I’ve struggled with work-life balance a lot in the past. Freelancing has many advantages, but it’s difficult to leave an office when you live in it. My living and working spaces are blended together and I find it hard to switch off. Weeks have gone by where I haven’t taken a full day off, and sometimes I work long into the evening just to get another job done.
After following this pattern for the past two years, it’s no surprise that I often teeter on the edge of burnout. Earlier this year it got particularly bad. I was exhausted and lost control. Wildlife filled me with dread, not joy. It became almost a chore, linked to deadlines rather than passion.
I realised that wildlife was overwhelming me. I couldn’t even switch off with social media – Facebook and Instagram were plastered in birds. I finally started paying attention to self-care, which up until then had been a luxury rather than a necessity. My work-life balance was shot, but once I was aware of that I could work on sorting myself out.
I kept my little crisis mostly to myself. I certainly didn’t share it publicly – I thought it might make me look unprofessional. But the truth is, mental health is as important as physical health and I knew I shouldn’t bury it. I wouldn’t be alone in this and I thought maybe other freelancers might benefit from my experience.
I want this blog to be honest, and for the past few months it’s been sporadic and a little rose-tinted compared to how I’ve been feeling. As well as the adventures I get up to around Scotland, I want to share tips and advice that might resonate with others. So here goes: three tips for a healthier work-life balance.
1. Celebrate your successes
Freelancing can be lonely. I spend almost all my working week alone and the majority of my projects are my sole responsibility. It’s easy to get swept up in struggles and stresses, but dwelling on the negatives is damaging.
I found this idea on a post by Sarah Townsend from @thecopywritersday – all you have to do is write a list of things that are going well. It can be successes at work but it can also be a great book you’re reading or a morning ritual you enjoy. I tried it and ended up writing more than I expected. Here’s my most recent list:
Some are more frivolous than others, but it doesn’t matter. Concentrating on those wins shifted my perspective and the things stressing me out suddenly looked less intimidating.
2. Find an unrelated hobby
Part of the reason I was burning out was because I was overwhelmed by work. Wildlife is my greatest passion, but it reached a point where I couldn’t go for a walk without taking photos for Instagram. My enjoyment of wildlife was at risk because it had become my entire existence. I needed to do something unrelated so I started embroidery and wild swimming. One is a new skill, the other is great exercise, and neither requires a screen.
Embroidery is naturally repetitive and takes a lot of time, but seeing a piece of art come together one thread at a time is so rewarding. As for swimming, I get a rush of energy every time I take the plunge and it puts me in an entirely new environment. Watching waves ripple at eye level and feeling kelp brush against my stomach were totally new sensations and I was addicted straight away. After each swim or embroidery session, I return to work refreshed and with my love of wildlife still intact!
3. Declutter your surroundings
This is the trickiest of the three for me but it’s something I’m really trying to do more. The most obvious form of clutter is physical. Because I work on lots of different projects at once, I have an unfortunate habit of stacking books, papers and boxes on the floor around my desk and before I know it the carpet’s disappeared. ‘Tidy home, tidy mind’ is a cliché for a reason – it’s pretty accurate. Nowadays I try to work on one project at a time, so there’s less stuff around me at once and I can concentrate more effectively.
Decluttering can also include less tangible things. Scrolling through Instagram is a good example. I’m certainly not trying to suggest boycotting social media, but limiting its use is a good habit to get into. Recently I’ve started having a look at lunchtime and again in the evening when I’ve finished work.
An article on Becoming Minimalist uses a swimming analogy. It’s the idea that when you swim in a river, it’s impossible to catch up with all the water that’s already gone downstream. You simply enjoy the water that surrounds you at that moment, and the same can be said for social media. Have a paddle, then get out of the water. And if you can, have a paddle in actual water because that works wonders!
For most of my life I’ve been very lucky and never suffered from poor mental health, but freelancing on my own was a huge step up from studying with the support of tutors. I’ve always worked well by myself, but I didn’t realise I’d need to adapt my lifestyle like I have. It’s a constant learning curve, but I’m working on it.
I hope this blog was helpful! Do you have any tips for a healthier work-life balance?