Freelance stress management is an often underrated but much needed skill. You can take on all manner of amazing support mechanism and starter block for practical advice. In fact, we discussed freelance stress management in light of your setup and goals in a previous blog.

But sometimes, freelance stress management covers the softer values and less tangible aspects.

It’s these areas of freelance stress management we’ll address now.

Negative versus positive coping strategies

One thing Australia is pretty good at is normalising our drinking culture. But as much as we joke about it, ‘send wine!” is not a long-term freelance stress management technique.

I get it. We often need a break from the crush. But freelance stress shouldn’t be cured by negative coping mechanisms. There’s a difference between a quiet wine in the bath or needing to down 2 bottles a night on the weekend.

Negative coping mechanisms come in all shapes and sizes. You may find it comes out in a binge on alcohol and/or drugs. Or food. Or TV. Or gossip. It might be that you spend more than you should. Or comfort yourself with gifts and presents.

Heck, it might even be about looking at the response to your social media, how many clicks your blog gets and who cries your name as absolutely awesome in your peer circle. Confidence is cool. Extracting extrinsic validation to help put a band aid over stress, maybe not.

You get the picture. It’s the stuff that generally makes us feel good or powerful for a moment but then the high fades. And after the high fades, we may even feel remorse for our actions. Like buyer’s remorse when overspending, feeling bad about gossiping or being mean online, over-indulging or that hangover (or hangxiety).

Instead, take a look at your freelance stress management and redefine negative coping mechanisms and replace them with positive alternatives.

Here’s an exercise in proactive freelance stress management:

  • Write down the common frustrations you find in managing your freelance business
  • Now notice the things you think about when dealing with those stresses. Is it money, wine, pot cigarettes, things you own? Are you attempting to fight, freeze or flee?
  • Now write down what might be suitable replacements for those things. Think about simple self-care you avoid such as reading, exercise, meditation, sleeping, enjoying nature, journaling etc.
  • What can you swap out?

The lesson here isn’t don’t drink or don’t eat or don’t indulge. Although to might be cool to try some alcohol-free freelance networking on occasion. It’s don’t use these things to paper over your feelings of stress. Find a balance between indulgence and practical self-care.

Make time to play

Freelance stress management involves being about to reach flow. You have to feel creatively connected to your work. We all need some form of purpose to help us feel less stress and more in control of our working lives.

If you are always under obligation to clients, peers and your business, of course your freelance stress levels will increase. You’ve swapped the workplace jailer for another self-employment jailer.

Adults need to play too. Yet we readily lean in towards the decadent side of play like travel, wine, holidays and buying things. We comfort ourselves with what adults are allowed to play with. Yet the simplest ways to relieve freelance stress often come from far less expensive ways. Plus, if you find that your play time is usually designed around escaping from your life as opposed to enjoying it as part of your life, maybe there is some tweaking needed.

Holidays, wine, lovely lunches and new things are not inherently bad. But when they replace play in order to distract or are there to make us feel cushioned against life, maybe readjustment is needed.

How can you play as part of your freelance stress management strategy?

  • Take up a crafting hobby such as knitting, sewing, painting, tapestry or some form of visual art
  • Play around with writing in your journal, as poetry, fiction or that kid’s story you wish you could read at bedtime
  • Look at ways you can cook jams, passata, preserves and all manner of slow food ideas
  • Invent a secret project that isn’t shared online and that is all about you using your skills without the obligation tied to money or the buy-in from clients and stakeholders
  • Take up a sport that gives you something to attach SMART goals to like marathon running or big wave surfing or weightlifting or martial arts
  • Upcycle furniture, take up gardening or find a way to translate your love of your home from shopping to creating
  • Try singing and karaoke, take up a toastmaster’s course, dust off the dancing shoes or join the local amateur players

Whatever makes you feel like you are having fun and creating, give it a go!

Watch out for crabs

No, I am not talking about bed bugs or some form of STI. Crabs have this weird thing that when they get caught and put in a bucket, they freak out. They freak out so much that when a crab tries to make a break for it, the other crabs pull them down. It’s a safety in numbers thing. The crabs think if the group stays together, it’s better.

Obviously, it’s not.

Humans are a lot more like crabs than we think. We have this unique ability to freak out when someone moves in front of us. We don’t want people to take risks because then, that’ll reflect poorly on our ability to do so.

Call it Tall Poppy Syndrome, call it misguided helpfulness or call it gaslighting, competition or whatever. When we do this to other people, we’re trying to manage their business. We’re thinking we know better for someone else. Whether that’s because we think we’re protecting them or we’re protecting ourselves, it doesn’t matter. It’s diminishing a person’s ability to make their choices. Let people do what they need to do. It’s their mistake to make and their win to enjoy.

Business stress directs us to become triggered by any moment where scarcity feels like a happening event. It’s this we need to ditch.

If you have crabs in your freelance life:

  • Set boundaries with that person. If they are giving you unsolicited coaching or overstepping the mark, it’s OK to politely but firmly rebuff it
  • Consider their motivations. What looks nefarious may be someone who is insecure and needs help to overcome it. What looks helpful may actually be judgmental and unfair. Understanding what is happening helps
  • Find balance. Way up whether the good does outweigh the bad. Freelancing is tough enough without someone else attempting to manage your care. Is the added stress worth it?

If you tend to be a crab to other freelancers:

  • Reflect on the language you use. Are you choosing expedience over opening dialogue? Could you improve what and how you say things to others?
  • Check your motivations. When we are trying to manage people’s reactions, it’s often more about our desire to control a situation rather than what the other person needs
  • Assess your confidence level. When we’re insecure, watching people and situations change can be difficult. Instead of limiting others, what can you do to enhance your confidence?
  • Challenge your thinking. While we like to feel certain about people, outcomes, situations and the rest, most of the time, we’re simply leaning to the negative. Are you sure or is the desire to be certain and cynicism guiding you?
  • Check in on your stress levels. When we’re feeling constantly under pressure, it can lead us to be worried, prone to fear and reductive in our thinking. Are you allowing freelance stress to dictate the terms of your engagement with others?

Feeling the pinch of freelance stress?

If you need helpful strategies in reducing stress, helping with mental health conditions and/or are in crisis, please make use of the following services.


If you want resources? Check out this helpful RU OK DIY kit from Freelance Jungle member, Craig Mack.

Want to work on some of the aspects of your freelance business that are giving you stress now?

Check out Holly’s best practise advice.

Check in with me (Rebekah Lambert) for some pain point coaching.

Head to the Freelance Jungle for support and advice.


The Freelance Jungle has a Facebook community, virtual catch-ups for stress reduction and networking, and a commitment to education via podcasts, blogs, and online learning.



Mailing Address:
The Freelance Jungle
PO Box 68
NSW 2528