Imagine the scene.
You’re sitting quietly in front of your computer. The page is blank and beneath the table your legs shake with increasing tension. In a space of thirty minutes you’ve written and deleted just one measly sentence.
And then everything changes.
You find yourself running with the shriek of sirens sounding in your ears.
The rockets are coming.
Before you reach the shelter, the first rocket explodes nearby, causing the ground to shudder.
Boom! Boom! … BOOM!
Are you afraid?
Living under deadly uncertainty
A few years ago, I experienced exactly this scenario.
I lived in a city in southern Israel which, when I was there, was attacked more than 100 times with deadly rocket barrages.
I never knew from one day to the next whether a rocket would come slamming through our roof. When a warning siren went, we had less than a minute to get to a protective shelter.
People died. Children cried. There was nowhere really to hide.
Those days taught me a lot about developing a freelance writing and blogging career in the face of fear and anxiety.
Anxiety and freelance blogging
The nature of freelancing means uncertainty is never far away.
We are mercenaries without a leader, forging a path into unknown territories, lending our services to complete strangers, again and again.
Tomorrow we might find riches, but it’s more likely we will meet with empty silence. Nothing is certain and nothing can be taken for granted.
If we let them, our freelancing fears can render us mute and paralysed.
Unfortunately, for many, this paralysis becomes permanent, spelling the end of their professional blogging career.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Here’s how to overcome your fears.
Understand what’s happening to you
We have an inherent tendency to see things in black and white.
Things are either a success, or a failure, with little in between. This is a fertile mind-set for anxiety to thrive in.
This tendency comes from mankind’s early days when life really was about living or dying, eating or starving, being accepted or being cast out into the wilderness.
During these times, fear served us well.
Fear saved our lives.
When we saw a ravenous tiger coming towards us, our brain was instantly on alert. A siren went off in our bodies.
Our muscles were energized by adrenaline and glucose, our heart rate and blood pressure increased, our pupils dilated and our minds focused entirely on the short-term danger.
And while circumstances have changed (no tigers roaming the streets of London or New York), our brains haven’t.
When this fear signal is set off too many times, it becomes anxiety.
Anxiety is a long-lasting, low-level fear brought about by an aversion to something. In most cases this aversion is related to a fear of failure, not being in control, or letting people down.
As a result, when the initial excitement of building a freelance blogging business has worn off, many of us fall into the tendency of treating it like a journey into a dark and dangerous forest.
The potential clients turn into wolves, seemingly ferocious with their requests and demands. Contracts and pay discussions become like snakes, tightening our chests as they squeeze us into responsibilities we might not fulfil or completely understand. Writing a blog post feels like sinking into mud, slowly suffocating as all the doubts about our blogging abilities come rushing in over our heads.
As the frequency and intensity of our freelance blogging anxiety grows, so does the trap in which we find ourselves.
It becomes a downward spiral as the anxiety eats away at our self-confidence and smothers the creativity required to succeed. At the bottom of the spiral awaits a safe and regular office job.
You are not helpless
There’s a lot you can do to beat your anxieties about writing and freelancing.
I’m going to share with you five ideas to keep in mind when your anxiety reaches a crescendo.
Each one I discovered when living under rocket fire.
Each one can be incorporated into every facet of your life.
Each one applies directly to you as a freelance blogger.
Let’s begin, before the next siren!
1: Reduce negative anticipation
From my diary:
2 attacks today already and now we wait for a third. Army radio expects things to get worse before they get better.
Negative anticipation is when you expect the worst to happen.
In freelance blogging terms it’s like imaging a client will accuse you of being a fake or write nasty things about you in the public domain or, even worse, sue your arse for all you’re worth.
This type of fear originates from expecting a predator to be around the next corner. Life-saving in the past, as mentioned previously, but for freelancers in the modern age it’s a heavy and completely unnecessary burden.
The remedy for this type of anxiety can be found in the question “What’s the worst that can happen?”
So you don’t finish a blog post in time, or your client doesn’t like it, or no one will reply to your prospecting emails.
You’ll still be alive. You’ll still have a roof over your head. You’ll still have your loved ones.
The worst that’ll happen is you stay in exactly the same position you are in already but with a little extra experience added on.
Tomorrow you can start again, in a different way.
When under rocket fire, my friends and I didn’t have that luxury. There was every reason to be scared out of our minds when the sirens sounded. The worst that could happen was catastrophic. We’d all seen the photos.
But you? You’ve got nothing to fear from freelance blogging.
2: Reduce your fear response
Heard on the news a woman broke her leg running to the rocket shelter yesterday. I nearly tripped over the damned neighbour’s dog myself during the last attack.
We condition ourselves to respond to particular events and situations, like phone calls for example, with a sense of urgency and semi-panic.
The same applies to blogging for clients.
We can blog as a hobby with no problems at all but the moment someone wants to pay us, we freak out.
This anxiety results in writer’s block, self-criticism, physical uneasiness, procrastination and distraction.
Under this pressure we also make rushed judgements like pricing our blogging services too low or accepting an unsuitable client.
To put a stop to this panicked response, you need to change from being a victim of your reactions to a calm observer.
Thích Nhất Hạnh, the Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, tells of a great strategy he and his monks employ in their monastic village. Every time the phone rings, they calmly focus on their breath. Only when the phone has reached its third ring do they slowly go to answer it.
