How to Manage Anxiety When You Work for Yourself

The freelance life has its own stresses

Lydia Smith
Published in
5 min readSep 10, 2019


Stressed at work.
Photo: mapodile/Getty

WWhen I decided to go freelance two years ago, it was to avoid anxiety. I was commuting on cramped public transport, putting in long hours, and rarely switching off. This can be exhilarating and energizing for some people, but for me, it was unhealthy. Every morning, I’d wake up feeling nauseous, my stomach churning with dread at the day ahead. I was exhausted but couldn’t sleep. I began to have panic attacks.

So I quit. And I haven’t regretted it. Now I’m able to do my job — and enjoy it — while managing my health.

Sort of.

It turns out freelancing brings its own brand of anxiety. It removes crucial support systems — like other people and free coffee.

Self-employment isn’t for everyone, but it can be manageable even for those who struggle with anxiety.

“There are a number of reasons why working for yourself can trigger anxiety,” says Rachel Doern, a senior lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London, who studies the cognition, emotions, and behaviors of self-employed people and business owners. “For one thing, entrepreneurs tend to work in uncertain, complex environments where time pressures are often apparent, and it is precisely in such contexts that emotions run high and may be intense.”

Self-employment isn’t for everyone, but it can be manageable even for those who struggle with anxiety. Here are some strategies that have worked for me.

Say no

When your income is sporadic, it’s tempting to say yes to everything that comes your way, but too many responsibilities can lead to added stress, as well as poor-quality work.

One of the best ways to handle anxiety is to prioritize, says Cary Cooper, a professor of organizational psychology and health at Manchester Business School. While many freelancers worry about alienating clients by saying no to a job, doing it in a professional way can often help your professional reputation, Cooper explains.

“The funny thing is the people who say, ‘Sorry, I can’t do that, I’m too busy,’ actually continue to get work…