I have woken up in cold sweats, with the bed literally soaking beneath me. I’ve had nights where sleep just wouldn’t come at all – pushed away by gut-wrenching anxiety. I’ve been pre-occupied with worrisome thoughts that prevented me from getting any simple joys from the nice surprises of life.
These things have plagued me when I was just starting out and completely broke, and even now that I’ve obtained some real success.
And I’m not alone. If you’ve ever taken as big a risk as entrepreneurship, I have no doubt you’ve faced similar, or exactly the same.
This is a side to freelancing that is very difficult, because no matter what kind of success you reach, it’s always there in some way.
There is a whole industry out there that tries to teach people to conquer these feelings and never again feel fear. It’s all about positivity and changing your mindset. I have to be honest: I think it is all a lie. I don’t think you will ever rid yourself of fear or negativity or doubt. I think fear is what has kept our species and millions of other beings on this planet alive through the ages. (I do believe we can become more positive and resourceful, but that’s another topic for another day.)
So this blog post isn’t about how to “cure” yourself or become a glowing rainbow-unicorn of positivity. It’s about how to accept these things as part of your life, experience them, and still live a meaningful life anyway.
So when these feelings rear their ugly, bloody head, here’s what I typically do.
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First: I face them.
I’ll spend some quiet time with my feelings, because sometimes they carry an important message for me. They nudge me in a new direction, or open me to sides of myself I didn’t even realize I was closed to. They remind me of things I’ve forgotten or teach me something new. When I’m closed off and hardened by stress, they force me open.
I don’t try to push them out or put up a wall. I let them in and let them do their worst.
Often, the thing that makes them go away is the one thing you never want to do: face them head on.
I believe this practice has made me a better artist, too. It’s made me think and feel more deeply and not avoid things that are uncomfortable. That depth creeps into everything that I do. Like my old wrestling coach used to say (or scream):
You have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
He was talking about the pain we endured through hundreds of pushups and squats and sprints, but it turns out it’s great advice for life and freelancers too.
Second: I do the thing I’m avoiding.
Sometimes I realize my anxiety is caused by me having put off some action or confrontation. Maybe I’m scared to write a certain email, or have a certain conversation, or a task has felt overwhelming so I keep setting it aside.
If I realize my fear is caused by something that I can do, I do the thing as quickly as I possibly can.
Sometimes I realize it’s because I’m doing something that I shouldn’t be. When that’s the case, I stop the thing right away, and if need be, apologize if I feel it may have hurt someone. Sometimes I don’t even realize I’m acting a certain way until anxiety wakes me up about it in the middle of the night.
Third: If that doesn’t work, I try to laugh.
I’ll put on a show like “The Office” or anything that usually gives me a smile. Because if I’ve handled the feelings for a while and tried to work through them, but they’re not keen on being worked through, then I’ve got to free myself in some way.
Nothing frees up anxiety like laughter. It instantly splits it open like a can of tuna and it starts to fade.
Fourth: I talk to someone who will challenge me.
That’s usually my partner in business and life, Louisa.
There are friends and loved ones who will simply comfort you and tell you what you want to hear, and there are those who will challenge you and push you to see your situation in a new light.
The latter is the kind I’ll talk to first:
- I want to understand what’s giving me such a hard time.
- I don’t want to be let off the hook so easy.
- I want to learn and grow from it so I can become better.
- I want someone to tell me what I need to do or what I need to stop doing that I’m too close to the situation or stubborn to see myself.
Fifth: I talk to someone who tells me what I want to hear.
That’s usually my mom.
She is quick to remind me of how much I’ve accomplished and how proud she is of me. She says it’s amazing how much I’ve accomplished in my 26 years. She tells me what she was doing when she was 26, which was what most hippies were doing in the 70s. She tells me stories of how I was as a kid or an infant and we laugh.
Sixth: I go to the gym.
Sometimes you can pummel those tough feelings right out of you with a good workout. There’s a reason they say the gym is like therapy.
Seventh: I throw out the drawing board, and try something new.
If my six other remedies won’t work, it’s time to get creative. But the mind is an amazing thing. Usually an idea of what I need to do has been there all along, but I’ve just been avoiding it. But when I finally give up and take the idea to heart – the anxiety almost always goes away in an instant.
Sometimes that means hitting something, or taking a walk at 2 in the morning, or writing, or drawing. Sometimes it means cooking or cleaning or looking at old photos.
By this point, I’m open to anything. It’s time to try something else. If you can calm yourself just enough to listen to what’s going on inside, I’ve found that usually that something else will present itself. Then you just have to do what it says.
How about you? How do you deal with these things?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Because if I were to come up with an eighth tactic, it would without a doubt be learning from others and how they handle it all.
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