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how to look after your mental health when you’re self-employed

how to look after your mental health when you’re self-employed


Photographer Em Jensen asked her clever creative friends for their top tips and compiled this nifty list.

Running a business is extremely stressful and lonely at times (ahem, the last two years of mayhem), and staying mentally well is no easy feat – it’s an awful lot of work. I’m honestly very bad at prioritising my mental health when things are busy or chaotic, and, as a result, my productivity levels and general enjoyment at work suffer. Luckily, I have some genius self-employed creative friends who’ve shared their best tips. While a few of them might seem super-simple, putting them into practice is the hard part, so refer back to this handy checklist whenever you’re feeling burnt out or stressed.

TIME-BASED OR TASK-BASED? Work out whether a time-based or task-based schedule works best for you, and organise your day around it. For example, if you get more done by giving yourself a time limit, plan your day with hourly slots of tasks. If your tasks are too open-ended to work out a time limit, give yourself a list of tasks to complete for the day and work task by task. Another handy tip is to start your day with a small, simple task, because the feeling of accomplishing it quickly will ease you into work-mode. Make sure you write the tasks in a physical notebook, so you get the satisfaction of crossing them out when you complete them. Don’t add more tasks for yourself when you’ve ticked them all off for the day – take a well-earned rest. 

HAVE A MORNING ROUTINE Personally, this one is the hardest for me because I love the freedom of working from bed and I definitely take advantage of that as often as possible – despite finding it way less productive. Wake up at a set time, have a shower, put on a cute outfit and work from your allocated work space. If you find yourself getting distracted by unrelated tasks (for example, the dishes that need doing), work from a cafe or library! I try to work from a cafe one day a week and I’m always more productive on these days because there’s nothing I can find to procrastinate with.

DELETE THE EMAIL APP ON YOUR PHONE Seriously – this is so important! If, like me, you’re terrible at switching off, you’ll find yourself checking emails constantly just in case. And then you’ll stress about what needs to be done. I’m addicted to checking my email app outside of work hours and it always makes me feel like I have things I need to do right now, when really, they can wait till tomorrow. Just delete it! Also, don’t take calls from unknown numbers outside or work hours (especially if you’re out at the pub having a few espresso martinis with your mates – trust me).

WORK OUT SELF-CARE PRACTICES AND DO THEM EVERY DAY It’s worth trying a few to see which ones work best for you. I’ve been trying to master meditation for so long but I just can’t do it – it’s just not for me. So, I schedule reading time into my morning routine because it helps me switch off my work brain for a bit. Going for a walk to get a coffee, practising yoga, playing an instrument and journalling also work well. If your self-care practice isn’t working anymore, try another one. 

TAKE REST DAYS I mean ACTUAL rest days. Don’t read business books or listen to work-related podcasts. Don’t reply to emails. Find hobbies that are completely unrelated to your work and do them, or just lie on the couch and watch Wes Anderson films. This is especially important if most of your work is on the weekend and you feel guilty about having a rest day on a weekday. Our work weeks are different and we still need a day off. (Bonus points if your rest day is the same day of the week, every week.)

CELEBRATE YOUR WINS Even the little ones. You’ll lose excitement for what you do so quickly if you don’t celebrate all the time, even if it feels silly to do so. And it doesn’t have to be a big celebration (unless you want it to be). You can just cook yourself a really nice dinner, or buy something you’ve been wanting. Tell your friends about it so they can celebrate with you!

DON’T BE HARD ON YOURSELF IF YOU DON’T STICK TO YOUR ROUTINE I tend to make mental-health care plans for myself that I follow religiously for a few days, and as soon as I miss a day I throw away the plan altogether. If you’re having a chaotic week and you miss your morning walk, that’s OK! Don’t beat yourself up and throw your whole plan away; try again tomorrow.

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