Mental Health is just as important as physical health, and is sometimes overlooked. Staying sane can be tough no matter what your situation is. It is easy to be overcome by work, the stresses of life, etc. This is even more so the case for people that are consultants who don’t have a day job to go to, and remote workers working in a distributed company.
We talked about burn out in a previous episode, but burn out isn’t the only repercussion of unstable mental health.
The most important piece of keeping yourself sane is knowing when your mental health is at risk or being harmed in some way. It is easy to ignore the signs and keep on working through and not realizing what is going on with your mind.
Steve S. said to look out for panic attacks and lack of sleep as they are definitely alarms of what is going on. Many people will start skipping meals, which can take a toll. As Steve said, people can tend to get “hangry” when lacking the nutrition they need. Not eating is also an important one to look out for because it may be your mental state having effects on your physical state.
Carl A. brought up procrastination, it is easy to pick up a new show on Netflix and just binge watch, forgetting (maybe purposefully) about your work.
Chris R. also brought up that while under-eating is common, so is over-eating. This again is your mental state causing effects on your physical. He also brought up dropping communication, finding that when he is in a bad mental space, he will not answer phone calls, emails, or any other types of messages. He said losing contact with the outside world is a key hint to him that something is going on with his mental state.
Lucas C. brought up motivation which everyone can relate to. He touched on the point from a person who has a full-time job (in his case a student), who had to motivate himself to do side work afterwards. After a full day of work, it isn’t always easy to continue working even if it is on something else. Motivation is a good way to gauge where you are at mentally, and sometimes a calculated break of post-work work is needed to recharge that motivation.
There are many other warning signs, but overall it is tough, but no on knows you better than you do. Take time to assess your mood daily or weekly and really understand the mental state you are in. If you have a partner, spouse, etc. have them help you assess and tell them to warn you when they see your mood, appetite, or really anything else changing from your “norm” so you can assess it and take actions to prevent going further down the spiral.
While it is great to know when you are in need of help, preventative measures will help make sure that you don’t go on that rollercoaster. There are many ways to prevent any type of episode all together. Some of the things that you can do to help yourself are simple.
Scheduling is key, Steve brought up that he more recently set himself a 9-5 schedule, and while it may be hard for some who have more than 8 hours of work per day it is something he wanted to achieve and keep. He created the hours arbitrarily to match business hours however he could pick any other 8 hour block during the day. Chris recommended actually creating a daily schedule to tie into your work week. Whether you do it once a week or plan daily, you know exactly what you need to do when, and as long as you stick to it you aren’t all over the place. You know that you have time to achieve everything you need or want to, as long as the schedule is kept up. Meagan H. brought up a good point which most freelancers can relate to, and that is if you don’t have any type of schedule and you only work when you feel like it, you will learn to not feel like working. This relates back to Carl’s procrastination point, where if you do not set time aside to actually do the work you are selling as a service, you may never get it done instead opting for other pastimes (TV, movies, games, etc.)
Having a hobby is a good way to get your mind off of work for a certain amount of time per day or week and focus it on something else you enjoy doing. Theresa J. said that ideally it would be something outside of the realm of what you do for work. Her example, gardening, was a great counter to sitting behind a computer screen all day. Gardening is hands on, may require you to go outside, and overall is a physical activity that is not sitting on your butt in front of a computer screen. Sometimes you may even have a few extra hobbies that you can use to keep your mind occupied with something other than work.
Roy’s said his biggest issue is that his hobby is code, and that may be true for many developers. For him having a day job where he codes for 8 hours is one thing, but he loves to come home and work on passion projects, even building out something for months on end, just for fun.
Lucas brought up the need for a separation for work and life space boundary. As a full time employee it may be easy to think “work is at the office, home is not work” however when you are a freelancer your home may be your office. Not everyone has an “office” in their house either, often using the living room or bedroom as a makeshift office, so it is hard to turn the mind off from work and onto other things when there is no separation between work and non-work physical space. Setup a “hobby space” where you know you will focus on your hobbies outside of work.
No matter how hard you try, whether you see the signs or not, sometimes you end up in a spiral. They are never easy to get out of, and they can last long periods of time. Getting out of a spiraling behavior is never easy
The hardest and sometimes best solution for someone may be just to get rid of the medium for which you are spiraling with. For Carl it was video games, he saw they were causing great distractions in his life and just a pain point. He got rid of his gaming systems so they would not be an issue any longer. For most of us this may not be as easy, and while we may have a “problem” with it while spiraling, it isn’t a problem in our life while not spiraling.
Chris brought up a great point, and something that that the whole show agreed to, which is, see a therapist when you need. You take your car to a mechanic because they know what is wrong with your car, a therapist is trained and will help you diagnose what is going on in your life and how to help pull you out of any spiraling trends, as well as help you create better preventative measures.
Side Note: There is no longer, or should no longer be a stigma as a therapist as “you’re crazy”, we aren’t in the 1950’s anymore. Seeing a therapist is a mature responsible thing to do if you can.
One of the biggest things that Chris got out of seeing a therapist is that he learned quickly that he was not the only one facing his problems. The problems he was going through have been troubling humans since as long as they have taken notice to themselves and mental health. Chris also said that the therapist was quick to put him on a new track much faster than he could have by himself.
Meagan H. brought up the key point from our last presentation and I think one that we keep on iterating on, and that is to reach out. You will find quickly that people are either in the same situation as you, or have been. They know how to get out, they have traveled down the same exact roads. The hardest part mentally of any spiral is the thought that “I am alone in this” when that is probably one of the biggest fallacies. While your exact situation may be unique, overall there are other people in the community that have been through it, or at least pieces of it.
“The Hard Knock Approach of Ripping off the Cold Turkey Band-Aid” – Roy S.