Freelance Talk: Self Care

“I was a little excited but mostly blorft. “Blorft” is an adjective I just made up that means ‘Completely overwhelmed but proceeding as if everything is fine and reacting to the stress with the torpor of a possum.’ I have been blorft every day for the past seven years.”
― Tina Fey, Bossypants

The last few months have been one of the happiest and most positively productive periods of my life, but it’s also been one of the most stressful. A move to another continent, even one that you’re excited for, is not easy to organize or manage. Setting up a household in a new country is expensive. Pursuing your life’s ambition is incredible, but it can also be exhausting. And finances? Well, those are tightly managed. Times are tough out there for writers and anyone who says differently is lying.

Lately I’ve been so driven to follow as many opportunities as possible that I’ve felt unable to say “no,” even to things that perhaps I should have. Not just because of a genuine enthusiasm for new opps, but occasionally because of a genuine (and somewhat well founded) fear that if I do, an opportunity won’t come around again. But in spite of the triumphs, of which I’m lucky to have found so many, I’m starting to feel a bit depleted and stress is taking a very real toll on my health. Even if it’s for a job or in a field you love, doing work without pay is grueling, on the soul as well as the body. And spending time working on those projects has the very real potential to impact my freelancing work negatively – no one’s at the top of their game when chronically sleep deprived.

But on top of all this, I have a confession: I can be bad, as in really terrible, at self care in times of stress. The first thing to go are exercise and a balanced diet, followed quickly by wise time management and regular sleep. Add to that a shot of self-medicating with too much sugar and a chaser of self-flagellation when I feel even the merest whisper of overwhelm. Freelancers should know better than anyone than busyness in no way correlates to success, and yet I fear I’ve fallen into that trap a bit.

It’s not just unhealthy, it’s the textbook definition of unsustainable. So I’m putting out the call for help. I need some advice for self care best practices as I fight to “make it,” as the kids say in the Big City. What negative effects do stress have on you, and what are some of the best ways you’ve found to keep yourself healthy when you’ve stretched yourself?

5 thoughts on “Freelance Talk: Self Care”

  1. I take a few minutes every morning to get really ready. Even if it means waking up 20 minutes earlier to wash and blow dry my hair, it’s worth it for me. Nothing make me less productive during the day than feeling uncomfortable with my outfit or my dirty hair in a bun. It also just helps me to have a more positive attitude and less stress during the day to have done my makeup in front of my vanity instead of my car.

    Also lots and lots of water.

  2. I mitigate my stress by limiting my workload which de facto limits my income. Is another $1,000 a month going to change my life? No. Is the stress of getting, managing and completing that work going to annoy the shit out of my instead? Quite possibly.

    I work 9-5 or 10-6pm and refuse to work nights or weekends. I need that carefully-guarded time to rest and recharge. I can’t — you can’t! — run flat out and expect not to get tired. I sleep 8-10 hours every night and if I get less, for any reason, will take a nap during the day, even for 20 minutes. I give 150% when I do work, as you do, and no one can sustain that pace (or focus and excellence) without rest, good food, exercise and social pleasures.

    You must add the self-discipline of being good to yourself

    I’ve been a nationally ranked athlete — and the only way you get there is training and stamina. People think “oooooh, it’s so creative” being freelance — but it’s not, not without paid holiday days or vacation or sick leave.

    You must turn down some work or ask for longer deadlines. People who truly value your skills can wait an extra day. The terror you feel is that no one will do so if you say no to them, but a burned-out case is no good to anyone.

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