If your contract work involves an atmosphere of excess stress, frustration, and negative feelings, it’s easy to feel trapped. Working on contract for someone else doesn’t mean you are powerless and must accept the situation. It might seem impossible to get out from under a heavy atmosphere, but there are ways to alleviate it.

Your priority is to take care of yourself. This suggestion may seem far-fetched as work piles up and demands for your time and productivity increase. Think of it this way: you are no good to anyone, including your client and yourself, if you don’t practice self-care. Burnout, anger, frustration, and depression will seek you out and permanently affect your health. And when your health goes, so does your work.

Connect with outside friends and activities. You need people in times like this! But don’t make your get-togethers a complaining session about work. Concentrate on enjoying their company, being outside, and participating in an activity you enjoy. Make a pact to schedule family fun – they should never be last on your list.

Develop a regular meditation/relaxation practice. Find a technique that works for you and practice it daily to build a learned relaxation response you can use when work gets stressful.

Develop strategies to deal with the immediate stressor. Try one of these circuit breakers for instant effect in a stressful situation – take a deep breath/go for a quick walk/meditate, or remind yourself: This too, shall pass. Increase your awareness of your own negative patterns and self-observe how you react to stresses around you. Once you see a pattern, you can take a step towards changing how you respond.  

Don’t respond to your client in anger. Remember these wise words: In any transaction, the sanest person has the most responsibility for the outcome. If you’re on the receiving end of an emotional outburst, do your best not to react by immediately defending your actions or point of view. It’s a red flag, and the angry person will continue to provoke you. Stay quiet while they rave and then say: “I want to think about this and get back to you,” or wait until they’ve exhausted themselves, pause, and calmly say, “Here’s how I see things.” Later, negotiate for change. Ask to meet privately and say, “I wasn’t comfortable with how you spoke to me yesterday and would like to discuss how we can better communicate with each other going forward.” It’s best to remain professional than put the client in what they may perceive as a danger to their power and self-esteem, especially if others are present during their rant. Always be civil – don’t risk your reputation while someone else damages theirs.

Remember, you have a choice. You have chosen to work with your client. You can equally decide to reverse that decision. Yes, you will lose that book of business, but think about it: You’re in business for yourself to do something you love to support the life you want. Spending every day in a hostile environment will eat away your well-being and affect relationships and, eventually, the quality of your work. Understand the consequences of long-term dissatisfaction.

Pace yourself: No one else will. You’re selling your time by the hour or project, not your soul. Don’t take on any more work than you’re willing to do. And if you’re being affected by contract creep, check out our two blogs about contracts for ideas: Your Friend, The Contract and When your contract goes off track.

Create meaning for yourself. If you’ve chosen to ride out a temporary stormy relationship, look for ways to apply your values at work. Maintain your self-respect by staying true to professionalism, common courtesy, and goodwill principles. It’s an old saying, but solid advice: Take the high road. You’ll feel better at the end of the day.

You always have choices.

Viktor Frankel: Man’s search for meaning.