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Freelancer Support Resources

Help, tips and ideas for you

Let’s Reset: Looking after our mental health at work 

Being a freelancer can give you the freedom and flexibility to follow your passion. But it can also come with a lot of uncertainty and pressure. When YOU are your most important business asset, it’s vital that you look after your physical and mental health. 

Watch this short animation to help you spot the common stressors experienced by film and TV freelancers, and learn some simple steps you can take to start putting YOU at the top of your to-do list. 

To access a version with Welsh subtitles, view here 

Everyone will experience pressure at work and, in small amounts, pressure can be helpful in increasing productivity and motivating us to meet deadlines, for example.  

But prolonged pressure can lead to stress which can negatively impact our physical and mental health in the longer term – especially if we don’t feel supported. Identifying triggers and factors that affect your wellbeing negatively is an important first step. Because once you’ve done that, you can proactively address your triggers, spot the signs of poor mental health, work out how you can manage these and get support. 

 

 Spot your stress triggers 

Being a freelancer means no job security, no employment benefits, continual pressure to find new work … This can have a severe impact on mental health.

Looking Glass survey respondent

 

Here are some of the film and TV work-related risk factors that can affect your mental health. Are there any that sound familiar to you? 

  • Working very long hours – this can also affect our ability to take care of ourselves. It has an impact on our sleep, eating and drinking habits, and how regularly we exercise    
  • Not having any control over working hours – this can affect personal relationships 
  • Insecure work   
  • Money worries – at home and at work 
  • Isolation – whether it’s working without a team, working remotely or in periods of unemployment 
  • Lack of access to HR or similar support at work 
  • Experiencing bullying, racism or harassment  
  • Difficulty balancing work with caring responsibilities 
  • Feeling unable to ask for support with mental health problems – tight budgets and deadlines can mean there’s pressure not to take sick days
  • Living with a disability or long-term ill health – in film and TV it can be hard to take time to rest and there can be pressure to work the same hours as your peers. You might feel unsupported or unable to ask for time to attend hospital or other medical appointments

Here are some tips that you might find helpful in looking after yourself as a film and TV freelancer:

Being sleep deprived over a long period of time may increase the risk of mental health issues and, in some cases, may increase the risk of problems such as diabetes and cancer. Working in the film and TV industry can mean we are more susceptible to poor sleep due to unpredictable or long hours, working nights, or lack of routine.  

  • Stick to a sleep schedule as much as possible. We are creatures of habit; we struggle to adjust to changes in sleep patterns.  
  • Create a pre-sleep routine: winding down before bed is one of the best ways to get your sleep back on track. By creating a pre-sleep ritual (eg reading a book or meditating) you’re establishing a clear association between certain activities and sleep. 
  • Try to use your bed only for intimacy and sleep to create a clear association between your bed and sleep. 
  • Create an optimal sleep environment: your room should be dark, quiet and cool (18-20 degrees C). If this is not possible, you could use earplugs or an eye mask. Try to limit artificial light and eliminate or remove electronic communications devices, like phones, tablets, TV from your room and stop using them 90 mins before you go to sleep.  
  • Avoid stimulants like caffeine, nicotine and alcohol close to bedtime, as they can affect the quality of your sleep.  
  • Exercise during the day. Just 30 mins of moderate exercise each day can improve your deep sleep. Try splitting your exercise up into shorter periods of time if that suits you better. Avoid intense training in the evening and switch to some calm stretching.   
  • Practice relaxation exercises like progressive muscle relaxation, this is very helpful in reducing anxiety and racing thoughts. In this technique, you tense your muscle groups from the forehead down to the feet one by one for about 5 seconds. Then relax them again to release the tension from your body and calm your mind. 
  • Seek support from your GP if symptoms persist, affect your functioning or cause you distress. You can also reach out to our Support Line   

We are social creatures. We thrive on interpersonal contact and because of this our psychological, and even physical wellbeing is negatively affected when we feel socially disconnected.  

