In 2019, the notion of not having a social media presence seems as archaic as using a typewriter. For most of the UK’s two million professional freelancers, it’s unthinkable. Whether you prefer Instagram, Facebook. Twitter, LinkedIn or Myspace (the latter of which some strange diehards still apparently use) our pages provide a space to oh-so-humbly show off our achievements whilst connecting us with a digital community of like-minded souls. Yet our relationship with social media is at the heart of a mental health crisis.
Studies have suggested social media is highly addictive, likely to fuel feelings of isolation, and adept at causing us to compare ourselves negatively with others. Freelancing creates its own unique set of pressures that have been shown to increase risk of poor mental health, so how can freelancers stay connected whilst staying productive, proactive and happy? We asked some experts (and expert freelancers) to find out.
Stick social media on your to-do list
Using social media can seem like a reflex: in queues; on the commute; yes, in the toilet. This is especially true when you’ve just posted a link to some work on Twitter and you’re desperate to feel the sweet dopamine rush of those fresh likes and RTs. Why not build social media time into your working day instead?
“Add social media time to your to-do list to keep it managed,’ says Kenny Wood, founder of digital agency, Indigo Melody. “Develop healthy habits to eliminate the urge to look at social media in the first place. This can be done in loads of ways. I looked for the cues that cause the craving for social media (like finishing an important task or waiting for a meeting to start) and replacing the act with something more productive, like reading a saved article I’ve been meaning to go back to.”
You are, in fact, not alone.
Working from home and being your own bossperson may seem a dream. But it can be a lonely game, especially on the dark days when a pitch gets turned down or a hard-won client is negative about your work. Social media – harnessed correctly – can alleviate this.
“Social media can be used as a great resource for freelancers as a way to connect with other people who are in a similar situation,” says Nicola Jagielski, Associate Director of Clinical Services at Health Assured. “With over two million freelancers working in the UK and a growing number of social media groups, industry support networks and meet-ups, the community of freelancers is only going to get better.
“Having an online community solely for freelancers to turn to for discussions around work, mistakes or successes, can be a huge benefit to someone’s mental health and can massively reduce the feeling that you’re going it alone.”
Dig a little deeper
Ever find yourself mindlessly jumping between Instagram and Twitter and back again when you’re got a 30-second queue window in Pret? It could be the sign of a deeper anxiety. “When you keep going back to your apps you are trying to achieve a change of state,” says Sally Baker, senior therapist, author and speaker. “You can start to feel anxiety, even under your radar; if you’ve been feeling like it for a long time you might not register it anymore.
"So you try and distract yourself by a number of ways and social media can be another of those. It’s just a coping mechanism. What’s best is to clear the anxiety.” This could mean speaking to a GP or mental health professional. “You can find out what your coping mechanisms are but eventually you’re going to need someone to sit down with you and pick your subconscious brain apart.”
Say goodbye to the Twitter app
According to Hootsuite, 326 million people use Twitter every day. Whilst Twitter is undoubtedly a useful tool for amplifying work and staying up-to-date with news, it can also feel like there’s a world of vitriol and negative energy burning at your fingertips.
“I deleted Twitter from my phone and felt better within hours,” says Will Lyth, a conversion copywriter from Brighton. “It’s just too noisy. And as there’s a character limit, you never get anything to hold your attention – it’s just a battleground for headlines, spam and controversy. “
Focus your evenings on personal relationships
As freelancers, we can fall prey to the habit of using likes and shares as metrics for business and personal success. But online pals shouldn’t take the place of IRL friends. Finding time to maintain your real relationships will be infinitely better for your happiness, so initiate a social media cut-off point in the evening.
“Have a cut-off point toward the end of your day as part of your pre-sleep routine,” says. Hope Bastine, mindfulness and sleep psychologist “You can use Downtime [which will stop notifications from apps] option in your Screen Time settings on the iPhone to support this practice. Once you’ve applied your Downtime, make use of your time to connect to loved ones. Often our digital addiction is a consequence of our loneliness and isolation epidemic.”
Don’t be scared to unfollow
You can’t like everyone you meet, right? The same principle works for online, yet we often still follow people who annoy, upset or cause us anxiety. For freelancers this can be especially hazardous as it’s oh-so-easy to compare yourself negatively with other people in your field.
“Don’t be afraid to take time out or unfollow someone who makes you feel rubbish, insecure, or like a failure,” says Hope Bastine. “Remember that It may not be their fault! But it's all about you.”
But...embrace the success of your peers
It’s certainly easy to compare your achievements negatively with your peers, especially if you’re having a slow month and their work is getting praise from all corners of the social media universe. Why not try – rather than suffering under the weight of jealousy – turning those feelings into something positive by cheering and sharing their great work instead?
“It’s great to see people you know, and respect doing really well,” says Will Lyth. “You might know about some of the tough things they were dealing with behind the scenes.”
Stop using your phone as an alarm clock
“Don’t use your phone as an alarm clock,” says Sally Baker. “Keep it away from the bedroom. When people scroll through social media first thing in the morning, they are procrastinating and putting themselves under pressure. If it’s at the end of the day it’s because they’re bored, slightly tired, off-kilter, maybe looking for a bit of a boost. Make the bedroom a place of sex and sanctuary..”
Sally cites Ariana Huffington (founder of The Huffington Post) and her sleep-espousing book The Sleep Revolution as inspiration if sleeping without your phone under your pillow sounds like a recipe for acute anxiety about missing a vital DM on Instagram. “If she can survive without a phone in her bedroom, we all can.”