Coping with unsteady work

23 October 2018

It can be stressful to be in a job or industry where work isn’t guaranteed or when work dries up.

It can be a big concern when you’re doing casual or contract work without any indication of how much money is coming in. Another common worry is about your own performance, and many people experience concern the work isn’t constant because their services aren’t up to scratch.

“You need to be emotionally robust to do these kinds of jobs, and without that you can be at risk of mental health issues,” says Life Resolutions clinical psychologist Kirstin Bouse.

Below are some resilience boosting strategies to help you deal with the sporadic nature of casual or contract work.


Plan for ups and downs

If you can get through the first year, you’ll start to see patterns for your busy and quiet periods.

It could be helpful to talk to others in the industry and line up those general trends together, so you know what to expect. Once you have some ways of predicting the ups and downs, you can plan for them, both financially and emotionally. This can help you to:

  • Set budgets and save money for down times;
  • Set realistic work and life goals for what’s happening at that time of year;
  • Manage the tasks you plan for different periods. For example, Bouse says: “If you can anticipate a quiet month ahead, you can approach it for being productive in other ways, such as project work or networking.”


Challenge your self-talk

Getting caught up in a spiral of negative self-talk is dangerous for your mental health.

Bouse says it’s important to monitor this self-talk and tackle it whenever possible. “Challenge your thinking and interpretations of the meaning you make of your situation, and this will have a massive effect on your experience,” she says.

There are some practical ways you can do this, particularly if you’re noticing the negative impacts of this stress. “If you’re experiencing distressing symptoms like racing heart, panic attacks, agitation, sleeplessness, or feeling despondent, it can be useful to do a brain dump,” Bouse advises. “Make a note of all the things running through your head about the situation you’re in. Once those thoughts are on paper, you can really start to challenge them.”

You might seek help from a friend, a work peer, a coach or a psychologist to do this.


Use downtime for self-care

Your quiet times might be a good chance to take care of yourself in some extra ways. “You can build this in to reward yourself for the busy times you’ve had,” Bouse suggests.

Consider doing some things you really enjoy when work is quiet, like catching up with friends, relaxing, and doing the things you’ve put off during the busier times. This is your recharge and refocus chance.

Doing some emotional recharging is also a great idea. “Acknowledge your achievements,” says Bouse. “It’s really important to look at what you’ve done well and how you’re achieving your goals.”

This downtime can be a strong resilience preparation for when work is once again demanding. Bouse says: “It’s hard to be creative when your resources are depleted, and creativity is what’s required to get you out of that space.”