A Guide to Better Freelance Health
Freelancing comes prepackaged with a lot of concerns (mostly over the next pay check). These concerns can have a negative effect on us. It’s all too easy to fall into a path of neglect and poor health habits. For our careers to flourish we need to stay healthy, and not go down the dark road so many freelancers follow of ignoring their health.
Whether it’s that 24 hour session you pull off to finish client work on time, or the high blood pressure you gain from explaining to someone on Skype that you don’t do spec work, we are all affected (to some extent) by the rigors of our profession. As with most things in life, it’s better to tackle the issue head on, rather than await the inevitable burnout that is sure to follow.
Self-Regulation is the key to any successful, healthy freelancer, and knowing how you can improve a situation is central. Being healthy allows us to do our jobs better, remain focused on goals, not have to spend two weeks in bed feeling like you got hit by a truck, and it also allows us to live longer lives (which hopefully will suit those of you who do want to retire at a ripe old age).
We have day jobs, dependents, and responsibilities at work, so getting the balance right isn’t always easy to accomplish; however, there are proven, straightforward methods for keeping your health on track.
Common Health Factors
Of the many work related health issues freelancers tend to abuse (to the point of making themselves look 30 years old and feel like 180 years old instead), the same five issues tend to be most prevalent. The really ironic thing about each of these conditions is that unlike many health related illnesses, there’s generally no need for pills or some kind of medical specialist to intervene (that is unless you leave the problem for too long), it only requires some sensible planning and perhaps an hour or more a day to sustain.
Factors which can impact your health:
- Sleep – Get enough of it. Being an insomniac will just lead you to being cranky with clients and you’ll feel tired all of the time. That’s not to say you should be in bed at 9PM every night, night owls (like me) are fine working backward hours, just as long as you get your required 8 hours somewhere!
- Exercise – The geeks worst nightmare… surrounded by humanoids and nature (comprised of wild green stuff that makes us sneeze and wheeze). You don’t have to be outside to keep fit; you could join a gym, do Yoga, martial arts (becoming a full time ninja), or just exercise in your home.
- Diet – There’s an increasing importance of stopping ourselves from ending up like the “stay puffed marshmallow man” from Ghostbusters. Eating healthy doesn’t mean we can’t indulge from time to time, but keep watch over the fat, salt, calories, and sugar (etc), and watch both the waistline and weight.
- Stress – Something we all suffer in increasing amounts, it’s important for us to keep it under control. Try to find some ways to relax, it’s critical for our health and to avoid us either going bald before we’re 30, or burying that annoying client in the yard at 3AM (don’t say you’ve not thought about it)!
- Social – Freelancers can lose touch with humanity quite quickly, and some find it hard to talk to non-clients socially (feeling loneliness as a result). Try and mix with people, go on dates, socialize, join clubs, visit conferences… just don’t end up like Jack Nicholson in The Shining (it won’t end well)!
Signs to Watch Out For!
Everyone has bad habits of some sort, and I certainly don’t want to try and cure people with OCD (that really comes in handy while running an office) or a caffeine addiction (I drink tons of the stuff and feel all the better for keeping myself hyperactive and full of coffee freshness). But sometimes our love for certain foods, activities or habits we get ourselves into can work against us in trying to keep (and maintain) a healthy lifestyle. Below are just a few issues that could reduce our productivity (so watch out)!
Potential issues to keep an eye on:
- Physical – Don’t work too hard and ensure that you give yourself occasional brief rest. Your eyes need some time away from the computer to avoid strain, and your fingers need some relief from the constant typing (to dodge RSI among other things). You don’t want to run yourself into the ground.
- Intellectual – It’s all too easy to forget about our brains when we’re busy caring about our bodies. If you can keep your mind active, it’s good for you! If you have a bad memory, try doing a Sudoku or something each morning, just to wake your brain up (and kickstart your cognition), ready for work.
- Emotional – Stress and tiredness make us feel like we’re hanging from a thin thread, this is equally the case if we have families depending on us. Freelancers need to consider their mental health as depression (amongst other conditions) can seriously affect our daily lives and ability to work.
- Social – Loneliness and being trapped in the house all day doesn’t do us fun loving workers any favors. It’s important to spend some time outside and dodge feeling cabin fever. We all have different methods to deal with this (like going to a cafe for the background noise), but interaction is healthy.
- Burnout – This is generally the accumulation of many factors (noted above) all being abused in a way that our bodies and minds can’t cope any longer. All things considered, we need to be careful to dodge this ticking time bomb head on, as it may take months (or even longer) to fully recover!
Freelancer “First Aid”
It’s all well and good to speak of health problems and concerns we may have, and truthfully, if you think you have a serious concern, it’s best to go and have a friendly chat with your GP or doctor. But in my experience of freelancing (and I expect health care professionals would agree) prevention is far better than needing a cure after developing a malady. When considering what freelancers could follow to maintain a healthy lifestyle, I decided upon five basic steps. Just remember one abbreviation and aim for a RAPID lifestyle.
Here is my RAPID health philosophy:
- Relaxation – This should be the time spent doing non-work or personal activities and trying to give yourself a break. It’s quite a tricky thing to achieve (and no, sleep doesn’t count!), but your body does need a break from the toil of freelancing every now and again (so ensure it does).
- Awareness – Keeping an eye on your health is central to dealing with problems before they get out of hand, there are plenty of guides out there from other freelancers to overcoming certain issues, but knowing when you’re really pushing yourself too far is an important lesson to learn.
- Prepare – Freelancers who plan ahead usually suffer fewer short term issues than those who just wing it and overload themselves. Be prepared, set yourself goals and timeframes, give yourself some time off and don’t take on so much work that you’ll never see another break throughout your lifetime.
- Insurance – Depending on the country you’re in (or if you don’t like what’s provided for free instead), you should consider putting some money into a health insurance policy. If you do suffer health issues, you don’t want to spend months on a waiting list (good health care treatment is essential).
- Deadlines – The thing most of us dread, apart from not taking on so much work that other projects suffer, is to ensure that you give yourself a little extra time with each project in case it overruns. The safety net will help you when you need it for long projects, and if not, it’s some relaxation time for you!
Staying Fighting Fit
Having the freedom to live our own lives and work in any situation we’d like is a blessing, but with great power comes great responsibilities (as Spiderman’s uncle Ben once rightly said). Choosing to be a freelancer is great, but only if your body is going to survive the deadlines. Having opportunities is fantastic, if only you’re well enough to take them up.
Having opportunities is fantastic, if only you’re well enough to take them up.
Truthfully, being a success in life is something that we all hope to attain, but if that comes at a price of our bodies, it’s probably one risk too far! After all, we’re more capable of enjoying life and becoming successful if you feel well in both your mind and body.
As a freelancer, you may feel in control of your business, but being in control of your health is also very important. Spend some time looking over your work practices, and if anything you do could be detrimental to your health, then try and improve the situation. It doesn’t have to be costly, and you don’t need to suddenly revamp your life (unless you want too). Small improvements are better than no improvements, and if you can avoid becoming an obese, insomniac, caffeine addict; with a hump on your back, anti-social tendencies and skin paler than a vampire… a better and healthier life you may lead!