, as another pair of eyes could help with more objective advice.
Learn to spot the signs that you’re feeling undermined or overwhelmed by what you see online and take a social media break. If you are required to be online, for example, by your publisher or commissioner, share your concerns and ask them to support you in taking a break from social media.
Again, if a publisher or other creative partner says you have to be online or do certain promotional activities, make sure that you are supported, and where appropriate, paid. You do not have to do this alone.
Common Challenge: Work/Life Balance
For a creative freelancer, there is often the temptation to work all hours, to earn more money, finish the project, make it just that bit better.
The ‘sleep when you’re dead’ ethos, often seen in the creative industries, is not healthy. Creatives, perhaps more than others, need space and time to just BE.
Let creativity, your most important asset, do its thing, percolate ideas, digest concepts and generally flourish. You need to have a proper work/life balance.
Tips for resilience:
Keep strict working times or targets, such as a word count. Sometimes knowing you have a limited amount of time, or goal, each day can make you more productive.
Don’t beat yourself up when you miss a self-imposed target. You might have set the wrong target. Creativity doesn’t always dance to a tune. And life can get in the way.
If you are anxious about a deadline imposed from elsewhere (such as a publisher) contact them early on to say that you may need extra time. Doing this well in advance takes the pressure off you and is a professional act that will gain you respect.
Is it possible to have a completely separate workspace? Ideally a separate room or garden office or, if not, a desk which is only used for work. When you enter that space, only do work-related activities; have certain triggers for work, such as music or a candle or a particular coffee mug. And when you leave your work space, treat it like leaving a traditional office or workplace – leave your work there, physically and mentally.
Be kind to yourself. Looking after yourself is easy to put to the bottom of the pile of priorities when you’re faced with multiple deadlines. Treat yourself to a daily kindness – however small that may be.
Managing routine – technology solutions
Timely – Brilliant time management app that allows you to plan your week in sections of time allocated, and then tracks what you’re actually spending your time doing.
Things 3 – This task management app collates all your to-do lists, random thoughts and projects etc into one place.
Toggl – Another one that tracks exactly how much time you’re wasting on everything!
Quire – Is one is great for anyone who gets overwhelmed by super-long to-do lists as it manages the list for you in a really appealing, visual way.
Freedom – This app keeps you focused by effectively locking you out of those sites for a specific period of time.
TeuxDeux – Everyone loves a to-do list and this one has a handy function where anything you didn’t get done today automatically rolls over to the next day.
Common Challenge: Creative Block
The blank piece of paper (metaphorical or startlingly real) stares back at you. Many artists have it – the creative block that dries everything up and stultifies you. It’s perfectly normal but can be stressful, and make you consider your worth.
Tips for resilience:
Acknowledge that creative blocks are a common part of the process. You have two choices and either might work: either a) fight the blocks and work on through or b) don’t fight them – try to do something else and come back to it later.
Try playful techniques to loosen yourself up and regain your creative flow by another means – that might be as simple as The Shape Game or Exquisite Corpse.
Go for a walk or run, do the housework or gardening, or something creatively different from the thing you’re trying to do. Sometimes, doing something that uses only a small amount of bandwidth allows your brain to “compost” the work you’re engaged on and you’ll come back to it with new ideas.
Sleep also helps creativity when you can’t find the answer during your logical waking states. But this only happens (or is most likely to happen) when you consciously struggle with the problem while awake. So, struggling and failing during the day is not all bad, as it can prompt your sleeping brain to work through the problem overnight, leading to insight. Keep a notebook by your bed to capture the solution!