Good & Bad Ways to Deal with Freelancing Anxiety

Central Park & Skyscrapers
I’m back on the Bolt Bus on my way from New York City to Philadelphia looking at the shimmer of lights aglow in skyscrapers dotting the sunset as I enter the depths of the Lincoln Tunnel. While I’m on my way back to Philly for a few days to spend some time with my Danya, I am also going back a night early for another reason. I’ve hinted at this before, but I’m not sure if I’ve written about it in any detail. While I’ve never specifically been diagnosed with clinical anxiety (though I tried medication for a short period of time with no effects), I can be prone to spiraling into streams of stressful contemplation about my present and future. Some people have anxiety when it comes to performing, this is definitely not me. But in my past few years as a freelance artist, I have developed a great deal of anxiety surrounding where my next job is coming, from what is going to happen in my career, and what the future holds. I had a good handle on these impulses to overanalyze every possible thing that could go wrong when I had a stable job position. But as many other freelance artists have shared with me, living from job to job and paycheck to paycheck can pull out a whole slew of emotions that can send one driving down a highway of reasonable and unreasonable concern. While I am seasoned in how to deal with anxiety, I can’t say that I am an expert at coping. But with all of my experience in this area, I’d like to share some GOOD and BAD ways that I, myself, and others I’ve worked with handle their anxiety.

Anxious Face

GOOD - Write down what is making you anxious, why it is making you anxious, whether it is valid, and a game plan to relieve your concern if you consider it valid. Most of the time, I find that my anxious thoughts like to replay over and over again in my head because I like to evaluate, then reevaluate the evaluation to bring about the best outcome. This can be helpful to a degree, but tends to bring about a never ending cycle of thought. If I put these items down on paper, I tend to take the thoughts out of my head and stop the cycle of overthinking.

Dinner with my family (niece & Danya with me)
BAD - I know a handful of people that shut down when they are stressed. Instead of dealing or coping with what is causing their anxiety, they sleep all day, stop interacting with people, or just ignore their anxiety in hopes that it will disappear. This is no way to handle anxious thoughts. Try to avoid and be proactive to stop these negative coping mechanisms. Get up and get out. Go see some friends or family. There is no better way to stop anxious thoughts dead in their tracks then by hanging out with people that care about you. If you are with people you trust and have a chance to share what you are experiencing, then do so. But don’t dwell on the subject too long or let that anxiety take away your chance to forget about what is stressing you out.

GOOD - If money is stressing you out, as it does for many freelancers, don’t allow yourself to stay holed up in your apartment. Maybe you haven’t eaten out for awhile because of your financial fears. Maybe you haven’t seen an inspiring show in some time because “you just can’t afford it.” Don’t sit around your apartment feeling all anxious and sad about your bank accounts current state. There are ways to make things happen, you just need to be savvy. For instance, I am currently in a famine state of work. So, while I survive off of the feasts of yesterday, I find ways to make things happen. Can’t go out for dinner? I make dinner at home, then meet up with a friend for “dinner” and order fries or an inexpensive appetizer. A few bucks is worth my sanity. Or make a picnic and eat it outside of the comfort of your home. Don’t feel that you can purchase a ticket to that production that you have had on your calendar for 6 months? Give a few things up. Whether it be your daily latte, that bottle of wine, or that thing you think you need today (but could really get in a week or a month), pass on these items and buy that ticket. This way, you aren’t losing any money that you weren’t going to spend anyway and it feels like a special treat.

Overindulging, perhaps, with a delicious Pumpkin Martini.
BAD - Alcohol, Drugs, Etc. - Now I’m not one to judge and I’ve overindulged before. But turning to items outside of your body to help relieve anxiety is generally only a temporary fix to the bigger issue at hand. While becoming intoxicated is an easy solve to relieve overwhelming anxiety and stress, these things are likely to cause more of it down the line. Drugs and alcohol not only cost a great deal of money (which is a likely contribution to your anxiety), they often leave you feeling depressed, tired, and more anxious afterwards. Now, some people do require a certain dose of prescription drugs to chemically balance their brains or to take the edge off of extreme symptoms. But there is also a fine line with these types of drugs, as well. Don’t be afraid of a recreational evening with friends. Just be aware of your reason for indulging and avoid excess.

GOOD - A great deal of my own anxiety stems beyond finances outside of a feast period. But I also deal with stress caused by overwork and lack of immediate results. While dancers tend to judge their career well-being on the parts that they are cast to dance at any given moment, freelance artists tend to note their worth based on whether they are working and what they are working on. One way that I cope with this may seem a little odd. During my off times, you can often find me reviewing my previous work. Whether it be watching a particular role that I felt good in or a ballet that I choreographed, I watch things that remind me that I am successful and have talent. For me, particularly, it is easy to feel like a failure when sitting around waiting for that next call back or commission. Reviewing my previous work not only helps remind myself of where I’ve come from, it helps inspire me to push my next bout of work even further.

BAD - At times, I have committed the worst offense that most people dealing with some type of anxiety commit. I have lashed out at loved ones when they are trying to help. When things become overwhelming, it can be hard to tell when somebody is trying to help because often it feels like nothing can help. A partner offers some advice and you respond with a snap. A friend tries to relate and you tell them that they just don’t understand. Remember this. There is no greater gift than receiving the support of a loved one. Even if you can’t move past yourself, step outside of your mind and show appreciation for the care being offered to you.

GOOD - Look around at the things in your life that you can take control over. Anxiety tends to be inspired by an overwhelming fear of things that are mostly out of your control. Maybe they will be in your control at some point in the future. But, at the moment, you are unlikely to control all aspects of your future that concern you. If you take charge of certain things that are more in your control, like how much sleep you get, how much time you spend working to get work, how much recreational time you give yourself, and the state of your body, you may not feel as overwhelmed by the things in your career and life that are out of your control.

One of my favorite anxiety reducing activities - photographing skyscrapers (World Trade Center)


  1. Hi Barry thanks once again for sharing such helpful tips about something that all freelancers in any field go through but probably never confess to oneself as a REAL problem. I would like to add that one of the things that we tend to forget when we are anxious or stressed is lack of sleep. So i have started sleeping early n getting up early - one of the things that every dancer needs for their body. I have also started listening to relaxing piano/flute/guitar music available on youtube at night.

  2. My pleasure, Ranjana. Good advice on the sleep front. I tend to listen to the chill out music station on Pandora to fall asleep. I definitely feel better when I am well rested.