10 Most Common Health Hazards of Freelancing

For most of us, freelancing is a dream come true. We work from home, set our own hours and are our own boss. The flip side of this however isn’t all that attractive. What we don’t realize (read choose to overlook) is that freelancing involves working more hours than a conventional desk job, there’s no difference between a weekend and a weekday and there is no paid leave.

This punishing pace of work life affects our health and work habits. This article covers some of the most common Health Hazards of Freelancing that you might be suffering from or may do so in the future.

1. Caffeine Addiction

If after waking up in the morning, your first thought is “Must.Have.Coffee”, you’re a coffee addict.  You put your java to brew before you brush your teeth and it isn’t before your second mug kicks in that you feel able to function normally. And God forbid if for some reason you don’t get your caffeine intake, all hell might break lose!

Solution (that is if you want one): If you drink 2 mugs before starting work, change the size of your mug. Your brain will register the fact that you’ve had 2 mugs and won’t be bothered about the quantity all that much.

Brew a smaller amount to last you through the day. Once you know you only have so much coffee, you’ll be careful with the intake.

2. Working/Sleeping late

A lot of freelancers are night owls. This might not necessarily be because they function better at night. There’s a good chance that this habit formed from working late into the night trying to meet deadlines.

Working late to meet a deadline is fine once in a while but when it becomes the norm you’ve got a problem.

Solution: Set your deadline a day before the actual one. That way, if some work is still left over, you’ll have one more day to work on it.

3. Smoking

Smoking is bad for your health. It’s a universal fact. Freelancers who smoke tend to do it more while working. Hey, there’s no office policy here to adhere to! As you keep working, you work through your pack of cigarettes too and before you know it, your ashtray is full and your pack is empty and you’re still craving a cig!

Excessive smoking brings all kinds of health problems with it – both short and long term. I won’t tell you to quit, but I will tell you to smoke less.

Solution: Make your home office a smoke free zone. Throw away your ash trays, and remove every pack of cigarettes from there. If you want to smoke, make it a point to step out of your work space.

If you’re in the middle of something and concentrating hard at work, chances are you’ll keep delaying going out for a smoke. Before you know it, a project is wrapped up and you haven’t smoked in 3 hours!

4. Carpel Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is a very real threat for freelancers and a lot of us have been through it. It’s caused by repetitive actions and CTS can affect our fingers, wrists and hands. Consider this: We’re at our computers for hours at a time, typing. We hit the backspace or delete key countless times, click countless time, and our fingers are poised in one position continuously as we use the mouse.

At its worst, CTS requires surgery to be corrected and has a 6 week recovery period. Can you imagine not working for that long? Who will pay the bills?!

If we don’t take preventive measures, we’re putting ourselves at a higher risk for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

Solution: Exercise your hands after every hour or so. Stretch your arms, flex your fingers and rotate your wrists. Keep a massage ball or a similar hand exercise item at your desk and use it whenever you’re thinking or brain storming.

5. Burning eyes

What did you expect after looking at your computer screen all day? Combine that with lack of sleep and your eyes will start burning something fierce!

Solution: Close your eyes for a few minutes and rest them. Take off your glasses if you wear them. Wash your face with cold water or soak some cotton in cold water and press them on your eyes gently.

6. Short Attention Span

This I’ll blame on the internet. In order to work, we need to stay connected 24/7. With email, RSS readers, twitter etc we’ve managed to reduce our attention span drastically. We keep getting distracted by one thing or the other. If it’s not email, then it’s twitter and if it’s not twitter it’s going through our favourite blogs and commenting.

Before long, our day is over and we didn’t get much work done. The deadline is a day closer too!

Solution: Prioritize. If you need to work, close off everything else. Close your inbox, twitter, and any websites you always keep open.

Divide your work in stages and give yourself breaks when you complete that stage. Check your mail, tweet, facebook or read your favourite blogs then. It’s tough in the beginning, but it’s doable and yields great results!

7. Back/Neck ache

We’re at our desk for most of the day. Sitting in a chair and staring at a screen isn’t the most comfortable things to do. After a few hours our neck starts to stiffen and our back begins to ache. We shift in our chair trying to get more comfortable but are too engrossed in our work to notice it. It’s only when we’re finally getting up from our chair that realization dawns.

Solution: Stretch your neck and back at regular intervals. Get up and move around before coming back to sit. If the back ache gets really bad, try placing a cushion behind your back for added support.

