Looking after your mental health when you work for yourself

Thursday 10th October 2019 is World Mental Health Awareness Day, aiming to educate and raise awareness of mental health issues.

Research suggests that becoming self-employed leads to greater job satisfaction and, therefore, can lead to better mental health. However, those of us who work from home often face feelings of isolation and loneliness, which can also negatively impact our mental health. The existing stigma surrounding mental health also leads to many suffering in silence, not wanting to talk about any potential struggles.

Whilst working for yourself brings endless positives, it also requires self-discipline and self-motivation to face day to day successes and challenges. As always, there is no one-fits-all solution, but little changes to work routines can positively impact how we feel about ourselves and our work:

1. Be aware

Pay attention to your feelings and be aware of how certain situations stress you out so that you can effectively tackle or eliminate them. Mental health issues are often a result of long term ignorance of existing problems and can be managed by being aware of what is going on in our heads. Talk openly about your feelings – positive and negative. Sometimes only articulating our problems gives us a better understanding and getting things off our chests can be very refreshing.

2. Surround yourself with the right people

People in our lives have a great impact – they can be a great source of motivation and energy, and similarly, they can have a very negative impact. Miserable people will only make you feel more miserable, so try to spend as much time as you can with positive-minded people who are inspirational and make you feel good.

Don’t underestimate the importance of relationships and regular communication – it makes a big difference. It’s also critical to learn to trust people and delegate tasks that you can’t or don’t have the time to do so that you can focus on what matters.

3. Learn to relax

Working for yourself makes it extremely difficult to switch off and relax, especially if you are working from home. We are all guilty of checking our emails and social media in the evenings, but is it really necessary? You will always have more work to do, but try stepping away from work in the evenings and weekends and watch what happens – there will be no disasters!

The work will still be there the next day and by giving yourself a break and spending your time in a way that will allow you to turn off your brain will leave you refreshed and motivated when you are back at it. What really helps is controlling your thinking so you are focused on activities that you will do to relax, instead of going through long to-do-lists and analyzing past work events in your head.

World Mental Health Awareness Day

4. Make physical exercise part of your routine

It doesn’t have to be anything extreme – just a few hours per week will make a difference. Physical exercise is designed to boost your endorphin levels and not only help you relax but make you look and feel good. I find that the only place where my mind stops thinking is when I’m at the gym.

5. Take breaks

To avoid being overworked and unproductive, set your daily working hours and do your best to stick to them. By working ridiculous hours each day, you are more likely to become less effective and more tired. Try to have at least a few breaks during the day and make sure you take time for lunch, preferably not at your desk. Switch off from work-related activities by doing something completely different. Meet people, go to the gym or just leave your working space. It’s very refreshing and good for the brain and soul.

6. Learn to say NO

Think about whether you need to say yes to all of the things you are doing. It’s likely that you are over-committing and you might have different reasons for it – not wanting to disappoint, feeling that you have no choice, or having an unrealistic idea of what is involved – just to name a few. But being overcommitted can quickly lead to burnout and exhaustion.

Saying No in an appropriate way does not communicate that you are unwilling, rather, it communicates that you are taking your commitments seriously. Avoid the automatic yes and be sure you have a realistic and detailed idea of what’s required before committing to anything.

7. Focus on your long term goals

There will always be more work that you can do. What makes a difference is to differentiate between the work that will get you to your long-term goals and work that is just taking up a lot of your time without any real results. It’s obvious that we should focus on work that matters but it’s very easy to be distracted by other factors and little bits of work during that day.

To focus on what’s important, write down your long-term objectives and what needs to be done in order to achieve them. And then regularly remind yourself and check progress.

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