Most of us who work freelance in the arts have experienced dry spells, where there seems to be no work available. Then, suddenly, all the opportunities come at once. When this happens to me I try to say “Yes!” to as many as possible and then somewhere along the way, I realize I may be in over my head.
I don’t know about you, but these tend to be the times that I let my health fall by the wayside. When I’m super busy I tell myself, there’s no time to exercise, definitely no time to cook, and much less time to sleep. So I find myself getting out of shape, eating fast food several times per week and staying up til 3am in front of my computer. But of course, these decisions have consequences and usually I wind up getting sick. It’s my body’s way of telling me that I haven’t been treating it nicely and forcing me to slow down. The ironic thing about this vicious cycle is that when you’re sick it makes it extremely hard to get any work done at all because you feel like garbage.
This happened to me just last week. With several deadlines due, I wound up running myself into the ground and getting a flu that knocked me out. This is a pattern for me. And I know it’s a pattern for several of my friends who work freelance. I can see myself falling into this cycle again next month. I know I have multiple projects due and several work opportunities that could create some schedule madness. So I’m setting myself some firm guidelines that I’m hoping I can stick to because I know they will help. This seems like no brainer stuff but it’s amazing how quickly I forget these basics in times of stress.
- Eat green vegetables! – A piece of lettuce on a burger doesn’t count. If I’m honest with myself, it takes just as much time to throw some frozen veggies into a stir fry as it does to wait in line at McDonalds. No, IMHO it doesn’t taste as good but your body will thank you for it. If you have to eat out, choose a healthy option WITH GREEN VEGETABLES!
- 20 mins of physical activity per day! – A gym session for me can take up half my morning, getting dressed, driving to the gym, checking in, working out, driving home, bla bla bla. But I bought a yoga mat, a few free weights and pilates bands. I can squeeze in 20 minutes after I have my coffee and it makes me feel better and more energized for the rest of the day.
- Go to bed! When I’m stressed I often force myself to stay in front of my computer late at night and continue to work. But in reality the work I do so late at night is sloppy, and usually interspersed with large chunks of time perusing facebook, because my concentration levels are so low. I found it serves me better to just go to bed and try to get an early start the following morning. If i can’t switch my mind off, I listen to an audio book to lull me off to sleep.
- Stay on top of mental health! – Mental health is just as important as physical health, so it seems almost laughable that when I’m overwhelmed with work, I can forget to take my meds for anxiety and depression, but seriously – this has actually happened and of course it is a recipe for disaster. I now set a timer on my phone to remind myself.
These are specific guidelines that I set for myself because I know they are my weak spots – But maybe for you it’s something else. Next time you are under stress and overworked, take a look at where or how you start to slacken off in other areas of your life. Maybe you drink more than usual when you’re stressed, or you cancel regular appointments with your therapist because you “don’t have time” to go. Maybe you start texting and emailing on your phone while driving when you feel there aren’t enough hours in the day. Most of us have at least one bad habit that we fall into when we’re under stress, and identifying these unhealthy default behaviors is the first step toward changing them.
I’ll be putting my own guidelines to the test in the coming weeks as I have several deadlines approaching. With a bit of will power and discipline, I’m hoping that I can stick to my rules, and that my body and mind will thank me for it.