Finding a work-life balance with anxiety

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People talk a lot about finding a work-life balance. I know that’s something I struggle with, but for me it’s so much more complex, especially as a freelancer.

In my work life, I need to have a balance of having enough work, but not too much. This can be tricky—if not impossible—at this stage in the game. Some weeks, I’m offered full-time in an office plus a few time-consuming projects to do from home. If I knew more work was on the way to fill my time in all the coming weeks, I could turn some projects down. But I don’t know.

This week, work was slow. I furiously pitched stories to publications I’ve never written for and put my names in for projects. And then I panicked that I would overload myself if even half my inquiries were approved, so I pulled back to work on personal projects and spend a little extra time with friends, knowing that in a couple of weeks I won’t have the same kind of time for them.

My life outside of work is a whole other level of complicated. I need to juggle my basic human needs of eating with the less basic needs to exercising and have a clean home. My friends need my support through difficult times, and I need fun-time with them. My partner needs my support and love, but also time to just enjoy being a couple. And I really, really need time for me.

It’s recently been brought to my attention that the level of anxiety I experience on a day-to-day basis is not normal. In fact, it’s impacting my physical health in a huge way. That anxiety is what used to fuel me through working overnight and cramming weekends full of friend-time, but now it leaves me irritable, nauseous and otherwise ill. Maybe it always did and I’m just taking notice now.

I’ve had people interrogate me about what causes my anxiety, but I’ve never had a complete answer. Sometimes I just shake my head. Other times I make something up. Figuring out what sends me spiralling into a panic attack has been a long, slow process and I’m slowly putting together the pieces to get a picture of what my mental health issues really are.

One thing I’ve discovered is that this hectic, go-go-go schedule leaves me hyperventilating on my closet floor, terrified that my heart is going to explode or that I’m about to suffocate. Looking at my day-timer and seeing that every moment of my day is scheduled, my chest tightens. When am I going to clean? How will I find time to get home to feed the cats? When will I work on my personal projects? When will I craft? What if something happens to a friend and they need me? I pre-panic about how I’m going to panic going through those busy times. My anxiety skyrockets and remains on high alert until I get the time to tuck my phone away and sit quietly with a book, tea and a hours of kitty cuddles.

I’ve learned that this me-time is something I need everyday to calm my anxiety. I’ve also learned that I’m not going to change overnight. I know I won’t become the master of this work-life balance dealio anytime soon and anxiety is going to continue to be a huge issue in my life. But, with constant reminders that my friends—my true friends—will still love and support me even if I’m too busy, and that work will always keep coming, and that I won’t be able to keep doing any of this if I don’t take care of myself and kick this anxiety’s butt (at least a little, some of the time), I think I might start to get the hang of it eventually.

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