You are not alone; many freelancers feel isolated or lonely and don’t think they can speak to anyone about their wellbeing. Our industry research found that only 2% of freelancers would speak to a line manager about a mental health problem. 

  • Reach out to our Support Line for a listening ear, advice and referrals for free counselling. We know for industry freelancers it can be hard to identify who your line manager is, or you may not feel comfortable speaking to a colleague. The Support Line offers a listening ear for everyone working behind-the-scenes. It’s free, confidential and available 24/7.   
  • Share your feelings with people you trust. Talking about your feelings eg with your friends and family, may help you process your reactions and emotions and remind you that you are not alone. If it is difficult for you to express yourself when talking it may help to write a journal to get a better understanding of your thoughts, feelings and behaviours, as well as the events that surround them.  
  • Connect with other film and TV freelancers. Peer support can be found in different forms, like online spaces and communities or in person groups. Connecting with others from the same world allows you to share your feelings and experiences with people who may feel like you do.  
  • Focus on what gives you meaning and purpose. For example, look for ways to connect with your partner, friends, family and other people in the industry (eg other freelancers). Explore creativity-fostering hobbies or interests that you can pursue. Maybe you can also find volunteering opportunities around you.  

Our wellbeing includes a physical, mental and social component. And they all play an important role in contributing to our overall resilience and happiness.  

Research has shown that drinking alcohol plays a significant role in an unhealthy work culture within the film and TV industry.  

Unpredictable schedules and long hours can make it hard to have a healthy diet and get sufficient exercise into your routine. Proactively taking care of your physical health increases your overall wellbeing.  

  • Exercise regularly to release stress, lift your mood and feel better. It doesn’t have to be expensive or at a gym. The most important thing is that you engage in an activity that you enjoy. Aim for at least 30-40 mins of moderate exercise or 15 to 20 mins of intense exercise a day. 

If you know your working day is going to be unpredictable, try and incorporate exercise into your day, or even as part of your commute. Get off the bus a stop early or take the stairs.  

  • Keep your diet balanced by staying hydrated, not skipping meals and making sure you balance out protein, carbs, vegetables and healthy fats when you do eat. Have five stable recipes that are easy and that you can precook to take to work. Stay hydrated by keeping a re-usable water bottle topped up throughout the day 
  • Keep tabs on how much alcohol you’re drinking. Excessive drinking interferes with the brain chemicals which are essential for your good mental health. It can also increase the risk of conditions such as depression and anxiety. Remind yourself that it is okay to say ‘no’ when being offered a drink. 

In the Film and TV industry, 1 in 8 people works more than 60 hours per week. Unfortunately, working more than 50 hours per week is associated with poorer mental wellbeing. 

The job you do can form a huge part of your identity. Freelancers can be particularly vulnerable to making work their life. It can be hard to find time for rest and relaxation, and even justifying the need can be difficult. Even in their leisure time, people strive to accomplish something – listen to a work-related podcast, learn a new skill or take an educational course. This might seem useful, but it is not especially relaxing, which means that our batteries are not recharging and eventually, we become more tired and less productive.  

Switching off from work is very important, so choose a restful activity: 

  • Reading  
  • A good walk and spending time in nature (eg whenever you come home after work) 
  • Taking me time (eg a nice hot bath, daydreaming, or doing nothing in particular)  
  • Listening to music 
  • Connecting with people (eg call an old friend)  
  • Helping others (eg volunteering, community work)  
  • Mindfulness or relaxation techniques (deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation) 
  • Practice gratitude by writing down three things you are grateful for every evening 
  • Stretching or yoga for physical movement, meditation and controlled breathing  

Add something to your routine even today and stick to this routine from tomorrow onwards. To be able to balance pressures you need to allow yourself to relax. For example, find a quiet place at work and practice five minutes of deep breathing every day or introduce 30 mins of one restful or calming activity into your morning routine and make it a habit.  