This technique can be adapted to the fear you have when writing a post, sending an email, or talking to a new client.
When tension builds, bring your awareness immediately to your breath.
Feel the fear and watch it as if you were an observer outside your body and mind. Let the fear happen, don’t try to push it away. Study it. It can’t physically hurt you.
Then do what needs to be done, regardless of how you feel.
After a few months of rocket attacks I realised it was safer, when the siren sounded, to pause for a couple of seconds, take stock of my surroundings and my emotions, then proceed quickly but calmly to the shelter.
This put a halt to my instinctive reaction to drop everything and run. It’s a fact that more people are injured racing to their shelters than are actually hurt by rocket explosions.
It’s safe to say more bloggers are hurt by their own emotional reactions, such as hostile self-criticism and imagining the worst-case scenario, than by angry clients kicking down their door.
When you train yourself to react calmly, you’ll get more gigs and do a better job.
3: Focus outwards
She was so scared. She’d only just managed to gather her children into the shelter before the rockets fell. They were all crying but then we started singing and the tears stopped.
An anxious mind is a mind focused inwards, worrying about itself, about its problems, and about what’s going to be the next danger to the body or ego.
In freelance blogging terms, it’s the dread of appearing foolish or inept in front of clients, loved ones, and worse, yourself.
This defeatism is a career killer.
It causes creativity to implode.
To overcome this harmful self-absorption you need to reach out to people.
I learnt this lesson when watching how strangers sharing a shelter together would help one another when stress was high. People would hug, hold hands, make each other laugh, and share mountains of food with everyone. You could tell it made them feel better, and it made everyone else feel better too.
To focus outward, connect with fellow professional bloggers through email or social media. Join mentoring groups and become part of writer communities.
Every day, set yourself a target of helping 3 people in some small way.
For example, you could share a helpful article with a struggling writer; introduce two people who might benefit from knowing one other; inform a business of spelling mistakes on their website.
Expect nothing in return.
Doing this will not only reduce your blogging anxiety but will also attract people and opportunities to you.
4: Carry calm with you
A temporary ceasefire is in place, which might last a few weeks or months. It’s hard to get back into a normal routine though. Feeling restless and unfocused.
Negative emotions can often leave a vapour trail.
A stressful morning frequently results in a melancholy afternoon. The negativity is carried over.
We also have the unfortunate tendency to take our work and troubles to bed with us, instead of switching our minds to more tranquil thoughts.
The good news, however, is that calmness and confidence can also carry over.
The more you cultivate relaxation in your daily life, the more it will transfer into your blogging business and related routines.
For me, meditation and mindfulness were key components in reducing the stresses of living in a war zone. The practice I developed now provides a great foundation for my freelance blogging career.
Set aside a little time each and every day to work on relaxation. This can be through meditation, yoga, prayer, guided visualisations, or whatever else works for you.
Over a short period you’ll notice this calming influence seeping into your freelancing hours.
Your blogging will become more fluent. Your ability to negotiate with clients will become stronger. Your concentration will be enhanced.
When something does go wrong, as it will, you’ll also be able to more easily recover from the experience and tap into this well of calmness.
Clients will instinctively sense this too and they will feel more comfortable hiring your services.
After the rocket attacks, we had to get back into a normal routine. We would focus on relaxing, on summoning positive energy, on making sure we were as prepared as possible to just slip back into calmness once the attack was over. With practice, we did it, and half an hour after an attack we were back to normal.
5: Don’t underestimate your courage
Most people don’t know how brave they really are. In fact, many potential heroes, both men and women, live out their lives in self-doubt. If they only knew they had these deep resources, it would help give them the self-reliance to meet most problems, even a big crisis.
—General R. E. Chambers, former Chief of the US Army’s Psychiatry and Neurology Consultant Division.
Think back to a time before you achieved something significant. Do you remember the fear and trepidation you felt? This may have been before a driving test, for example.
Now look. You drive every day, usually without giving it a second thought.
The same will happen with your freelance blogging career, if only you keep going through the fear.
You’ll get used to talking to new clients, to working on new projects, and to discussing pay.
Have faith in yourself that in a year’s time you’ll be looking back and wondering what all the anxiety was about whilst you count up your well-earned dollars. Know that deep inside you, there’s so much courage that’s waiting there, like a sleeping giant, to activate itself when you really need it.
I discovered this truth when living through over 100 separate rocket attacks.
Despite the deadly nature of the attacks, my fear lessened the more the sirens sounded. After a while, the attacks became a frustration —“I’m missing the football!”— rather than a fear.
Today, as I write this, I look back to that time with amazement. I actually thrived and prospered in such an environment. It’s something I know I could go through again as well.
Your blogging career can flourish.
We humans get used to things, we adapt, we grow accustomed to situations.
What causes anxiety now will, with experience and time, become a matter of calm and familiar routine.
For now, keep pushing through the anxiety and fear. Have faith in your intelligence and skills.
Here’s another thing to bear in mind.
The renowned Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov was asked, when on his deathbed, what was the key to success.
He answered, “Passion and gradualness.”
Perseverance, you could also say.
Take things slowly.
Don’t expect blogging anxiety to vanish overnight or for freelance success to happen next week.
Lessen these expectations.
But also don’t shelter away from what scares you.
Continue through the fear to the other side.
That’s where success is waiting for you.