Two of the biggest challenges faced by freelancers, consultants and contractors are often loneliness and isolation. Our research shows that almost a quarter of those surveyed were impacted by these problems, and understanding how social media can benefit your self-employed wellbeing could help if you’re in a similar situation.
Social networks have faced growing and justified criticism for various aspects of how they’re designed and operated. And in some freelance sectors, using them is a requirement of your job. But is it possible to get positives from using social media, even despite the potential for downsides?
With so many of the UK and global population using social networks, they’re almost inescapable for keeping in touch with family and friends, finding clients and projects, or sharing industry gossip. But some simple steps can help you benefit from the advantages and minimise the potential for harm.
Define your social media plan and boundaries.
Avoid comparing yourself, or your business, to others.
Use social media to reduce loneliness and isolation
Set up accountability and support networks
Staying in control of your social media and wellbeing
Define your social media plan and boundaries
One of the main criticisms of social networks is that they provide feedback loops which encourage you to constantly be posting content and replying. When you receive a growing number of responses, it can trigger dopamine to be released in your brain, which provides motivation and reward to keep going. And this can lead to social media addiction at the expense of more productive tasks for your freelance career or business.
The most important thing is to take control of your social media usage, rather than allowing it to be dictated by what social networks or other people want you to do. A recent study associated routine use of social media as improving social well-being, positive mental health, and self-rated health, compared to the negative impact of emotional social media use.
The first step is to set a clear plan and time limit for what you want to achieve each time you decide to log into your accounts.
Your objectives may be to promote your business, connect with fellow freelancers, or chat to family and friends. As long as you’re clear about what you want to do, and how long you’re allowing for it, then you can choose to avoid anything outside your current focus.
The risks are much greater if you’re not clear about your motivation for checking social media. These are the times you can find yourself clicking on random posts and articles, debating and arguing with strangers, or ‘doomscrolling’ endlessly through negative news. Not only can hours of your day disappear, but a repeated diet of bad news can lead to higher levels of anxiety, stress, depression, and even symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as this study demonstrated.
It's natural to set limits for a post-work trip to the pub to catch up with colleagues, attending a business networking event, or client meetings during a round of golf. So why treat time spent on social media any differently?
Turning off notifications and alerts can prevent you from constantly feeling the need to check your phone. But if you want to go further, using a free third-party tool to post to social media means you never need to actually visit the social networks you’re using. And by using scheduling, you can create content in batches, rather than interrupting your day each time you think of the perfect tweet or have something to share on Facebook.
And by being in control, you can decide which platforms are the most useful, rewarding or engaging, and focus on those without feeling pressured into trying to have an active social media profile on every network.
If you spot your social media use is becoming less focused and enjoyable, then don’t be afraid to take a break. You can share a post informing everyone that you’re taking a holiday, and pin it to the top of most social media profiles, so potential clients or other important contacts can use email or phone calls for anything worth knowing about.
How to define your plan and boundaries
Set objectives and time limits for your social media use, whether it’s for work purposes or catching up with people.
Turn off notifications as much as possible, and use a third-party app if you want to share content without ever being distracted by the interface of any social network.
Try to avoid screen time for 30 minutes or more before bed, and keep your phone away from where you sleep to get better rest without interruptions.
Use scheduling to avoid interrupting your day every time you feel the need to post something.
Don’t be afraid to take breaks if you need them. Anything urgent will reach you via other routes, and everyone will still be there when, or if, you choose to return.
Avoid comparing yourself, or your business, to others
With around 4.4 million solo self-employed people in the UK, and 1 in six people across England reporting a common mental health issue, it’s not surprising that social media can contribute to issues including anxiety or Imposter Syndrome.
We’re encouraged to only share our best selves on social networks, whether that’s success with a new client project, exercise routine or other achievements. And that provides a vastly distorted view of reality, especially when you compare your freelancing career or physique to someone’s highlights, without any idea of the hard work, setbacks and luck they’ve experienced on the way.
