How can freelancers and the self-employed safeguard their mental health?

2nd pic.png

By Dr Mark Winwood, Director of Psychological Services at AXA PPP healthcare 

Overall, what impact can self-employment have on mental health?

One of the biggest impacts that self-employment can have on mental health is feelings of loneliness and isolation. When you spend a lot of time working on your own, you don’t benefit from having a team around you every day to help motivate and inspire you. This lack of social interaction can lead to feelings of loneliness.

As a result, it’s important for the self-employed to network and build relationships with other like-minded people. Membership organisations like IPSE can provide a great opportunity to interact and communicate with other self-employed people, helping to build your network. There may also be local networking groups near to where you live that you can join to socialise with other self-employed people and business owners in your local community.

What are the key positive effects of self-employment on mental health and what can the self-employed do to enhance these?

A key positive of being self-employed is the associated autonomy that comes with working for yourself. We’re all looking for self-actualisation when it comes to our work and being self-employed can help you to achieve this. You’re working towards your own passions and on your own timetable which means that you’re more in control and can make things happen at a much faster pace than you may be able to as an employee at a large company.

What are the key negative effects of self-employment on mental health?

As well as the feelings of loneliness and isolation that can come with being self-employed and working on your own, another negative effect of self-employment is that you may not be allowing yourself to have enough downtime. When you’re very driven with your work, it can start to take control of your life which can lead to burnout. When you’re constantly working, you can find it much harder to creatively develop your business. If we’re stressed or overworked, it can result in us reverting back to what we know and what we’ve done before in our jobs. However, when you’re self-employed or running your own business, you have to be creative in order to keep reinventing your business to allow it to go forward. Ensuring that you set aside time to relax and switch off can mean that you’re more productive and creative when you return to work.

What can the self-employed do to safeguard their mental health?

The most important thing when it comes to safeguarding your mental health is to be aware of yourself and any changes to your mental and physical health. Regularly monitoring yourself and how you’re feeling can help you to identify and eliminate any stress triggers during your working day. You should also have some non-negotiable things in your life that help to build on your wellbeing. These will be different for everyone, but some examples include turning off your phone at a certain time each evening to help you to switch off, or participating in an exercise class at your local gym.

When you’re self-employed, your office is often your home which can lead to a negative work life balance as it then becomes difficult to disassociate work time from personal time. As a result, it’s important to be mindful of your physical space and to have a transitional period between when you finish work and when your leisure time starts. During this transitional period, it’s important to take a break from where you’ve been working. Whether that’s sitting out in the garden with a cup of tea or taking the dog for a walk around the park. This means that when you return home following the transitional period, it’s no longer associated with your workplace.

It’s also important to regularly meet and interact with people. When you’re working alone, the more face to face contact you can get with people, the better it is for your wellbeing. Rather than sending off an email, pick up the phone and have a conversation or schedule in a meeting. Diarising these face to face interactions can help motivate you to get out and meet people, rather than sitting in front of your computer all day.  Whether that’s a business meeting or a gym class, committing to these events can mean that you’re less likely to back out of them in favour of another hour spent sending emails.

How can self-employed people manage stress when they don’t have a team around them?

The main thing is to recognise when you’re feeling stressed. Educate yourself on the signs and symptoms so you’re aware of what to look out for and be aware of any changes to your mood or emotions. Check in with yourself by asking yourself questions about how you’re feeling about things such as work and your personal life. Your answers to these questions may help to identify when you may not be responding well to challenges and problems.

Ensuring that you’re having some time out can be a great way of managing stress. Think about what you enjoy other than work and make sure you’re doing some of it. Even if it’s 5 minutes reading a book in the middle of the day – make sure you’re taking those 5 minutes for yourself. Being self-employed in a digitally connected world can mean that you’re constantly on high alert, juggling multiple projects and always working. It’s therefore important to take some time out to engage with the parasympathetic nervous system by taking part in activities that relax you. Exercising, reading a book, going for a walk and listening to music are great examples of how you can do this.

If you could put forward one key recommendation to help ensure self-employment has a positive impact on mental health, what would it be?

Remember your reason. Remember why you started and what your aim was for starting your business. Keep reminding yourself of what that is.

The AXA Growth Leaders Series

Working for yourself can be isolating at times, particularly when you don’t have a team that you can discuss ideas and projects with and who can help motivate you following a setback. Your mindset can have a big impact on your success. Developing a growth mindset can therefore have a number of benefits, including helping to keep you motivated, focussed and more resilient to challenges.

Together with The Supper Club, the founder and CEO network, we launched The AXA Growth Leaders Series to bring together successful entrepreneurs and thought-leaders to share their insights and experience on how to lead with a growth mindset.

As part of The AXA Growth Leaders Series, we worked with The Supper Club to produce The AXA Growth Leaders Report which includes topics ranging from healthy hacks for work-life balance and superfast decision-making. Download a copy of The AXA Growth Leaders Series Report.

AXA PPP healthcare offer for IPSE members

At AXA PPP healthcare, we offer IPSE members 2 months free cover when you purchase our business healthcare cover*. Our business healthcare cover aims to get you back to work quickly through prompt access to diagnosis and eligible treatment**.

To find out more about our offer for IPSE members, and to find out what is and isn’t covered under our small business health insurance plans, call us at AXA PPP healthcare on 0800 029 4223 (ref: IPSE) or get a quote today.

*The two months cover free offer is for new customers on a moratorium basis only. If paying annually, you’ll only be charged for 10 months of cover. If you pay monthly, the last two months of cover will be free. This offer cannot be used in conjunction with any other offer, apart from our 5% discount for paying annually. Offer may be withdrawn at any time.

**Stress is not covered under our plans.

The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed (IPSE) are introducing AXA PPP healthcare to provide health insurance. The private healthcare insurance plans are underwritten by AXA PPP healthcare. AXA PPP healthcare is authorised by the Prudential Regulations Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulations Authority. Registered in England number 3148119. Registered office: AXA PPP healthcare, 5 Old Broad Street, London. EC2N 1AD.


Meet the author

AXA PPP Healthcare

AXA PPP healthcare provide award winning private healthcare cover.