8. Bad posture

After being hunched over your computer for hours daily, your posture is bound to suffer.

Solution: To avoid looking like a hunched up old person, invest in a good ergonomic chair. It’ll be expensive but it’ll serve you well for years to come. And if you can afford it, get an ergonomic desk too.

9. Stress

Insane amount of work, demanding clients, crazy deadlines and late nights all lead to stress. You might produce your best work under pressure, but if it continues over a long period of time you’ll get burned out.

Some stress is good for us. We need to take freelancing seriously in order to produce our best work but if it’s giving you sleepless nights and constant headaches, something needs to change.

Solution: Figure out what’s the most stressing part of your freelancing. Are you stressing over a certain client? A big project? Whatever it is, identify the culprit and look for ways to eliminate that stress inducing situation.

10. Big bum

Get up and check. You have a big bum don’t you? Unless they exercise vigilantly, freelancers tend to gain weight.

Solution: Get off your behind and start exercising. Nothing strenuous, just a few stretches and a walk or a jog is enough to get you back on the road to getting and staying fit.

As a freelancer, I’ve faced all these hazards except Carpal Tunnel. While I’ve corrected some, I still struggle with others.

What health hazards do you face as a freelancer?

Samar Owais

Samar is a freelance writer, blogger and social media enthusiast. She offers rock solids tips for freelance writing success on her blog, The Writing Base along with a free 10-Step Guide To Turning Prospects Into Clients.

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Comments

  1. Ken says

    Yes i would agree for freelancers health problems such as dry eyes, headaches, knee pain, neck pain, back pain, short attention span come in the way.

    I think a person should have healthy lifestyle no matter whats your profession and computer users should use any break reminder, stretch reminder software.

  2. Shafique Ahmad says

    Very Nice Samar :)
    I was just thing write an article about this topic while i found this one and now i am thinking i can’t write like this way. Wonderful mashaAllah i m going to follow you on twitter and will defiantly read your other articles too inshaAllah.

  3. says

    These aren’t really freelancer-specific as much as endemic to all writers (except, I guess, outdoors writers who presumably jot something down while perched halfway up a mountain path).

    I like the advice on cutting back on caffeine intake.

  4. JT says

    elbow ache, eye burn and getting a fat arse are easily at the top of my list!

  5. says

    Except the fact I got a small (and adorable) fanny, i can check all of the points above! That makes me -trumpet sound- A REAL FREELANCER. Rock ‘n Roll all night baby!

    But without (trying to be) funny, some of the above points can be really really dangerous if u dont work on them on time.

    My 2cts: Try to work on your posture. Take more, small pauzes when working and try to set a time-to-go-to-bed. Very little stress can really be bad for you. I myself, notice I become really grumpy and depressed. Try to see your freelancing like a 9-5 when you start to get the discipline going!

  6. Rachel says

    I have RSI and I find actions which push my hands back really help – things like mowing the lawn, pushing a wheelchair or sandpapering. Yoga and swimming are good too, and help with the big bum issue you mention!

  7. Fahed says

    Great post! I can relate to most of these.. I believe smoking and coffee are the ones that affect me the most, still love this job though :) thanks for sharing this.

  8. David Escalante says

    Smoking? c`mon! you dont smoke unless you want, not that you “need” to do it.

    Even hunchback (Kyphosis) is more common.

  9. Spencer Turner says

    Excellent post! I’m familiar with most of these symptoms, especially the bad back and staying up late ones, oh and the gradual “Big Bum” symptom lol! Used to drink loads and loads of coffee, then I got tired of it making my breath smell, so now I’m on Tea or Vimto! Have lost one or 2 keyboards due to a Vimto spillage :(

  10. Andy Kinsey says

    I agree with most of them. not sure smoking comes into it unless you already smoke though. And as an expansion to CTS, RSI is also a big issue (I suffer from this) – solution is same as CTS generally though also consider getting a wrist pad for keyboard and mouse

  11. Simon says

    As a freelancer for the last 13 years I can testify to them all. No matter how hard to try to prevent things like scope creep or sudden design changes they rear their ugly heads in all manner of ways and I’m left burning the midnight oil many a night because it would then impact and delay the next job in my queue.

    Over the years I have learnt to foresee problems and try to factor them in before I start. I also take on less so it has less chance to impact all my other projects.

