Let’s be real. Freelance writing can be a lonely and stressful career, even without a global crisis playing out in the background.
But as the world collectively faces the threat of COVID-19, freelancer writers—in tandem with the entire freelance community—are faced with some particularly tough circumstances to make sense of.
For some, clients have dropped offline, leaving them unsure what steps to take or whether they will be compensated for continuing work. Others have been told to pause all projects indefinitely, had collaborations canceled, or lost prospective contracts due to the chaos.
We can’t pretend this isn’t scary or upsetting. It is! And we’re all in this together.
Despite the uncertainty, however, we have the opportunity to find our centers and remain calm, creating a ripple effect of good vibes that will spread to those around us.
We’ve put together some special guidelines and resources below that we hope will help you balance emotions and formulate a plan to thrive during this time.
Important note: None of the below information is intended to be consumed as professional medical advice. Please contact the appropriate experts in your region for assistance with physical or mental health emergencies.
1. Stop scrolling through panic-inducing news
Staying informed is crucial.
However, overloading yourself with alarming headlines or watching yet another terrifying broadcast is not going to keep you more informed, nor help you stay calm.
The news is relaying important information, but make no mistake—media outlets are also thinking about ratings. They’re notorious for filling the airwaves with panic as quickly as new fragments of information become available.
News is designed to be addictive, to make you think you have to watch it (or scroll through it), lest you miss something deeply important.
We also get a rush of adrenalin when we see a new update, hear a new fact, or come across a new article online. In this case, even scary anecdotal tweets from unverified sources can stroke our morbid curiosity and keep us scrolling.
And, surprise! This isn’t helping you.
If you feel your anxiety levels rising when you see the news, know that second-hand trauma is very real.
We can go into a kind of mental shock by repeatedly witnessing the devastation happening on the news or being posted about online. Eventually, emotional burnout, anxiety attacks, trouble sleeping, loss of appetite, and other serious symptoms can increase.
So how does one stay informed without missing out on important updates?
Resist the need to continuously google for updates and spend hours scrolling through the same triggering information. Remember that stress itself can cause one to become ill, and you want to keep your body in the best possible shape right now.
We recommend slimming your news intake to once per day—and only looking at verified news sources. Look for updates from your local government on closures, restrictions, or any actions you need to take in your community.
2. Take note of what’s still normal in your day
It can be tempting to linger on the things that have changed—and continue to change—as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.
However, if we focus too intensely on what is changing, we risk finding ourselves in shock, susceptible to panic attacks, and unable to carry on with our days.
There’s no doubt that daily life has changed for many of us, but there are still some familiar comforts to remind us we have not spiraled too far into the unknown.
For me, it was a can of green tea ginger ale, a clean desk to work at, and my favorite vinyl record playing, a belly laugh over an inside joke with my boyfriend.
When I stepped onto my stoop, the sun was shining in Brooklyn, music was drifting from windows, and the first buds of spring had begun to show themselves on the tree in front of our building.
Perhaps for you, it’s doing activities with your kids, a pet curled up on your lap, the beautiful view out your window, something baking in the oven…
If you look closely, you will find that joy and happiness still persist in the face of uncertainty. There are always small things in life that maintain and can help keep us grounded.
Admittedly, I’m sort of a homebody as a full-time remote writer, so finding joy in my day when I’m “stuck” at home is already something I’m pretty good at. But even for me, it takes a little extra effort when the world is slowly being put on lockdown.
What can you find in your immediate surroundings to be grateful for, to act as a symbol of consistency and calm?
I want to clarify that this is not meant to minimize the severity of the global situation right now, nor suggest that denial or ignorance are effective methods of dealing with a crisis.
However, connecting to these familiar routines in our lives can help us come back down from heightened anxiety and develop some positive energy to help carry ourselves through the day.
3. Initiate (or amplify) a self-care routine
Self-care looks different for everyone, but one thing’s certain: we all need it. More so now that we’re facing tumultuous times.
In order to execute self-care in a way that truly supports your mental health, you’ll need to know what it is.
