Managing Freelancing Stress: How to Deal With Stressful Situations And Decisions

How do you deal with stressful situations, or with really tough decisions which leave you feeling stuck and completely unsure of what to do next?

It’s easy to fall into paralysis and feel trapped by these problems. They can really kill your momentum and leave you wallowing in anxiety and unpleasant feelings if you let them.

Fortunately it doesn’t have to be like this, and there are steps you can take – even when you feel completely stuck in the mud.

This week I faced a difficult problem like this, and it was really stressing me out. I didn’t know where to start addressing it.

Luckily I stumbled across a really helpful podcast, which had some fantastic techniques to help with exactly this kind of problem.

Managing freelancing stress - blog post

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We are so much better at solving other people’s problems than our own

The main idea that helped me was the insight that we’re really bad at solving our own problems and being kind to ourselves.

We’re in too deep and too close to our own emotions and our own perspective to be in any way reasonable about them.

On the other hand – and this is the good news- we’re actually great at resolving problems for other people. You probably know how quick you are to offer helpful advice and ideas when a close friend confides a problem in you.

These problems just don’t have the same personal baggage for us, so we’re able to approach them rationally and logically, without all of the extra worry and doubt.

So the idea is to reframe your own problem as someone else’s problem – and it’s surprisingly effective!

You can listen to the full podcast with Daniel H. Pink on Modern Wisdom (the specific part I’m referencing starts around 31:30) and I’ve described how you can use and adapt the techniques discussed below.

Techniques to help you manage freelancing stress:

1. Go into the third person

This is a quick and easy way to approach your problem and take away some of its power. Just start thinking yourself in the third person.

Rather than “I have a client deadline coming up and I’m nowhere near finished”, consciously change your thought to, “Alistair has a client deadline coming up but he’s not ready for it.”

This just has a subtle effect on how you think about it because you’re not identifying yourself with the problem so much.

This allows you to take a step back and imagine you are advising someone else.

So rather than just panicking, my response would then be “Alistair needs to take responsibility and communicate that he needs more time to the other client”.

This gives me an actionable, objective route forwards.

2. Time travel

Another idea mentioned in the podcast is to imagine yourself ten years in the future and ask that future version of you what you should do.

If the situation has already escalated and there are sure to be negative consequences, ask what is the lesson that future you will say they have learned from this moment of regret and difficulty.

3. Ask what you would tell your best friend to do

Many people have a problem where their inner voice is extremely harsh and critical. This can make thinking about mistakes and challenges particularly difficult. For this reason, it can be helpful to imagine you’re advising your best friend.

Even if they have made a mistake, you’re likely to talk to them with more compassion and sympathy than you would to yourself.

Again, this bypasses the critical nature of our own thinking and the negative thoughts that you may have about things you should have done or wish you had done.

As Pink says in the podcast:

Treat yourself with kindness not contempt

Daniel H. Pink

4. Write an email to yourself – and reply to it!

This wasn’t actually in the podcast but the discussion got me thinking and I actually found doing this most helpful because it wasn’t purely abstract and in the head.

It involves doing some writing and doing something physical – and so it created even more separation and distance from the doomsday scenarios I was playing out in my head.

This technique really amplifies the benefits of what we’re talking about here.

I simply wrote out my problem in an email (imagining that I was writing to a trusted, confidential advisor). In the email I clearly explained the problem and clarified the issues that were blocking progress.

So imagine you’re writing to a friend or a colleague and asking for their advice. This forces you to look through the fog of worry and anxiety in a professional way and to clarify the actual root of the problems – rather than getting lost in the vagueness of what’s bothering you.

Once you’ve got it down, hit send to your own email address.

Then, take a few minutes and go out for a walk or listen to some relaxing music.

Once you’ve taken a little break, come back to the email and write a reply to it. Now you’re imagining you are replying to a friend or a colleague who is asking for your help and advice.

This can really strip away the baggage and help you to drill down on the problem and the options available to you. It prevents you from catastrophising and instead is a route to practical next steps.

The idea behind all of these techniques is to give yourself some distance and help you to think without the emotions affecting you.

I’ve found these tools really useful and practical, and I hope you will too!


If you like this article, you might like these as well:

The Most Important Stoic Lesson for Freelancers
The Three Key Ingredients For Freelance Success in the Future
Mindset Matters – How to Build the Rock-Solid Freelance Mindset You Need For Success


Our first Skillshare class is now live – and you can watch it for free!

Our very first class for Skillshare – Get Started Freelancing: Build a Sustainable Freelance Business Doing Work You Love – is easy to watch in one sitting, and designed to help you set up a long term, sustainable business doing work that matters to you.

Sign up here to get FREE access for one month to watch it, and the other classes, on Skillshare!


Until next time,

Alistair signature

Photo credit: Kaitlyn Baker, Tachina Lee, Dollar Gill

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