Unfortunately, bullying, racism and harassment do not end at school. The informal culture and normalised behaviours in film and TV can make it particularly hard to identify bullying, or to feel confident that certain behaviours are unacceptable. This can be confusing and isolating, but experiencing bullying and harassment is never OK. 

Harassment is offensive behaviour that affects the dignity of a person in relation to protected characteristics under the law. Harassment based on race is a form of racism. Terms for other behaviours include ableism, sexual harassment, homophobia, sexism, transphobia and ageism. Bullying can be more elusive. In essence, it is ANY offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour that is performed against a person, on a regular basis or a one-off, and includes micro-aggressions. Workplace bullying can look like:   

  • intentionally excluding workers from relevant information, meetings and emails that they need in order to perform their role  
  • undermining a competent worker with constant criticism  
  • setting impossible deadlines and unmanageable workload   

Across UK film and TV nearly 9 in 10 workers told us they’ve experienced or witnessed bullying or harassment in the workplace, and it’s one of the primary causes of poor mental health in the industry.  

What can I do?  

  • Talk to someone. Whether you are unsure or 100% confident you are being bullied or have witnessed bullying, talk to someone. This could be a friend or family member, a trusted colleague or supervisor. You don’t have to go through this alone.  
  • Make a note – writing down experiences or things you have witnessed can be hugely beneficial in lots of waysFind out more by accessing our support tool Spot  
  • Specialist support via our Bullying Advice Service is available for free. You can speak to an expert with industry experience who can listen, offer counselling, and give advice about next steps.  

Have you ever felt like you cannot say ‘no’?  This is quite common but being able to communicate your boundaries is essential to navigating challenging conversations.  

The film and TV industry is notorious for tight deadlines and budgets, which often lead to additional pressures that can interfere with your ability to set personal boundaries. If you’re a carer or live with a disability it can be particularly important to set healthy boundaries and establish ways of working to support your wellbeing. 

In order to make these conversations easier, it is important that you listen to what the other person might be trying to convey. This will provide the platform to create an open dialogue for more productive communication.  It is also important that you remember to breathe, this will help you to remain calm in a conversation and refocus if needed.   

It is essential that working relationships are mutually respectful and supportive. You can start to establish healthy boundaries by doing the following:  

  • Get to know yourself: this means being aware of your innermost thoughts, beliefs, feelings and experiences. Journaling or speaking to a trusted person could help you identify when your boundaries are being crossed.  
  • If it feels appropriate it might be useful to share the ways you prefer to work with your employer at the beginning of a project. This can cover things like ‘I have to be offline at 5pm’ or ‘I like to receive feedback at the end of a project’. Leaper’s Manual of Me is a great online tool that can help you prepare 
  • If you find it difficult to respond with ‘no’ try and say something like; ‘I will get back to you’.  This gives you time to reflect on the task at hand.   
  • Develop a support system of people who respect your right to set boundaries.  
  • Plan your conversation in advance. It can be useful to prepare a script with a list of points you’d like to cover. Make sure you stick to the facts and keep a record of any points agreed with your employer. 
  • Remember that your behaviour should remain consistent with the boundaries that you are setting.  

The sooner you recognise the problem, the sooner you can start addressing the issues and seeking support. Talk to someone you trust, who can support you. The Film and TV Charity is here for everyone working behind the scenes, including freelancers. Call our Support Line for independent, free and confidential financial and legal advice. You can also access counselling and financial support. If you’ve experienced or witnessed bullying behaviour, then ask to speak to our Bullying Advisor.

Our research shows that financial worries can be a problem particularly for freelancers and people with caring responsibilities who work in the film and TV industry.

Money and mental health are often interlinked. Poor mental health can make it difficult to manage money, and money worries can negatively impact your mental health. But there are some steps you can take:

  • Reach out to the Film and TV Charity Support Line where you can receive financial advice and aid depending on your circumstances.
  • Organising your money is often the first step to feeling in control. Create a realistic budget and stick to it – industry experts and trainers David Thomas Media have free templates on their website, including budgeting sheets for freelancers and a checklist for freelancer business planning.
  • Look into bank accounts that allow you to put money aside for essentials in separate sub-accounts. This can help prevent you from spending money you need for rent or bills.
  • To prevent financial worries from affecting your wellbeing, ringfence time to go through your worries, challenge them, and ask yourself what action needs to be taken. You can briefly write down your worries on a piece of paper during the day and come back to it during your worry time. Mindfulness exercises may prevent worries from taking over your life and may give you a certain amount of control over what you think.