There’s some confusion about whether self-care is comprised of ultra-healthy habits (yoga 2x daily) or indulgences (red wine and dark chocolate).
In reality, true self-care is any combination of habits and rituals that you put in place to support mental, emotional, and physical wellness.
This might mean you do your daily yoga practice, indulge in some dark chocolate after lunch, have a good laugh watching your favorite show, and then call your mom. Or, it could be something else entirely.
Just remember that self-care isn’t’ an indulgence we should have to recover from. If it sets you back somehow (ie: hangover, mood swings, etc) then that isn’t self-care.
If you usually practice self-care through group classes, meditations, or other community-based activities, you can check whether those organizations are now hosting them online.
if not, there’s always Youtube and the internet in general! Here are a few of my favorite self-care resources that are 100% digital:
☕️ Calm (Meditation app)
☕️ Yoga with Kassandra (Youtube channel)
☕️ Chillhop Music (lo-fi beats & ambient music—discovering this stuff was life-changing for me, and I recommend combining with nature/rain sounds from the apps above)
☕️ 5 tools for digital journaling (Lifehacker)
☕️ How To Make Stress Your Friend (TedTalk)
☕️ Weave Silk (Hypnotic digital sketching)
4. Use grounding & stress-reducing techniques
If you deal with anxiety, you’re not alone. 40 million adults in the United States suffer from various anxiety-related disorders, making it the most common mental illness.
If not, it’s possible that you’re experiencing regular anxiety for the first time during the COVID-19 outbreak. If so, don’t despair. Grounding techniques are a great way to snap out of panic mode and regain your mental footing.
Grounding techniques involve interacting with the world through the senses, as well as mental exercises, in order to pull yourself out of anxiety’s stronghold and get back into the present moment.
These techniques are used to help survivors of trauma, panic disorder, and many forms of PTSD, to name a few scenarios.
Essentially, it will get you out of your head and out of the “what if” spiral you might find yourself stuck in, especially if you’re self-isolating and over-thinking through the day.
There are many reputable websites that break down these techniques. Check out some of them below:
☕️ 30 Grounding Techniques to Quiet Distressing Thoughts (Healthline)
☕️ 5-4-3-2-1 Coping Technique for Anxiety (University of Rochester Medical Center)
☕️ 22 Best Grounding Techniques For Anxiety (Better Help)
5. Let clients know what your status is
Don’t forget to check in with your clients and let them know if you are, in fact, available for work.
You can safely assume that many clients are scrambling within their own businesses as they attempt to navigate whatever protocol is in place for their industry.
If you work with small businesses, they are twice as panicked. We’re all learning as we go!
Send a simple email to let clients know you’re wishing them well—and are available to support them. This can both brighten their day and ease some tension.
Likewise, if you’re feeling unwell or are choosing not to work during this unique situation, let them know what your status is and when you expect to be back in action.
Either way, they will appreciate your communication and being kept in the know.
I’ll add that, if you’re not working, this is an excellent time to refer work to fellow freelancers who may have had projects canceled and are worried about income.
You can post on LinkedIn, Facebook, or wherever your writer pals hangout (including our Facebook group) if you’d like to pass work on to someone else.
6. Ease into work—and know your limits
Engaging in productive work can actually feel quite therapeutic during times of uncertainty. If you’re lucky enough to have clients projects in place that haven’t been canceled, add that to your gratitude list!
Then, pace yourself.
You may feel tempted to over-work or take on more than you can chew out of concern for the future of your client’s capacity to pay freelancers. This is a no-no.
It’s true that we have no way of knowing exactly what will happen (and each freelancer’s situation is wholly unique), but burning yourself out isn’t going to help.
Put trust in your own ability to problem-solve as you go, and don’t try to hoard work or overload yourself.
Remember that you became a freelancer fully knowing that this type of work can ebb and flow. No, you didn’t predict a global pandemic, but no one did!
Ease into your workload, take breaks, and allow yourself a moment if you need to step away from your computer and take a few deep breaths.