The fear of missing out (FOMO) has become part of common language, but can cause significant issues if you’re already prone to low confidence and self-esteem, depression or Imposter Syndrome, and these issues are also related with diagnosable conditions including anxiety and depression.
While an increasing number of successful freelancers and self-employed professionals are opening up about the challenges they continually face, if you’re constantly comparing yourself unfavourably to other people, it’s important to tackle the issue.
Start by acknowledging the issue, and trying to understand what is triggering the feelings. You can start curating your feeds to only follow and connect with people who encourage positive and supportive emotions, or take steps to improve your own confidence and self-worth. These can include noting the things you’re grateful for in your life, swapping time on social media for improving your physical wellbeing, or spending more time on your own personal projects or hobbies.
You may want to check in throughout each day as a replacement for coffee breaks in the office, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. As long as it’s the time equivalent, rather than disappearing for the rest of the day.
If you’re experiencing any challenges to your mental wellbeing, it’s important to consider getting advice from mental health organisations and professionals. It might feel difficult to take the first step, but there’s no benefit to struggling alone with issues when support is available.
How to stop comparisons to others:
Remember you’re only seeing the edited highlights on social media, not reality.
Recognise if you’re feeling symptoms of low self-esteem, Imposter syndrome or depression as a result.
Don’t be afraid to curate your social media feeds to remove anyone or anything triggering negative feelings, and to focus on content and connections which are more positive and supportive.
Take independent steps to increase your confidence and self-worth away from social media, whether that’s practising gratitude and mindfulness, exercise and healthy eating, or spending more time on personal projects or hobbies.
If you’re experiencing challenges to your mental wellbeing, don’t hesitate to contact mental health organisations and professionals for advice and support.
Use social media to reduce loneliness and isolation
Being socially active and connected has been linked to a wide range of mental and physical benefits, whether it’s preventing mental decline, reducing physical pain, or even contributing to living a longer life.
But when some of the biggest positives of self-employment include escaping office politics and being able to choose where to work, it can be hard to find the balance between freedom and loneliness. Especially if you live alone, or friends and family aren’t enthusiastic about your freelance ambitions.
Working from home is often mistakenly confused with a desire to be antisocial, but even introverts or those with social anxiety will want to spend time with other people. It’s a question of being able to choose when and how the interactions take place.
Social media can help you to connect with new people, maintain loose connections with existing friends, and enable you to choose to be more social with the people you really want to spend time with.
You can use lists to highlight those people who are most important in your life, and ensure you see more of them when you check social media. Rather than simply browsing their updates or leaving a quick thumbs up or like, schedule some time to interact directly whether it’s through social media, on the phone, or by actually meeting up for a walk, coffee or beer.
Social media can also be a useful tool for meeting new people, or joining new groups. From the most niche freelancing careers to incredibly esoteric hobbies, it’s never been easier to connect to people who share your interests around the world.
You can often discover relevant and interesting local communities or projects which can lead into a whole new network of potential friends, collaborators or clients. Or if nothing currently exists, why not post some messages to see if you can kickstart a new meetup or community? With the massive growth in freelancing and remote working over recent years, you may be surprised how many self-employed people are living nearby.
How to use social media to reduce loneliness and isolation:
Think about the people most important in your life, and use lists on social media to see more of their news and updates.
Make time to chat directly with them on social media, on the phone, or offline.
Look for people and existing groups who work in the same or related freelancing sectors, or share the same hobbies.
Check for local communities and projects, and try starting your own if nothing relevant currently exists.
Set up accountability and support networks
Working for yourself doesn’t just mean you escape office politics and gossip. Being self-employed can also limit your accountability, or the access to support when you have any issues.
If you’re running a business without client interaction, it can be easy to start letting things slide, especially if you’re struggling with procrastination or burnout. And even when you’re interacting about projects on a daily basis, it can be tempting to put off less enjoyable tasks which aren’t part of your client work.
Setting up an accountability partner or group can be done without social media, but it can make it easier if you don’t have friends or family who are willing to help. There are likely to be other freelancers or self-employed professionals in a similar situation who would also welcome the mutual support and encouragement to tackle all those admin tasks piling up, or finally making progress on a side project.
