Work stress - how to deal with it when self-employed, image of a pug on the table | Crunch

Freelancers have a lot to think about. Where’s your next gig coming from? Have you got enough cash in the bank? Is someone slacking at paying you what you’re owed?

Sometimes it seems the to-do list is never-ending. And a never-ending to-do list often leads to stress. Here's what you can do to help yourself cope with stress as a freelancer, contractor, or small business owner.

Changes to your work practices

According to recent statistics published by the Health and Safety Executive, work-related stress has climbed to its highest rate in 16 years. While hard work will always involve some level of stress, you can fight back by doing some small things to help reduce the clutter in your mind and ensure that you make each freelancing day count.

Manage your cashflow effectively

Cashflow management is all about ensuring that the total sum of money entering your account is more than the sum of your outgoings. Having a large income may look very appealing, but it becomes deeply unattractive when it’s all being spent and your bank balance is a big, fat zero.

Keep a steady eye on your incoming and outgoing finances. Go through your bank statements regularly and make sure you’re not spending money on unnecessary items. Be ruthless and trim any unnecessary expenses that aren’t enhancing your business.

Invoice promptly

Invoice as soon as the job you’re working on has finished. Don't wait until the end of the month - the only person whose paycheque you’re delaying is your own.

Hanging about for payments can mess with your cash flow and cause unwanted stress. The sooner you invoice, the sooner you’ll be paid - it’s as simple as that. We have free invoice software available as well as free invoicing templates that could help you. If a client isn’t coughing up on time, follow up with one of our free late payment letters, or use some light peer pressure to persuade clients to pay promptly.

If that doesn’t work, you can always enlist the help of a reputable debt collection service like Crunch Collections.

Calculate a decent day rate

Knowing how much you’re worth is vital. Charge clients too little and you’ll adversely affect your cash flow; charge too much and they’ll turn elsewhere.

Let’s say you’re a fairly modest person and the UK’s average national salary of £25,168* per annum will do you nicely. You want to work for 225 days of the year: 365 days in a year minus weekends and giving yourself 28 days holiday.

Your salary divided by your work days equals £111.85 per day. Broken down even further, you can calculate your ideal hourly rate. If you work for seven hours a day, your hourly rate becomes £15.97.

However, these rates don't take into account those dreaded days when you're between contracts / commissions - something most self-employed people will encounter - nor days you can't work due to illness.

You may, for example, want to allow for three days per month where you'll be chasing new work and eight sick days per year. This would reduce your 225 paid working days to just 181 days, increasing your minimum day rate to £139.04.

You may also want to take into account other financial benefits of being employed full-time, such as those generous employer pension contributions.

If you’re a more seasoned freelancer, you'll likely be able to charge clients more or negotiate a per-project rate. But as a starting point, by using some simple maths you can figure out how to earn the average salary in the UK from your freelance income.

Your day rate is something you should revisit regularly. Has the cost of materials risen? Are others in your industry and geographical area charging more for projects? Don’t be afraid to be upfront with clients and explain clearly the reasons why you’ve decided to increase your day rate.

Keep on top of things

Our New Tax Year New You campaign focussed on the resolutions you could take in your professional life such as being organised and keeping on top of your paperwork, especially your invoices and expenses.

One of the big stresses for any freelancer is the dreaded annual Self Assessment, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way, you don’t have to leave your Self Assessment to the last minute!

Create a calm and tidy workspace

Psychologist Sherrie Bourg-Carter found that clutter can “bombard our minds with excessive stimuli causing our senses to work overtime on stimuli that aren’t necessary or important.”

Creating a calm and tidy office space has been known to help productivity and reduce stress, so however you want to verse it, keeping a tidy workspace can help freelancers reduce stress.

Go to networking events

Working for yourself and spending a lot of time alone can make socialising seem overwhelming. Consider attending a local networking event and socialise with people on a similar trajectory to you. You might meet new friends and, more importantly, find some new clients. Plus, networking means you’ve left the house that day, which is always a bonus.

Ensure your business is set up correctly

Are you a sole trader? Have you set up your own limited company? Are you contracting through an umbrella company?

