Being your own boss is tough, and can threaten your emotional wellbeing, but there are some simple hacks that can help you enjoy the freedom and flexibility it offers

What motivated you to become self-employed? Perhaps it was the draw of being your own boss, the freedom and flexibility to work how you want when you want, or the appeal of there being no cap on your earnings.

You might have made the transition to self-employment fully prepared for what working for yourself entails. Or, like many people, you may have underestimated the effect being your own boss can have on your mental health.

Whether it’s financial uncertainty, and the knowledge that a slow month could be right around the corner, the loneliness of working by yourself, or the stress of having to figure everything out on your own, self-employment can be taxing.

Throw in a pandemic and a cost-of-living crisis, and being your own boss can be a major threat to your mental health and emotional wellbeing.

A survey for the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed found that 50% of self-employed people worry about irregularity of income, 46% feel unprepared for retirement, and 39% feel anxious about not getting paid on time.

What’s more, the same study found that two-thirds of freelancers are experiencing less demand for work post-pandemic, and are worried their income will drop as a result.

On top of all that, self-employment can create a cycle of overworking. When your income is directly linked to your output, and how much you earn depends on how hard you work, it’s easy to suppress feelings of stress, overwhelm, and burnout in the name of earning a living.

“Self-employment can be hard on your mental health for lots of reasons – holding the sole burden of responsibility, financial instability, fewer boundaries around work demands – and interestingly, the type of people drawn to self-employment may even be vulnerable to mental health issues by virtue of their personality features,” says clinical psychologist Dr Gemma Harris (@theexdoctor).

If you’re prone to perfectionism and high personal expectations, Gemma says you may be more likely to favour performance outcomes over self-care.

And, if you’re a business owner who is driven by their internal critic, you might regularly find yourself in ‘threat mode’, a state which is associated with poor mental and physical health.

Perhaps you’ve been there: constantly fearing that you’re one bad month away from collapse, or that a problem will arise and you simply won’t know how to fix it.

If self-employment is crushing your spirit, there’ll likely be some telltale signs.

“Common indicators of stress include disrupted sleep patterns, changes in appetite, increased anxiety and irritability, withdrawal and isolation, and reduced motivation,” Gemma says.

You might also find that you increasingly feel overwhelmed and out of control, and you’ve lost the love for the thing you once adored doing. Be on the lookout for signs of burnout, too. It can manifest as a sharp drop in productivity, being physically and emotionally drained, and feeling helpless, trapped, defeated, or resentful.

Fortunately, minding your mental health while navigating the challenges of being your own boss is not a losing battle.

Gemma encourages you to set up a wellness plan, one that allows you to check in with yourself regularly.


. Create your own wellness plan
. Check-in with yourself regularly
. Build stress-relieving moments into your day
. Set realistic goals (and cut yourself slack)
. Network with other self-employed people

“Self-employment can be a hard setup for mental health, so recognise that these challenges are very common and understandable,” she advises. “The demands of self-employment can activate a chronic state of fight-or-flight, and so creating regular hacks to reset the body and mind are necessary.”

These hacks could be regular breaks scattered throughout your day, deep breathing exercises when you feel stressed, or going out to meet a friend for a coffee when you need a chat or to vent. The trick is making these habits a priority.

Chances are, if you’re working for yourself, you’re a bit of a go-getter. Being ambitious is a great thing, but it can often lead to unrealistic goal-setting – a habit that only adds fuel to the overwork fire.

So, if you’ve set yourself ambitious business or financial targets, consider lowering the bar. It will allow you to take a more relaxed approach to business, and counter any feelings of failure you have when you fall short of those original goals. Given that financial instability is one of the biggest stressors, it makes good sense to put away some savings while you work as well.

One more thing that could be completely transformational? Make some self-employed friends. Networking might make you groan, but nobody understands the challenges of self-employment quite like the people who are doing it themselves. Reach out to fellow freelancers, and you might just find that they know exactly what you’re going through.


As for that survey we mentioned before, it found that 83% of freelancers feel the rewards they get from self-employment outweigh the risks, so there are positives to take from that.

Self-employment can be a tough slog, but generally speaking, it gives you the freedom and flexibility to work when you want, so take advantage of that if you’re feeling burned out. A half day on a Friday, or starting your workday an hour later, could make the world of difference.

In a world that glamourises being your own boss, and offers us only examples of businesses that have become overnight successes, it’s little wonder that most of us are unprepared for just how tough freelancing can be.

There’s comfort in knowing that you’re not alone and that by reaching out, cutting yourself some slack, and taking a breather, you can find a way through.