The Freelance Jungle was started to end isolation and bring stressed-out freelancers together for a safe place to chat, debrief and feel connected. One of the things we’ve tried to do is increase our knowledge in how to deal with crisis situations and stress in general.
That means working through one of the most important first steps, a helpful conversation.
If you’re dealing with stressed-out freelancers as your contractors, colleagues or as people you meet and share moments with online, this collection of tips may help. It can also help in general.
Here’s some pointers on helping stressed-out freelancers and people everywhere
Listen with unconditional positive regard
While the world is great at making content, noise and big statements, we’re often overlooking the listening. Most of the time, it’s how we listen that matters.
We have two ears and one mouth. That’s a great ratio to follow when dealing with stressed-out freelancers.
People want to be heard. Most of the time, it’s the act of being heard that gives us the most comfort and clarity.
If you are dealing with someone who is stressed, try active listening on for size. Focus on what they have to say. Reflect the meaning of their words back to them. Ask open ended questions. Make them feel heard.
Watch your language
When we’re stressed or dealing with issues, some of our resilience and protective layers can be worn down. That’s why the language we choose matters so much.
Avoid things that may minimise the feelings of stressed-out freelancers.
Using words like ‘only’ or ‘just’ can sound reductive, minimising and even insensitive.
Also, be mindful of judgmental statements. It’s not about them getting over it, snapping out of it or remembering what they have.
The pain they are feeling is very real to them. You don’t want to disrespect that as it risks shutting down future conversations.
You should also be careful to avoid telling people what you think about their situation. This is especially true when it’s not invited.
Be open, listen and treat the conversation like the privilege to hold space with a person at their most vulnerable. Because that is what it is.
If someone is discussing a mental health condition in relation to stress, it’s important to avoid words and phrases that trigger and stigmatise the person or their mental health.
Recognise your limitations
Even with lots of training, lived experience and all manner of situational awareness, we cannot be 100% sure of a person’s experience of stress or the impact it has on them. What someone is going through is their unique experience. They are the expert in their own life.
When you are dealing with stressed-out freelancers, our immediate desire is to jump in and fix things. We give solutions, tell them what to do and want to wrap the situation up.
It’s natural, right? We don’t like seeing other people in pain.
However, we’re not qualified to fix the life of another person. Counsellors, psychologists, good coaches and all the rest always operate from helping the person uncover their own strengths.
If you think you have all the answers and that answer fails to fix the person’s situation, what then? You don’t have the accountability to that advice that you think.
You don’t want co-dependence or responsibility for another person’s well-being.
Step back and offer support. But let people find their own supports.
Frame for positive action
“Frame your message around what you believe as opposed to what you stand against”.
It’s an important lesson we all need to learn when dealing with stress or crisis.
Inspiring people to try, especially when they’ve been knocked on their butt or they are hurt, is tough. But it’s tougher still when you frame it to the negative.
One of the things we should all be mindful of is that stressed-out freelancers are already surrounded by the negative. They have their issues to navigate. Negative self-talk is often ever present. The nature of our business is often thankless. Conversations often lean towards frustration and problems.
When we’re stressed or we’re dealing with mental health issues, we need to be hopeful. It’s that hope for the future that gets us through.
While exploring the problems and pain are part of gaining relief, it’s not the whole ball game.
If you’re dealing with someone in crisis, the focus should be to remind them of their strengths. It should also be about exploring helpful, positive avenues for change.
Nobody particularly enjoys change. This is summed up perfectly with the saying, “the only person who likes change is a wet baby”.
But if you can foster and encourage the desire to try, this can be an immediate game-changer in terms of confidence, giving a sense of control and renewing the hopefulness we all need to survive.
Look after the basics
Stressed-out freelancers are often doing what they can to keep our head above water. But the problem is that when we’re in this survival mode, we forget the basic building blocks of self-care.
Choosing self-care and making it a priority helps reduce the stress in anyone, regardless of their self-employment status.
Self-care is exercise, eating well, taking breaks, focusing on play and creativity, not having obligation as an ever-present feature, connecting with nature, spending time with friends and family, and so on.
If you’re talking to someone who seems stressed and unhappy, checking in on these building blocks can help. Conversation can remind them to get out and do what they need to do.
You can also encourage it. Some of the kindest moments for me when I have been at my most stressed have come from people taking the initiative so I could share the labour of getting myself excited about self-care.
Examples my friends have used in the past are:
- Making a date to watch monster films with salt and vinegar crisps
- Talking a walk around the neighbourhood to find edible plants and admire the local flora
- Booking a video call to check in
- Coming to meet me at a gig and hang out to chat
- Inviting me over for a business meeting and then cooking lunch
- Visiting to help me celebrate wins large and small
- Having an instant message relationship where we check-in, swap news and dog photos
It doesn’t have to be big. It simply needs to show you care.
Stressed out freelancers can start talking about and even ruminating on problems, problem clients, the good old days, the bleak future and more. What they might not be so great at is being present.
Each of us needs to be present and have a healthy relationship with our thoughts. When we’re obsessing over people, problems and provocation, this isn’t healthy.
The present is where action happens. It’s where we can take steps to make changes.
We cannot influence the past outside of forgiveness. We cannot predict the outcome of the future. We also cannot control the habits and behaviours of others.
If you are dealing with someone who is in crisis, the best way you can help them is to focus on what they can do now.
You can try grounding exercises to help them connect with the present, like looking around the room and observing what is there. You can also invite reflection not on the problems they face but also how far they’ve come.
And as much as it might be fun to bitch, moan and gossip, this can actually stop progress. If someone is attached to their problems, it damages the potential for hope, after all. So, if you find yourself speaking to someone who invests in drama, helping them break the cycle can be far more beneficial to their well-being.
It doesn’t have to be you
We think that if stressed-out freelancers are asking for help and support, it has to come from us. But it doesn’t. And if it’s not your wheelhouse, that’s OK.
If you are not the right person to help stressed-out freelancers, that’s OK. No one wants you to take on the emotional labour of someone else’s problems if you are not comfortable with it.
But please, don’t let your fear or prejudice do the talking.
Fear can make people do funny things- like isolate, shame and push people away when they need help. This is especially true when someone is not coping.
- You cannot catch someone else’s mental health condition
- You cannot break a person by having an honest, thoughtful conversation
- You don’t have to fix a person, that is not your responsibility
- Stress and mental health can be complex issues, and no one expects you to have all the answers
It’s also OK to say, “I don’t think I am the right person to talk to” and suggest someone else who might be.
But don’t stop stressed out freelancers from finding the right one by leaning into and vocalising your prejudice or fear.
Again, it’s an exercise in both listening and recognising your limitations.