Looking after your mental health as a creative freelancer

Freelancing is the backbone of the creative industry, but like everything else, it comes with its challenges. 

Looking after your mental health as a creative freelancer

Getting into the creative industry is no small feat. With many external factors making it seem like an impenetrable career option, people are dissuaded from even considering it as one. But this is a mistake, because despite how hard it seems, there are many opportunities and different avenues you can take to make it a viable career for you. One of the ways that many people start out with a creative career - not only start out but endure one - is by freelancing. 

If you’re already a freelancer, it won’t be news to you just how much you become responsible for, in comparison to being an employee. Taxes, accounts, self-promotion and the constant need to find work are all regular tasks on any freelancers to-do list. If you’re new to freelancing, this may be something you are only just discovering, and we get it, it can be a lot. Striking that work/life balance is hard at the best of times, but as a freelancer, you only have yourself to keep you in check. And if you’re anything like most freelancers, you won’t hesitate to put self-care on the back burner for the sake of the job. 

Mays Al-Ali is the founder of the Healthy Mays Nutrition and Lifestyle Clinic. Having spent much of her career in the demanding industry of advertising, Mays re-trained herself and became a freelancer.

“Adjusting to managing your time when working for yourself is super important. It’s very easy to work non-stop, night and day, to achieve your goals – especially if you are an overachiever who sets high deadlines. One of the reasons that I left the advertising world was that I wanted a better work/life balance and didn’t want to be working long hours which can affect my mental health and physical wellbeing. Being strict with myself was the first step to setting realistic working hours, as well as taking days off to switch off and unwind. I believe that creativity flows when you are relaxed and have space for ideas to manifest.”

As a freelancer, you have to wear many hats and just when you think you can’t possibly wear any more, some new extension of being a freelancer will appear and you’ll find yourself wearing another. Although freelancing gives you the ultimate creative freedom and agency over what you do - and don’t do - it can be very demanding. It can be a heavy weight to bear, which is why it’s more important than ever to prioritise your mental health and well-being. 

Mays left behind what she knew to move to Ibiza, after working from home during the pandemic left her feeling isolated and alone.

 “Having that space to work from somewhere that made my soul shine was so important for my mental health, which suffered a little during the pandemic, as did a lot of clients I have seen since. I have designed my life to be able to work as a digital nomad with locations that nourish my soul with sunshine, oceans, nature but also the fun of the city hustle and bustle.

Last year saw more articles and findings about burnout than any other, with nearly half of all UK employees reporting they were edging close to burnout. Burnout quickly turned into quiet quitting which are all just extensions of doing too much and feeling unfulfilled in your career which can put you in a terrible place mentally. As freelancers, you may not have the network or support that you would get being tied to one organisation, which makes it even more imperative to take steps and precautions to protect your mental well-being. 

We speak to freelancers up and down the creative-industry-sphere who share their methods for prioritising their mental health. 


Maria Polodeanu

Maria Polodeanu is a digital content creator for arts organisations around the UK. Maria has a BA in Media Production from Coventry University and a Master's in Art from Birmingham City University. Maria works as a freelancer at my her company called 'Reel Master Production' which is a digital production company.

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How long have you been freelancing and in what field? 

I have been freelancing for the last 6 years, but officially for 2. I was working while I was still in university trying to build my portfolio. 

I freelance in content creation for different art organisations and independent artists around the UK. I love my job! It’s a very creative medium as well as very challenging, but having the ability to see something come to life from your own vision is extraordinary!

What is one method you'd swear by when it comes to looking after your mental health? 

Nothing compares to the anxiety and stress when everything seems to fall apart and projects don’t come your way. You scroll Instagram and everyone seems to have work, and your fellow creatives are all busy doing all this cool stuff, and you are just sitting here wondering what you are doing wrong and questioning if you made the right decision by becoming a freelancer. Well… you actually did. Becoming a freelancer reveals more about you than anything else. It shows that you are a brave human being, you take chances, you won’t settle for less than you think you deserve, and you have more skills developed than any other employed person. 

I, as any other freelancer, have my moments of doubt. The thing that I do that helps me the most is to take a step back and re-evaluate, this usually happens far from the desk and in nature. Nature is a great teacher and after a few walks, things don’t feel that bad anymore. 

What piece of advice would you give to current and future freelancers?

Have patience! As cliche as it may sound, good things do actually take time. Research and learn whenever, whatever you can from anyone! You will discover that each of the people you meet has a lesson to teach.