You may not want to share your business information with an accountability partner, but they can also be useful for non-work goals. If you’re struggling to ditch bad habits and keep to more positive routines for healthy eating, exercising or learning a new language or skill, they can be a great way to stay motivated.
Professional groups can also be a great way to get help and support when you’re struggling with a particular task or aspect of freelancing. From finding work to handling late payments, getting the perspectives of other people who are in a similar position, or have gone through the process in the past, can be a great compliment to the detailed self-employed advice and guides provided by IPSE and other sources.
While it’s best not to always accept career tips from strangers without question, it’s always reassuring to know you’re not alone in stumbling over a particular problem. And specialist freelance groups focusing on particular careers can be a quick and easy way to find answers if you’re struggling with specific tasks or software.
Just keep in mind that anything you post online, even in private groups or messages, can live forever online, and potentially be shared with clients or competitors. Think twice before sharing anything that could cause issues if it was publicly available, and consider switching to an offline option instead.
If you’re asking questions about any physical or mental health issues, it’s very important to verify any suggestions with qualified medical professionals before trying them. While the majority of people have the best intentions, every individual is different. What worked for them might not be appropriate for your situation, especially if you’re already receiving treatment or medication.
Similar advice also applies for any business-critical advice, or anything regarding legal issues. Even if it’s advice from a qualified specialist, they might be basing it on the laws or financial regulations in a different territory, or industry. And even experienced sole traders or self-employed directors might not know if they’ve been doing something incorrectly in the past.
How to set up accountability and support networks:
Social media can make it easier to find and work with accountability partners or groups for professional and personal progress.
Professional groups can be an enormous help with questions or problems related to your self-employed career.
Be aware that private groups and messages can become publicly available, so you may want to keep more sensitive questions or topics for discussion offline.
Always verify business or health-critical suggestions with a qualified professional before trying them.
Staying in control of your social media and wellbeing
If you’ve put good practices in place to use social media to benefit your wellbeing, then it’s important to spot if they’re starting to slip. And to take action to avoid bad habits becoming part of your routine.
The most important gauge for whether social media is positive or negative in your life and career is whether you are in control, and if it’s delivering beneficial results. You might be fine checking for updates several times a day if it works for you, and checking your analytics shows it delivers new clients and customers on a regular basis.
But if it’s starting to feel like an uncontrollable impulse to browse notifications just in case something new has been posted, or you’re finding yourself feeling down after scrolling endlessly through updates with no real purpose, then it’s time to pause and consider redefining why, and how, you’re using social media.
It’s easy to slip occasionally, particularly at the end of a long or difficult week. But as with any potentially addictive substance or pastime, it’s important to be aware when something potentially beneficial, pleasurable or relaxing can turn into a potential problem.
How to stay in control of your social media use and wellbeing
Be aware of the occasional slip from your plan and routine becoming a repeated habit.
Ask yourself every so often if your current approach is working and delivering positive results for your mental wellbeing, or your business.
If impulsive bad habits are forming, don’t be afraid to take a step back or take a complete a social media break.
Further support and external resources for freelancers with social anxiety
In addition to the above treatment suggestions, you may find online or local support groups helpful. The NHS website recommends the following resources:
Social Anxiety (includes an online forum)
Helplines and Listening Services
If you are feeling very distressed, please get immediate help. Contact one or more of the services listed below.
Samaritans - 24-hour support to those experiencing emotional stress, struggling to cope or with suicidal thoughts.
116 123 (24 hours a day, every day.)
MIND - Offers support, advice and information to those with mental health problems.
0300 123 3393 (9am - 6pm, Mon-Fri.)
Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) – Offers support to those who are down or have hit a wall for any reason.
0800 58 58 58 (5pm - midnight, every day.)
Remember, you are not alone. Many self-employed people suffer from social anxiety disorder, but it is definitely possible to get better. We hope this article has been helpful to you.
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