Battling Stress

Battling Stress

Greg Cannon writes for – a Ms.Money partner.

So, you’ve severed your ties with the 9-5 world of endless traffic, fruitless meetings and overbearing bosses. Congratulations. Striking out on your own as an independent professional can mean leaving behind much of the stress associated with traditional work environments. But if you’re not careful, you could end up trading in one headache for another.

Stress is a tricky animal to tame. In small doses, stress can be a highly potent motivator, but too much is not only counterproductive; it’s unhealthy for the body and soul. It can lead to a range of health problems including insomnia, headaches, hypertension, heart disease and mental health problems like depression and anxiety.

Taking on Too Much

Sources of stress can vary depending on who you are and how you work. Stress can pop up when you take on too much work, feeling that every minute you’re not working is money lost. As with any endeavor, according to Dr. Jessica Schairer, a psychologist in private practice in Los Angeles and Assistant Professor of Psychology at the UCLA School of Medicine, the key is to pace yourself and maintain realistic expectations about how much work you can — and need to — handle. Workload anxiety can hit those just striking out on their own and independents with proven track records alike. At the one end, you’re wondering if the work will come and at the other, you’re reluctant to turn down all the work you’re being offered.

If you’re now working as an independent professional, then presumably you’ve already done the math and the final equation justifies the move from the 9-5 world. You’ve surveyed the demand for your skills, figured the value of your time, and calculated how much work you need to take on to live the lifestyle you want. Now, Schairer advises, remind yourself that that lifestyle is one of the reasons you’re doing what you’re doing. Erect boundaries around your work, around your physical work space, and around the time that you think about it. If you’ve got a big project due tomorrow, nothing is likely to keep you from thinking about it as you lie in bed at night. That’s natural, experts say, as long as it doesn’t evolve into guilt over the fact that you’re trying to catch a few winks instead of pounding away at your keyboard at 2 a.m.

Just because you can work all the time, doesn’t mean you should, Schairer says. You need to eat, sleep, socialize and recreate and doing all those things in proper proportion will, in the end, make you much happier and more productive. The unpleasant alternative is that you sabotage your new work style and end up regretting a leap that once held such promise.


Another source of stress for eWorkers, according to experts, is isolation. For many eWorkers, it’s a fact of life inherent in the decision to go independent. Even those who take advantage of the flexibility of being an independent to stay at home and look after children have to deal with isolation from colleagues and peers.

“It’s very important for people who work from home to make time to go outside and see other people,” says Schairer.

Sounds easy enough, right? But for driven independents with looming deadlines, taking the time to go for a walk, get some fresh air, and seek out human interaction can take some effort. Schairer recommends entering it in to your calendar the same way you would schedule a conference call with a client.

Jody Reese is glad he did. Reese is a freelance newspaper correspondent in New Hampshire who also spends 15 hours a week building Web pages for an Internet services company, and another 15-20 hours on his labor of love,, an alternative news site and guide.

When he first started out as an independent, Reese found he missed the camaraderie of an office environment. To compensate for that loss, he gets together with other eWorking colleagues for weekly lunches.

Working almost exclusively from home, Reese says he values the freedom, but sometimes feels like a slave to his computer. So he makes a point of running away from his problems. “The stress was killing me, so I started running again,” says the amateur athlete.

Exercise is an important stress reliever for everybody, but perhaps more so for solo workers because it gives them time away from their desk that they might not otherwise get in meetings or going to lunch with co-workers.

But while there are numerous steps you can take to accommodate the distractions and isolation, the biggest trick in coping with the stress that isolation can bring is simply to be aware of it and accept it, says Dr. Steve Berglas of the Harold Price Center for Entrepreneurial Management at UCLA.

Berglas says e-mail and the phone are incomplete substitutes for personal contact, so being plugged in at the home office should be complemented with face-to-face relationships outside of the office.

Berglas knows full well some of the pitfalls of working from home. At work on a book about stress-induced burnout, he recently lost a 100-page computer file. “I had no one to commiserate with,” Berglas says.

But of course, eWorkers, by their very nature, fly over one of the stress bumps that typically scuttle traditional career paths: job dissatisfaction. “People who are self-employed are in it because they choose to be,” Schairer says. “That freedom to choose work that you find challenging and rewarding is itself a great stress reliever,” she says.