How to manage stress if you're self-employed

Running your own business can be tough, especially during times of economic uncertainty. I know this because I run my own counselling business, and it is not always smooth sailing.


Unlike being employed by another company, being self-employed can be much more uncertain. Where will your next business come from? Will you definitely be able to pay the bills next month? Should you accept any work that comes your way? It can be difficult to know how to balance work with the rest of your life. You want to put 100% of your effort into building or growing your business, but you also have existing responsibilities or things you enjoy that you don’t want to (or can’t) let go of. All of this uncertainty can take its toll and may well increase your stress levels.

Thankfully,  during my counselling training, and through my own personal therapy, I have learned a few ways to manage the stress of being self-employed. Below are the most effective strategies I have learned.

How to manage stress when self-employed 

Set time boundaries

You need time off, especially when trying to grow your business. That can mean different things for different people, but for me, it means not working past a certain time of day and giving myself holidays. There will always be a need for some flexibility, but it is important to set out the times you can and can’t focus on work.

This may actually lose you some business opportunities in the short term, which can be difficult. However in the long term, if you break those boundaries, other parts of your life may start to suffer – you may have family to look after, friends to stay in touch with, and, just as importantly, your own sanity to maintain. Learning to set time boundaries will allow you to keep up your energy and enthusiasm for the business in the long term, which ultimately can only lead to more success.

Learn when to say ‘no’

You may feel the pressure to always say yes to new work, to build relationships and maintain a certain level of income. But some jobs or clients won't be the right fit for you. As a counsellor, I know my own areas of expertise, and the areas where I’m not an expert. Understanding that there may be some work beyond your capability is an important skill to learn. This will help you meet your clients expectations, and it will also allow you to forge relationships with other businesses to which you could potentially refer clients to. Building relationships with other similar local businesses, rather than seeing them as competition, means they may also refer work to you.

Beyond awareness of your own capability, it’s important to also watch out for signs of burnout or stress. Sometimes a particular job or client may fall within your area of expertise, but if you already have too much work on, too many deadlines approaching, and too many other responsibilities outside of work, then it may be time to say no. 

Balance your priorities

Setting up and running your own business can take up a lot of your energy and focus. However, it is important to remember to focus on other important areas of your life as well so they don’t get left behind. One way of dividing your priorities which may be helpful is setting them into three categories: work, relationships, and self. If running your business is stressing you out, it may be worth orientating yourself more towards the other two.

Building and maintaining relationships is crucial for a healthy work-life balance. These can be any type of relationship: romantic, family, or friends. None of us can exist without other people, as we are born into this world and don’t simply appear from thin air. We are social creatures too and need human contact (physical and emotional) to thrive.

Prioritising yourself is another way to decrease work-related stress. This will mean different things to you depending on your circumstances. For me, this can involve watching films or reading to unwind, going for a walk, or doing some kind of exercise. Sometimes, maintaining relationships and prioritising yourself can be the same activity – meeting a friend for coffee for example can be very restorative. 

Practice acceptance

Acceptance in this case means bringing awareness to all aspects of your life, without judgement, and acknowledging whatever it is that’s happening. It does not mean that if your job is stressful, or that you have a difficult relationship that you have to be resigned to this.

Increasing your awareness of what is and is not in your control means you can then choose how to respond to these circumstances in the most effective way. For example, if business is slow this may be because of economic or political circumstances beyond your control. However, there are things you do have the power over to change. You could shift your marketing strategy, reach out for help, try to open up a new customer base, or even diversify your business.

In a similar way, you can learn to focus on accepting all aspects of yourself. There may be certain ways you act, or parts of your body, that you are not happy with. We all have parts of ourselves we don’t like, either feeling that we’re the wrong weight or being annoyed with ourselves for being quick to anger sometimes. Learning to approach these parts of yourself with curiosity, even compassion, can be very healing.

Accepting difficult parts of yourself may feel a few steps removed from reducing business-related stress, but it is all connected. Your relationship with yourself will be reflected in how you treat other people, including employees, clients, or business partners. Generally speaking, as well, practising acceptance is a great way to reduce stress. It may feel challenging to acknowledge difficult circumstances or difficult aspects of yourself. Acceptance is a skill that can be learnt, and the key to that is practice.

I can help you put some of these techniques into practice. Visit my profile to find out more.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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