The gig economy has dominated the conversation in recent years as the cute side hustle market has bloomed into a full-fledged sector of the economy. By 2019, it was estimated that as many as 57 million Americans worked as freelancers either part-time or full-time. 57 million — just let that number sink in for a minute.
A recent study titled “The Generation Effect: Millennials, employment precarity and the 21st-century workplace” took the time to consider the effect that part-time or insecure employment has been having on the Millennial generation that is currently dominating the workforce.
The findings of the study are so interesting (not to mention relevant) that it’s worth taking a moment to consider the results and the implications that the information could have on those currently living a gig-economy-driven lifestyle.
The Gig Economy and Your Mind
The results of the above-mentioned study provide a fascinating look at human behavior and how we react to our circumstances. For instance, it found that while Millennials tend to have higher levels of post-secondary education than previous generations, they also tend to struggle with finding secure employment.
How badly? Only 44% had found full-time, permanent jobs, while 47 percent worked at jobs with at least some degree of insecurity.
On top of that, three in 10 of those surveyed said their work situation made them feel depressed or anxious and nearly four in 10 of those already in insecure positions said they literally felt “angry” about the status of their work.
In other words, everyone working in the freelancing world isn’t living that luxurious 4-hour-work-week lifestyle where they work on a beach sipping Pina Coladas. Many contractors are genuinely struggling to make ends meet, and the insecurity of their jobs is significantly affecting their mental health. Of course, that doesn’t mean that freelancing is all bad.
All of this leads to the need for a good, old-fashioned “pros and cons” list. Below are some of the top positive and negative ways that the gig economy can impact your mental health. Let’s begin with the former.
Positive Ways the Gig Economy Can Affect Your Mental Health
There are many commonly touted ways that the gig economy can positively impact an individual’s health. For instance, it can:
- Enable you to work on a flexible schedule that you control.
- Allow you to work shorter hours if you want to.
- Help you avoid countless hours spent commuting.
- Give you a sense of independence and equality with clients rather than the mentally exhausting employee/boss relationship.
- Provide an opportunity to fulfill dreams such as international travel — all while bringing your work right along with you.
While there are many other positives, these outline some of the more obvious benefits that the freelance and contractor lives provide.
Negative Ways the Gig Economy Can Affect Your Mental Health
Of course, there are always two sides to every coin, and working independently can negatively impact your health as well. For example, it can:
- Remove access to a 401(k) plan as well as the matching contribution that is often overlooked when one considers the compensation of a salaried position.
- Lack of paid time off — when you don’t work, you don’t get paid, even though you have bills to pay.
- Have a frustratingly inconsistent workflow that can make it difficult to plan out your work weeks and can lead to either extremely busy and stressful weeks or empty weeks spent fretting and twiddling your thumbs.
- Force you to do your own business taxes, whether it’s in the form of a sole proprietorship or the more complex yet money-saving LLC or Scorp, one way or another you must spend unpaid time figuring out what to pay Uncle Sam.
Negatives like these can be a huge weight on one’s mind as freelancers go about juggling clients, managing workflow, paying taxes, and trying to find time to slip in some unpaid vacation or sick days as they go along.
Ways to Counteract the Negatives
While the positives are clearly worth it to many gig economy workers, that doesn’t mean the negatives must be accepted without a second thought. Even though things like taxes and unexpected sick days must be dealt with from time to time, here are a few easy ways to counteract the mental stress and anxiety that can creep in along with them:
Exercising is a classic and effective way to boost one’s mental health and improve mood. Whether you’re paying a visit to a local public swimming pool, going for a run, getting into a gym rat routine, or anything else, getting some exercise in on a regular basis is a great way to counteract the mental strains of freelancing.
While remote work is often glamorized, the truth is, the gig economy can often be a very lonely place — in spite of the 57 million other remote workers you know are somewhere out there.
If you feel you’re mentally struggling, look for ways to socialize in order to help boost your mood. This can include anything from having a conversation with a loved one to going to a party or even finding freelance groups and then making connections on social media, over the phone, or via text, email, or video chat.
The quality and quantity of your sleep can have a huge effect on your mental health. In fact, individuals who are sleep-deprived are 17 times as likely to have clinical anxiety and 10 times as likely to have clinical depression.
If you’re suffering mentally from your gig-work, make sure you have a good sleep routine set up. Try to get a solid 7 to 9 hours each night, and ensure that you’re getting quality sleep by keeping your space dark, using an essential oil diffuser, only using your bed for rest, and avoiding electronics well before you start to drift off.
As a final word of caution, remember that all of this information is meant to illuminate an issue, not equip exhausted freelancer Millennials to self-diagnose their mental condition. In fact, it’s never a good idea to actually self-diagnose without confirmation from a professional.
If you’re burnt out by your gig job, seek out professional help to fully understand what you’re dealing with and then do your best to manage your situation in order to preserve your mental health over the long term.
If the online lifestyle suits you, online counseling may be an ideal way to help you stay mentally fit. Companies such as TalkSpace and BetterHelp offer affordable, convenient, and effective access to your very own licensed therapist, as well as an easy way to connect with them online (affiliate links). They also offer discounts for new members. Click the provided links for details.