Each has its various pros and cons, and what's right for you depends on your circumstances and outlook for the future. If you want some help deciding, book a free consultation with one of our experienced advisors, or read our article ‘Sole Trader, Umbrella or Limited Company - What’s Best for You?’.

Having a basic understanding of how each operates can help with your tax status and subsequent finances - meaning fewer headaches and stress for you down the line.

Bring in another pair of hands

Is the work something you can outsource or hire someone to help you with? Sometimes breaking even while keeping the client happy is worth paying someone else to help with. Break down which tasks you can bring in help on and if this alters how realistic the deadlines are.

Lifestyle changes

There are also some changes you can make to your lifestyle in order to tackle stress as a self-employed worker.

In body and mind

A Crunch survey on how freelancers are tackling their stress levels revealed that the majority of them turn to exercise to combat their worries. A third (34%) recommended swimming, running or gym sessions as their most successful stress relief remedy. Exercise helps your body produce feel-good endorphins which boost energy, so perhaps it’s time to actually use that gym membership? (just please, please, spare us the selfies!)

Of course, if you aren't eating healthily you’ll struggle to find the energy to handle the exercise, so knock the crisps and chocolate on the head (or at least cut down). It’ll make you feel less sluggish and help you focus better on your work too. Easier said than done, but the doctors aren’t making this stuff up - it’s seriously effective.

Get an office pet

If an office dog is out of the question, it might be worth getting a account for a bit of playtime therapy when stress starts to get the better of you. Studies show that contact with an animal can increase levels of the stress-reducing hormone oxytocin and decrease production of cortisol, a stress hormone. Some airports have even started employing dogs to hang out and make anxious flyers feel better.

It’s not just canines, either. Cats have also been found to decrease blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle tension, both in reaction to stressful events and over time. Whilst other animals apply, it’s probably best to steer clear of the ones who are even more stressed than you are (have you ever tried to hold a guinea pig?!).

Get your priorities straight

Tiredness is both a leading cause of stress and a symptom of it, so it’s vital to break the cycle. Crossing tasks off your to-do list is really therapeutic and will eliminate that nagging feeling hanging over you that there’s something more important you should be getting on with, leaving you to get some well-earned shut-eye.

Top tip: Wunderlist is a useful online to-do list app which you can access from anywhere and makes a highly satisfying ‘ping’ sound when you’ve completed a task. If you’re so busy with work that you’re constantly bogged down, do make sure you schedule in some quality ‘you-time’ to see friends (or for the more introverted among us, chill out by yourself).

Look out for number one

Rather terrifyingly, according to research adults working more than 11 hours a day to have more than 67% higher risk of developing coronary heart disease than those working eight hours.

A link has been found between workplace stress and a lack of productivity, so you may actually work better if you work fewer hours. Sweden, for example, has recently trialed a six-hour workday in an attempt to increase productivity (and make people happier), with unsurprisingly lots of people reportedly being happier. Although also unsurprisingly, it was deemed to be very expensive!

Don’t be afraid to say ‘no’ to work if you’re too busy to take it on - creating unnecessarily tight deadlines will mean you overwork yourself to hit them. Once you’re done for the day, turn those phone notifications off. They’ll still be there when you’re finished spending time with loved ones, playing some piano, or killing some virtual zombies.


When a person is under stress, their breathing pattern changes. It sounds mad to mention it, but just think - have you taken the opportunity today to take a few seconds out to take a big deep breath, and a slow exhale?

You’re busy running a business, so if finding time to attend a meditation class is a touch ambitious, taking a few moments to relax your breathing is a proven and cost-free way to help reduce your heart rate and blood pressure.

Time to get away?

Your business success is worth very little if you’re not healthy enough to reap the benefits. As much as we love a great story of an aspiring entrepreneur or freelancer refusing the give up, there is never a good reason to make yourself ill.

There’s nothing wrong with taking a step back, in order to move forward. Don’t give up your freelance dreams - you can return to them again once you’ve had a holiday, or put things on hold for a while.

If you’ve exhausted all other avenues, there are plenty of places to go for professional advice. The NHS has a specific page dedicated to stress, what you can do, and who you can speak to about it.

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Tom West
Community and Social Manager
Updated on
April 9, 2021

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