How to bolster your mental well-being as a contractor

Searching for a new opportunity can be draining for contractors and has the potential to knock your confidence, even in today’s job-heavy market, writes James Fogg, CEO and founder of job application-tracking platform RoleCatcher.

With the need to balance finding your next role while also delivering a current project, some professionals can face high-levels of stress and anxiety.

Will you bring your best ‘self’ to your next contractor interview?

In fact, in a study of 500 UK professionals, we found that 44% of those looking for work felt that the stress of the process negatively impacted their mental health. The struggles associated with finding a new role also appear to have a detrimental impact on an individual’s success in the interview stages, with 51% of respondents stating that the stress makes them feel that they aren’t bringing their best ‘self’ to the process.

I myself have experienced this frustration. Trying to juggle job-hunting with business-as-usual daily tasks often left me feeling drained and frustrated. For contractors, the need to constantly be networking and applying for new project work is a full-time job in itself. And hiring a PA isn’t feasible in most cases!

With contract opportunities increasing (24% up according to APSCo), it’s crucial that freelance professionals can bolster their mental well-being while looking for their next contract opportunity. But how?

Spot the warning signs

While prevention is the best cure, it’s important to also be able to recognise signs that you’re stressed, anxious or just generally struggling with your mental wellbeing. Everyone will have different triggers of stress and anxiety and it’s important to listen to your own body.

In general, though, stress occurs when we feel that demands go beyond our ability to deliver against the needs.

This happens in three main stages:  

  1. Alarm Reaction Stage: The body experiences a physiological response causing ‘fight’ or ‘flight.’
  2. Resistance: The body continuously produces stress hormones as a result of fighting against the demands. Although you may choose to distract yourself, the body still produces these hormones at an unconscious level. 
  1. Exhaustion: Long-term stress affects the body in a number of ways. Emotionally -such as producing feelings of anxiety; cognitively – such as reducing concentration capabilities; physiologically – including a shutdown of our digestive system; and behaviourally – such as disrupted sleep patterns.  

When looking for a new opportunity, it is normal to feel that we are in over our heads, and that the pressure of juggling multiple applications and searches is too much to handle alongside current projects. Oh, and the fear of not having a new project lined up once an existing contract ends, will only exacerbate this.

Even when we take a step back, our stress hormones are telling us that we are not doing enough. In the long term, this can leave individuals feeling worn down, demotivated, and can negatively impact self-esteem.

Be realistic

When we consider how stress and anxiety manifests itself physically, setting realistic targets and tasks is a crucial step in supporting our mental well-being. If stress hormones are telling us that we need to do more, we will naturally continue to over-stretch ourselves.

Instead, try having a list of tasks that are spread out throughout the working week with time-blocked out to focus on the next project, rather than the current contract. This can help reduce stress levels and, in turn, can have a positive impact on mental well-being.

It may sound simple, but often over-complicating the process just further exacerbates the issue. Knowing you have time blocked out for a certain task will shut down the stress hormones that are making your workload feel unmanageable.

Get a virtual PA, or a set of top tools

While having an extra pair of hands may be on the wish-list for many contractors, there are ways to replicate a personal assistant without the financial impact.

There’s a wealth of technology available that can manage your schedule, store and record documents automatically; set reminders and tasks without hassle, and generally help take some of the administrative burden from your shoulders.

With multiple sources of communication with prospective new clients – from LinkedIn to email to phone – keeping track of what’s been said, to who and when isn’t easy. Added to which, contract professionals don’t have the financial security that large businesses have to invest in an intuitive CRM system. But there are tools on the market that can allow you to store and manage everything in one place. So don’t rule out the feasibility of reaping the benefits of technology without the added financial impact.

Be honest (includes me sharing with you a bit about my own struggle)

Sometimes the best way to bolster your mental-wellbeing is to simply be honest. In this post-pandemic era, we are all more in-tune with and accepting of the importance of mental health. Being open about struggles – even with prospective new clients – will help.

In fact, the reason I founded a business myself was because I was honest about the difficulties I was facing finding a new opportunity. I made embarrassing mistakes – I had instances where I had no idea what information I’d sent to a company and had to ‘wing it’ on phone calls, all because my search for new work had become unmanageable.

Does that resonate with you? Well, it’s at these points that contractors should S-T-O-P. And then simply just rethink how you’re managing your search for a new opportunity.

Continuing down a path already tripping you up, feeling bumpy or looking unclear will only add more fuel to your stress hormone, and ultimately have a detrimental impact on your mental well-being. Contractors, you’ve been warned -- and to be forewarned is to be forearmed! Good luck, and take care.

Thursday 12th May 2022
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Written by James Fogg

James Fogg is Founder and CEO at He has experience as a strategic change consultant, business analyst, and PRINCE2 certified project manager from a technical background with extensive and varied experience in Financial Services.

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