By Chris Taylor
NEW YORK(Reuters) – The crisis posed by COVID-19 is worrisome enough for full-time employees. Imagine life as a freelancer.
Your income can vary wildly from month to month and is likely being cut back as companies shave costs. Your check may come in the mail, or it may not. Your healthcare is expensive, or you may not even be able to afford it – which makes you even more terrified of the coronavirus.
What amplifies the impact is that so much of society consists of independent workers and contractors. The gig economy now comprises 36% of the American workforce, people who undertake it some or all of the time, according to a recent Gallup poll.
It’s a “perfect storm of awfulness,” according to Kat Kinsman, author of “Hi, Anxiety: Life With a Bad Case of Nerves,” about her mental-health challenges, and a freelancer for much of her career.
One of our key psychological needs as human beings is the ability to think about a stable future, says author Johann Hari, who writes about the underlying causes of depression in his book “Lost Connections.”
So today, “of course financial insecurity is going to cause depression and anxiety,” said Hari. “People are right to be anxious.”
There are no easy solutions for gig workers in crisis. But here are some thoughts that might help:
* Put guardrails around your financial life.
After being suicidal because of the anxiety of having a big tax bill, Kinsman put systems in place so her financial life would not spiral out of control again. She autopays as many bills as she can, automates her savings, gets receipts sent to her email and takes pictures of deductible expenses to store in her phone. That way, very little is left to choice.
“It’s all muscle memory at this point,” Kinsman said.
* Take the help.
There are multiple levels of state, federal, local and corporate response to the crisis, so take advantage of those before depleting emergency savings.
The federal stimulus also makes a special pathway for gig workers to receive unemployment benefits based on recent earnings, plus four months’ of additional payments of up to $600 a week.
It’s administered through state unemployment assistance programs, so research local requirements (https://bit.ly/3aNBFGJ).
* Buttress gig work with steadier part-time employment.
Sara Benincasa, a Los Angeles resident who is a comedian, actress, TV writer and author of “Real Artists Have Day Jobs,” suggests balancing gig work with something part-time but more stable, as she does in the digital marketing sector. That can hook you into positive elements like affordable health plans and help cover for slow months when independent gigs dry up. (The interview was conducted before the U.S. COVID-19 shutdown.)
* Research mental health resources.
Since most freelancers do not have the cash or coverage for pricey therapy sessions, look for low-cost or no-cost mental health services, Benincasa advises.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness is one key resource (https://nami.org). You can also lean on faith communities, recovery groups and a growing number of apps like Talkspace, which can help make therapy more accessible and affordable.
Kinsman is a fan of Crisis Text Line (https://www.crisistextline.org/), which provides free, 24/7 support via text message.
* Know you are not alone.
When so much of the workforce is freelance, you are most definitely not by yourself in taking a financial and emotional hit in today’s crisis. “It’s bad, and we all know it’s bad,” said Kinsman, now an editor at Food & Wine magazine. “It’s really scary to talk about these issues – but knowing you’re not alone is the most freeing and incredible thing.”
(This story was refiled to clarify the timing of interview in the 16th paragraph.)
(Editing by Beth Pinsker and Dan Grebler; Follow us @ReutersMoney or at https://www.reuters.com/finance/personal-finance.)