There are some common misconceptions about freelancing—especially when it comes to stress levels. On one end of the scale, freelancing is compared to a walk in the park, barely even registering as a “proper job”. On the other end of the scale, it’s described as 24/7 stress, being constantly at the whim of various demanding clients. So, let’s talk about the stress of a freelance life.
Like any job or career path, freelancing can be stressful. But it’s not necessarily the all-or-nothing kind of stress often ascribed to it. In fact, studies have found freelancing to be stressful but less so than regular employment. A 2017 study by Axa Business Insurance reported that the self-employed enjoy a happier work-life balance, better mental health, and less stress than employed workers. The figures were still high on both sides though, with 78% self-employed and 90% employed workers being stressed “to some degree”.
It’s fair to say then that most workers are stressed, whether they’re freelance or not. However, the difference-maker seems to be in chronic stress levels, where 11% of employed workers were stressed “all the time” versus only 2% of freelancers. Likewise, 30% of employees were concerned about their mental health, while on 11% of self-employed people were. In other words, yes—freelancing can be stressful, but often not as stressful as a traditional employed job.
The study found that the main stress-causing factors among freelancers were unstable income and having to be available over a wide range of hours, which are some of the realities of freelancing. These issues are particularly common in the first few months of freelancing, which can be incredibly stressful. If you can’t find enough work to cover your bills or get a decent work-life balance, then freelancing can of course be stressful. However, there are ways to mitigate these factors, such as taking the gradual path to becoming a freelancer, having an emergency money pot, and setting your work hours.
Interestingly, most people assume that the stressful part of freelancing is being your own boss. On the contrary, studies and anecdotal evidence suggest that the biggest factor in improved stress levels for freelancers is having control. There’s tons of evidence that having more control over our lives leads to improved mental health and less stress. Personally, I can vouch for this. Having control over my life and my time is what makes freelancing so great—plus control over the little things like what I wear to “work” and what temperature the heating is on.
That said, not everybody wants to be their own boss. What the study doesn’t talk about is the stress of freelancing if it’s not the right path for you. Freelancing can be very stressful if it doesn’t suit your personality and lifestyle goals. If you like to work independently, are comfortable with a level of risk, and have a strong sense of initiative, then the freelance lifestyle offers the potential for a far less stressful life. But if you prefer to work in a team and like having a boss, then you’re likely to find freelancing stressful. In other words, the freelance life isn’t for everyone—and how stressful it is can come down to personality.
The bottom line is: if freelancing is the right path for you and you can weather the first few rough months, then a freelance life can be much less stressful than being employed.
Do you find freelancing stressful or enjoy the control it offers? Comment below or get in touch.