7. Review resources available to you
If you have had gigs canceled or are worried about paying rent this month, there are some resources available to you.
Check out this excellent post: COVID-19 Freelance Artist Resources
This list details free resources, opportunities, and financial relief options available to artists of all disciplines. It includes (but is not limited to) actors, designers, producers, technicians, stage managers, musicians, composers, choreographers, visual artists, filmmakers, craft artists, teaching artists, dancers, writers & playwrights, photographers, etc.
You should also take time to review household resources detailed by the Center for Disease Control, which include planning, cleaning and disinfecting, and action plans to have in place, should you fall ill.
Here are a few more resources:
8. Join supportive online communities
Freelancers have long relied on communities online to come together and support one another. Sharing resources, problem-solving, and celebrating victories are common practices among the freelance groups I partake in myself.
Overall, it’s an incredibly supportive community!
We’re very lucky to have resources like this in place during difficult times. I recommend joining Freelance Writing Cafe’s group, Freelancing Females, and other groups that fit your needs (for example, if you’re also a digital nomad, Digital Nomad Girls is an amazing group).
Your local co-working space or meetup group may be conducting online events as well. If you don’t see anything listed on their website or social profiles, reach out!
If they realize freelancers are interested in coming together online, they will likely help facilitate.
Be sure to stay away from communities that are overrun with panic-inducing news, unsubstantiated claims, or excessively negative energy.
Get your news from reliable sources and resist the urge to participate in “what if” type conversations.
9. Follow protocol and stay safe
This probably goes without saying, but be sure to stay up to date on recommended practices for preventing the spread of COVID-19.
At the time of this article’s publishing, the World Health Organization is recommending the following:
- Frequently (and correctly) wash your hands with soap and water.
- If there’s no soap/water in your vicinity, use alcohol-based hand rub (with at least 60% alcohol).
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.
- Cover your mouth and nose if you sneeze/cough.
- Practice social distancing. Self-isolate to the extent you are able. Work from home, order food online, etc.
- Avoid large gatherings of any kind.
- Clean AND disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily.
- Stay home (completely) if you are sick. Wear a face mask to prevent the spread of germs.
- If you are NOT sick: You do not need to wear a facemask unless you are caring for someone who is sick (and they are not able to wear a facemask).
- If you become sick, seek remote medical advice: Call or contact your doctor online. Call 311 for instructions if you don’t have a primary care doctor.
- Only go to the ER if you are having difficulty breathing or experiencing other extreme medical symptoms.
The CDC goes into more detail about the steps above, including best practices for disinfecting surfaces.
10. Know that this is temporary…
…and we’ll come back stronger than ever.
Last week I was really lamenting a canceled trip to Paris this month and a series of other events and happenings that I’d been looking forward to.
I felt like my big plans for 2020 were fizzling out before my eyes. My whole theme of 2020 was stepping out of my comfort zone, traveling to at least 5 new countries, and meeting as many new people as possible.
Of course, I wasn’t alone. Millions of people are watching helplessly as major events are canceled, from parades to pilgrimages.
Certain aspects of life have certainly ground to a halt. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to stay like this forever.
Sometimes the best thing we can do during difficult times is to repeat the phrase “this too shall pass” to ourselves throughout the day.
When things feel heavy, slow down. Amp up the self-care. Embrace the strangeness and uncertainty.
After all, one day we’ll be looking back on this time as a mere memory, recalling the way we reacted and handled ourselves during the ominous coronavirus outbreak.
What do you want those memories to look like? How do you want to remember yourself? How do you want to use these strange circumstances?
Whether you decide to binge-watch TV, take on available freelance work, or catch up on housekeeping, make sure you take good care of yourself and be patient with the entire process.
This is not permanent.
As always, we’re here for you. Come hang out in the Freelance Writing Cafe Facebook group if you need to chat or have questions related to your freelance writing career. We wish you good health and peace of mind during this uncertain time—and always.
All my best,
Michelle Christina Larsen, Founder of FWC