The theme for Mental Health Awareness Week (14 – 20 May 2018) is stress. Two-thirds of people experience issues with their mental health at one point in their life, and stress can often be an underlying cause. Contractors, freelancers, and self-employed professionals can experience stress due to job insecurity, financial standing, taxes and more.
Although the rewards for contracting and freelancing can be great, such as increased earnings potential and greater career autonomy, it can come with stress too. For example, not having a permanent, secure source of income, or worrying whether HMRC will come knocking with a big tax bill can be causes of stress.
It’s important to be able to cope with stress – especially when, as a contractor, you always need to put your best foot forward. So for Mental Health Awareness Week, Churchill Knight has put together a list of coping and management techniques that should help you manage stress.
Click here to see our infographic on managing stress.
1. Recognise the problem
It’s important to be able to face the stress you are experiencing. Recognising the symptoms of stress is the first step to coping with it. Are you feeling any physical symptoms such as fatigue, or migraines? Have you been getting ill more often than normal, or irritable towards those around you?
Stress can often manifest itself in physical symptoms in your body, so checking in with yourself is a good way to identify any physical problems you may be having because of stress.
2. Try to identify why are you are stressed
There are many reasons that you could be stressed – and sometimes the causes are not logical. There is nothing to be ashamed of; the important thing is identifying the root of your stress and if there is anything that can be done to solve the problem.
Stressful situations can be sorted into three categories: those that have a simple or practical solution, situations that will sort themselves out and get better, and those you have no control over. You need to ask yourself – is there anything I can do to make the situation better? Is my reaction going to help solve the problem or is it better for my health if I let it go?
The Mental Health Foundation advises you to release the worry of those problems in the second and third categories mentioned above as they may not be issues you can control.
3. Make lifestyle changes to manage stress
You can often reduce or even eliminate stress by making simple lifestyle changes. Is there any way you can reduce the hours you work in a day? Can you take a more relaxed approach to your tasks? Can you come up with a plan of action to make a change, such as if you’re experiencing financial problems?
You might have become a contractor to experience less work stress and have more control over your career – but that doesn’t mean you’re immune. Simple things like getting more sleep each night, exercising more, adjusting your nutrition and taking more time off can help alleviate stress.
4. Minimise behaviours that could make your stress worse
It’s important to face and accept your stress, however adjusting or eliminating some behaviours can drastically improve your ability to manage stress. Reducing your alcohol, caffeine and cigarette intake can help – you may partake in these activities to relieve stress, however they can often make things worse. Alcohol is a depressant, caffeine stimulates your nervous system and smoking can lead to other serious health problems.
5. Do more of what you enjoy, or take up a new hobby
Doing something you enjoy increases your happiness, and can help you look at problems more objectively. Doing what makes you happy can also reduce your cortisol levels – the “stress hormone”, and increase your dopamine and serotonin levels – the “feel good” hormones that can impact your moods positively.
Taking part in activities you enjoy can also increase your productivity in other areas of your life – including your career.
6. Practice mindfulness
There’s a lot of hype around the term ‘mindfulness’ and for good reason. Practicing mindfulness – the mind-body approach of bringing attention to your present self – can help you manage difficult situations and make wiser choices, according to the Mental Health Foundation.
One way to practice mindfulness is meditation. Whilst meditating might not be for everyone, you can find a way that works for you. The Mental Health Foundation has a ‘Be Mindful’ course that can teach you about mindfulness. Alternatives if you’re on the go are mobile meditation apps such as Aura. Aura tailors guided meditation sessions depending on your mood and when you want to practice mindfulness.
7. Don’t be afraid to seek help
If coping techniques don’t seem to be helping and you feel you cannot cope, don’t be ashamed to seek help. Experiencing these issues is part of the human experience, and it’s completely normal not to know exactly how to deal with what you’re experiencing. Seeking help can provide you with resources to manage stress and help you overcome problems in your life, whether the source is career anxiety, financial stress, or relationships.
You can seek help in a variety of ways, and one option is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). CBT is a research-proven practical approach that focuses on how your thoughts and attitudes affect your feelings and behaviour. It uses techniques to help you change your outlook and manage your reactions better. CBT can be given at face-to-face meetings or through self-guided courses.
8. Don’t be hard on yourself
Stress is something that everyone experiences at some point, so don’t be too hard on yourself if you are struggling. When you’re feeling stressed, try to put the situation in perspective. It’s also important to take a moment each day to appreciate yourself and what you have accomplished so far – being kind to yourself is a big part of managing stress.
Your mental well-being is crucial, and as a contractor it’s important that you’re able to look after yourself as well as your work. Following these steps will help you manage stress from everyday situations; if you want to learn more visit the website for Mental Health Awareness Week.
What is stress?
Understanding what stress actually is can help you manage it better. Stress is felt differently by different people, but it is essentially a psychological reaction to external pressures and problems. When you are exposed to stressful situations, your brain increases adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol production in response. These trigger the “fight or flight” reaction in your body. Whilst stress is essential to survival, it can’t always be managed effectively if you don’t have the right tools, or you feel overwhelmed by the pressures you are facing.
Stress can manifest itself in physical symptoms, and prolonged stress can lead and contribute to greater health problems such as depression, heart attacks and strokes. That’s why it’s so important to learn to manage negative stress in your life.
Stress can also be positive, motivating you to problem-solve and increase productivity. However stress can only be beneficial if it’s short-lived. Be sure to follow our above steps or seek professional help if you’re struggling to deal with long-term stress.