Anxiety and freelancing

Not many of you will know the journey I’ve gone through to get here, and the journey, in many ways, I’m still taking. It’s not something I’ve talked about, and I’m not going to go into any great detail in this post, but I do think it’s important to share a little about my experiences, and hopefully it will get the message across to other freelancers, and small business owners, that the mental state, whatever that might be for you, is fleeting. They can be worked through, and they can be changed.

Let me tell you how it happened for me.

For a long time, I was freelancing on the side of a normal office job. I’d complete the few projects I had during the evenings and weekends, and then later, when I had my daughter, I went back to work part time, and did my freelancing on my days off.

When my daughter started school, I made the decision that struggling with the inflexibility of a 9-5 wasn’t going to work for me (I wrote about my experiences in a past post), and I quit my job to freelance full-time.

This, I thought, would give me the chance to work on my own terms, to be able to drop off and collect my daughter from school every day, and not have to stress so much about taking leave for the school holidays. Perfect, right?

But something pretty unexpected happened. Now that this was something I relied on for my living, I started to get anxious. And not just the butterflies in the tummy anxious, more like heart-thudding, shaking hands, hyperventilating kind of anxious.

I suddenly started to think that I couldn’t do this – any of it. I convinced myself that my writing wasn’t good enough, that I didn’t know enough about my subjects to be able to write about them truthfully. I felt like a fraud. And it got worse. I would sit at my desk with a blank page open on my laptop, completely frozen and terrified. I didn’t know where to start. It would take me hours just to write a simple blog post. Everything felt so hard.

This went on for months. I even went to see a CBT. I started taking pills to quell my anxiety and depression. I was at rock bottom, and nothing seemed to help.

Looking back, there were several things that came together to get me into that situation. I’d just come out of a corporate job where I felt undervalued and bullied, and that had completely exhausted my confidence. The client I had at the time, although she gave me plenty of work, was stand-offish and difficult to communicate with. And I was still learning the craft and the trade, and was constantly worried about looking like the amateur that I was.

So what did I do?

Well, it took a long time, and in truth, In still get a lot of anxiety even now. I still have days where I feel like I made the wrong choice. But those days are getting a little easier, and a little less frequent.

The first thing I did was to realise that I’m not perfect, but I’m good enough. If I wasn’t, my clients would not have continued to hire me. And that client I mentioned, she kept me in projects for almost 2 years.

Secondly, I never stopped learning. I looked at how other copywriters operated, I asked questions on Facebook Groups, and I practiced writing as much as I could.

On those days where I felt completely frozen, I would force myself to step away and do something else, and then sit down at my desk with a fresh mind and just write, It didn’t matter how it came out – I wasn’t using a typewriter and could delete and edit all of it if I needed to. The client would never know – as long as they got the project on time, they had no idea what went into getting it there. They simply didn’t care, so my anxiety was my secret.

Gradually, things felt easier. I got a couple of new clients, and made a point of getting to know them personally – with that first client, I always felt like an inconvenience, I was afraid to pick the phone up – but I made sure that I kept things as friendly as possible with my new clients. I always try to get in a phone call with them before they even hire me, and I call them regularly to discuss progress.

I’m not saying things are stress-free, they rarely are. But I’m starting to enjoy my work again. I feel a sense of excitement when I start a new project or speak to a new client. I feel much more in control.

My advice to anyone else who might be where I was; relax. Try not to put so much pressure on yourself. And find your own way of doing things – don’t try and shoehorn yourself into the way someone else does it. Find your own schedule, one that works for you. And above all, do not give up. You’ve got this.


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