As a freelancer, you may find yourself working long hours to tight deadlines for clients who change the brief last minute and who don’t really understand what goes on behind the scenes.

Although you do your best to adapt and deliver, this takes a toll on your mind and your body. As a result, you’re not at your best. You are not alone as with 73% of working Australians experience a level of stress and pressure that is having a negative impact on their health [1]. However, there are some simple and practical changes which enable you to turn this around.

Research conducted by ALCHEMY Career Management in 2014 demonstrated that, by making small changes outlined below, people were able to reduce stress by 8%, decrease workload pressure by 16% and increase their focus and concentration in 6 weeks.

These recommendations are based on the latest advancements in neuroplasticity and neuro-leadership which have shown us that it is possible to shift your cognitive capacity and thought patterns in order to build resilience, increase your capacity and be at your best.

Let’s begin by looking at the battle between the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and the limbic system. Your PFC sits in your brain’s frontal lobe and is responsible for problem solving, memory, learning and creativity. These are all critical functions for the freelance journalist.

Your limbic system is the complex web of structures right in the middle of the brain and is the centre of your emotional responses. When this powerful structure is activated (e.g. when you’re stressed, frustrated or anxious), it gets very loud, very quickly. This absorbs all your cognitive energy and leaves next to nothing for the poor old PFC. As a result, the quality of your thinking is compromised. These are often the times when we say something that we shouldn’t or misunderstand what is happening around us. Think of that angry email or text message sent in the heat of the moment.

If we want to be at our best, we need to make sure that we’re giving the PFC the clear air and the breathing space that it needs to operate at a consistently high level.

You can take the following three steps on a daily basis to achieve this.



Your PFC tires easily throughout the day, so if you have an important, complex or difficult task on your agenda, complete it early when you are well-rested with a fully functioning PFC. This is particularly true when you’re working on a challenging article or when you need to have a difficult conversation.



Regardless of personality, experience or capability, everyone encounters events and stimuli that activate their limbic system every day. Learning to identify these triggers and manage them effectively allows you to take back control, make considered judgements and avoid emotional decision-making. David Rock’s SCARF model helps us identify the five most common limbic threats and ways to manage them. SCARF model



In 2009, my colleagues and I analysed the difference between high and low functioning staff and then cross-checked our observations with the available empirical evidence. As a result, we were able to isolate six wellness activities that differentiate high functioning people. We call these the six cylinders of wellness and the evidence shows a causal link between these behaviours and specific wellness outcomes including stress levels, mental alertness, energy, self-esteem, memory, sex drive, life fulfilment, focus, concentration and overall levels of happiness.

These six cylinders include nutrition, activity, sleep, time out, social connections and our outlets. You can review these and complete your own scorecard with action plan here.



Making good decisions across these six cylinders helps all of us to be at our very best, particularly when dealing with change, stress and inevitable life challenges.



As with all behaviour change, this is not about making wholesale changes to your life. Small, easy-to-maintain changes facilitate sustained change over the long term. As such, start with the elements that make the most sense to you right now and you can expect you experience immediate impact.

Share this experience and what has worked for you to keep the conversation going and to help others.


[1] Stress and Wellbeing in Australia (2014). Australian Psychological Society


Christopher Paterson
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