    It does suck though when I’m sitting here reading this post going..”Yep…yep….yep…yep” :-)

  12. says

    Very real hazards, and very handy solutions!

    Though admittedly #10 doesn’t pose as much of a threat to me due to another problem I know certain freelancers have; being too engrossed in work to notice hunger when it hits. Not a hard problem to solve, but it can become more hazardous if you don’t take precautions for a project requiring a long, break-less work session ;)

  13. Vivek Parmar says

    As a freelancer i know how hard is to cope up with the time and the competition around there. Most of the time i have to work for 72 hours non-stop and this could led burning of eyes, body ache and to avoid this i need coffee because this helps me in working non-stopping.
    There are many health hazard problems out there like migrane, drinking problems and other health problems.
    hope sooner i can stablise my self and avoid these problems

  14. Agon says

    very good article…i totaly agree with you…i’m a beginner in this freelance job…and sometimes i feel burning out, even with the small projects……in other side i am playing soccer in the relegation league and it helps me alot to get avoid from the mess…but the issue is that when i am out of the computer doing something else it’s hard to get back again..it’s take time to warm up again…so, i am planning to be a person with this hazzards in the near future…coz i like this job…

  15. Courtney says

    I never drank coffee at my 9-to-5. Now, I’m a 3-cuppa day kinda girl. Good to know it’s not me. It’s the freelancing.

  16. says

    Boy do I recognize this :-D

    But it still kind a fun and nice to be a freelancer most of the “symptoms” is based on the fact that I find my work interesting and thus can’t find my bed. :-)

  17. Owais says

    Very nice post Samar. I agree with most of these. You missed one big issue that is getting a client. Most freelancers end up working more than their previous regular jobs. In many cases they remain underpaid and have no perks and vacation time like in a regular job.
    To make a long story short a freelancer stays at home but never gets to have free time with family because with office at home they are always at work place!

  18. JC Johnston says

    I am a part time free lance, and the rest of the time, I am in the tech industry setting in the front of the computer 9 – 10 hours a day plus my 4 – 8 hours a day at home working on the computer either for fun or for work. I have issue almost everything on the list except smoking (don’t smoke) and try to keep my body positioned so my wrists and hands have the correct poster for avoid carpal Tunnel. But now that I am thinking about it my hands and wrists are hurting as I type this comment.

    • says

      yeah, the same I try at least to compensate work with some sport – dancing, gym and running..I think it’s only way how to lessen big, bad impact on our health.

      You too cannot live without coffein? ;D

  19. Angel Luis says

    For me the main problem is stress.

    One way, at least for trying to deal with it is understanding that a stress situation comes when we think we cannot handle a situation, so why not thinking what will happens in the worst case.

    If you do that exercise you realise that our main problems are just that.

    Not trying to do all by yourself works too.

    • says

      what causes your stress in regular work? I have some exceptions, when occasions become really stressful, but usually it’s just daily work routine.

  20. Jeprie says

    That’s scary. I never heard about that Carpal Tunnel. Thanks for reminding us, freelancer.

  21. says

    Working in the I.T. industry for over 12 years I can definitely vouch for most of these!
    In fact, for a freelancer working at home it is going to be worse as there are no strict hours so it is quite easy to sit there for 5-6 hours without taking a break.

    Taking a fifteen minute break every hour to look into the distance, stretch, make a green tea, have a little jog etc.. can make a LOT of difference!

    • says

      ah yeah..but fifteen minute break is just impossible…I completely agree about stretching,tea, looking somewhere else – at least doing something to better situation!

  22. Salim says

    Hi there,

    I´m not a freelancer but I have most of the symptoms listed above. What would happen when I deside to become a freelancer?? ;-).

    • says

      I don’t think it’s just about being freelancer..mostly everybody sitting on desk has these problems..but at least knowing where problem is, is step forward to solve it.

  23. says

    This was a good post. Most of these also apply to office workers, but there is the unique problem of being able to stay up really late at home without realizing how it’s damaging your health.

  24. wesley says

    I am a freelancer and I recognize at least the first three symptoms! :D
    I don’t agree with the smoking though, yes I smoke and yes, it’s very bad for your health but when I’m working I actually tend to smoke less and a cigarette does help with stress.. that doesn’t mean you should start right now but it has it’s little advantages except for cancer.. :/