Trust your gut feeling. Fail as much as you can, as soon as you can. If you encounter failure soon in your career this will only help you develop better and faster. It is a matter of perspective and it depends on how you look at each experience but having this mindset can create a safe mental space for you to grow.

Get out here, network, tell people who you are and what you do. Be social, part of my clients come from my social media. Be open and aware and take every opportunity that is given to you. In my first year of freelancing, I was pretty much working just for the experience and for getting my name out. Even these days, if a project is meaningful enough to me but the budget is minimal, I would still do it. 

Take everything seriously but don't take yourself too seriously. I am still falling into this trap of stressing over every-tiny-thing. Do things as well as you can but don't over-work yourself, this won't work in the long run. Find your balance! 

Where can people find you and your work online? 

I am very active on all the social media platforms but mainly on Instagram: @reelmasterproduction. Most of my professional art goes onto my website


Becca Parker 

Becca Parker runs a handmade accessories business To Be Adorned, and freelances as a writer, editor and knit and crochet designer.

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How long have you been freelancing and in what field? 

I quit my day job and took the freelance leap in summer 2021 and haven't looked back! Self-employed life is wild, but the freedom and creativity is totally worth it. All my freelance work is within marketing and publishing. 

What is one method you'd swear by when it comes to looking after your mental health?

Working solo from home all the time took its toll and I began to feel quite isolated. The best thing I did for my mental health last year was co-working. I had co-working coffee dates with fellow WFH pals, and got involved with co-working drop-in sessions at a local creative workspace. Getting out of PJs, out of the flat and having to be somewhere really helped my mood and productivity. Even my solo cafe working sessions made a difference. 

What piece of advice would you give to current and future freelancers?

Seek community and don't be afraid to ask for help. It's hard doing everything alone and you don't have to! Twitter and LinkedIn are great platforms for troubleshooting with mutuals, as well as freelancer groups on Facebook. See if you can get connected with fellow freelancers in your industry and/or local community. Grab a coffee and co-work IRL or virtually if you can! It'll make such a difference. 

Where can people find you and your work online? 

I'm on Instagram sharing all things creative at @tobeadorned. You can find my work at https://tobeadorned.square.site/ and my writing at https://beccaparker.journoportfolio.com/


Cristina Ilao

Cristina Ilao an award-winning destination wedding photographer renowned for her thoughtful approach and timeless imagery. Her work is regularly featured in distinguished online platforms and reputed international print publications.2ab589d1cd598dc13be1047a1100abfb19bc9f03.jpg

How long have you been freelancing and in what field? 

I started my photography business while working in a senior role at one of the big-four auditing firms. My first commission was for a destination wedding in Florida in 2018. As a frequent traveller and an ex-pat for more than a decade, I've developed a deep understanding of different cultures. That's what influenced me to focus on multicultural weddings of couples who have an appreciation of the European charm.

What is one method you'd swear by when it comes to looking after your mental health?

Switching off from work is essential. It takes real effort to be able to separate work from your personal life when the business depends on you. Working hard but not having time off or regular breaks, proper rest, and clear boundaries is the easiest way to burnout. You have to know where to draw the line so you can maintain a balanced life, nurture healthy relationships with people who matter to you and grow a successful business all at the same time. As the popular saying goes: "Work hard, play hard."

What piece of advice would you give to current and future freelancers?

Take regular breaks whether that's a proper holiday trip or just a day off spent not thinking about work. Have a strict cutoff for when work ends and family time begins. Practice mindfulness from the moment you wake up - set aside time to journal, meditate, and read. Have a healthy relationship with social media - use it as a tool and not a measure of success. And finally, don't cram too many commitments in the calendar to make room for recreation and breathing space.

Where can people find you and your work online? 

You can read more about me and see my work on my website

I'm also on Instagram and Pinterest.


If you are struggling with mental health and need to reach out, here are some places you can do so:

Header Image Credit: Rodeo Project Management Software - Unsplash

Author

Saskia Calliste

Saskia Calliste Voice Team

Saskia is the Deputy Editor of Voice and has worked on campaigns such as International Women’s Day, Black History Month, and Anti-Bullying Week. Outside of Voice, Saskia is a published author (Hairvolution) and has guest featured in various other publications (The Women Writers’ Handbook/ Cosmopolitan/ The Highlight). She has a BA in Creative Writing and Journalism and an MA in Publishing. She is a mentor for Women of the World Global, has guest lectured at the University of Roehampton and has led seminars/panel talks on Race, Equality and Diversity. She was a 2022 Guest Judge for Dave (TV Channel) in search of the 'Joke of the Fringe'. She is 27-years-old, based in London, and loves to cook and explore new places in her spare time.

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