Being a carer can be tiring and emotionally draining. Juggling paid work and unpaid caring is even harder. Some carers feel they won’t be supported or seen as able to do their jobs if they ask for help. It should not be like that – let’s change it. Here are some things you can do:  

  • Take off the invisibility cloak. Many carers feel invisible in the workforce. If you feel safe to do so, let others know of your needs as a carer. Asking your employer to allow you to leave your mobile phone on in case of emergencies or allow time and access to a telephone to check on the person you care for while working is a small thing, but it can relieve you of anxiety, stress and unnecessary worries. 
  • Know your rights. Negotiating a flexible schedule might seem impossible, but do you know you could even be entitled to make a statutory request for that? Working Families offers free advice about employment rights and in-work benefits for parents and carers. 
  • Use services. You don’t have to manage everything on your own. There’s financial help available and also, you could delegate some tasks – consider a sitting service where a trained person stays with the person you care for while you go out or a local scheme to help carers with home and garden tasks. Carer’s Trust has more information. 
  • Come together. There are around eight million carers in the UK, which is one in nine people. There are likely to be other carers at your workplace and in your local community. Check whether there is a carer group or forum or consider setting one up yourself. Mutual support from people in a similar situation is invaluable. 
  • Flexible working ideas such as job sharing can also help those who are trying to balance caring responsibilities with their careers in film and TV. Raising Films can be a good place to start when looking for flexible working opportunities or finding someone to job share with. They also have lots of other useful info for industry parents and carers.

87% of people working in the film and TV industry told our survey they have experienced a mental health problem. We want you to know that you are not alone and that there is support for you.   

  • Seek support. If anxious or depressive feelings are interfering with your life and don’t go away after a couple of weeks, or if they come back frequently for a few days at a time we highly encourage you to seek professional support through your GP or other mental health services.  
  • Manage anxiety and panic with relaxation techniques such as deep breathing. Breathe deeply into your belly for about five seconds. Then hold your breath for another five seconds, then slowly exhale for another five seconds and finally hold your breath again for another five seconds without taking air into your lungs. This can be done for a few minutes every day, even if you fit it in when you’re in line for a coffee or in your bathroom break.  
  • Exercise can be very effective to release built-up tension and calm the body again. Practise regular exercise like running, swimming, yoga to manage anxiety, release stress and relax. 
  • Share your feelings and connect with others when you feel sad, down, worried, angry or frustrated. Sharing feelings may help you realise that you are not alone, find a different perspective, challenge your automatic thinking and find the positives.  
  • Practice mindfulness to focus on the present moment to boost your self-awareness, feel better and enjoy the world around you.  
  • Treat yourself as you would treat a friend to improve your self-esteem and confidence. Pay attention to your self-talk and challenge it by finding healthier perspectives. Change unhealthy self-talk like ‘You will never get a job’ into healthy thoughts after a difficult interview or set back to ‘You are skilled, you will get the next job’.  

Industry Stories

Many of you have had to develop healthy strategies for looking after your wellbeing when freelancing in film and TV. But when you work for yourself, it can be hard to find ways to learn what’s been helpful for others too.

We want to encourage these conversations to become more common place in the freelancing community, so you can inspire each other and share practical ideas for improving wellbeing at work.

Freelance Film and TV editor, Zeb Achonu has 20 years’ experience in the industry. Working in a rewarding but challenging role, she has had to find ways to cope with the isolation that’s part and parcel of long days in the edit, plus juggling parenting her three kids during the pandemic. Zeb shares her story and what she does to keep well at work.