Covid-19 Update: Since this was written before the Coronavirus pandemic, many of the points made are currently irrelevant. For instance, working away from home and socializing in-person are now either much more difficult or even forbidden for many (including me).
There are a few general things I can suggest, although they’re likely common sense to most:
- Set up regular phone or video calls with family or friends. If you’re feeling lonely, they probably are too. Especially older relatives who are at-risk and unable to leave their homes will be hugely appreciative of you checking in with them.
- Pick up a new (or old) hobby. Since being stuck at home I’ve started plucking away at my guitar after several years of ignoring it, and even if it sounds terrible, it’s incredibly relaxing and helps pass the time when I’m not working. Painting, reading, knitting – there are plenty of things to keep you busy during this time!
- Pets can be fantastic for your mental health. Many shelters are currently overworked and possibly understaffed, so even if you can’t outright adopt an animal, some shelters will allow you to foster one for a few months. You never know, they might end up becoming more than a foster!
- Find an online community with shared interests (click to read a more detailed section below). From work-related groups full of like-minded individuals with whom you can talk business, to online videogames where you can blow off some steam and meet others – we’re incredibly lucky to live at a time when the internet provides us with so many distractions while locked indoors.
Working from home might sound like a dream, but one of the most obvious downsides is that you’re often alone. For some people, this only sweetens the deal, while for others, it can lead to feelings of isolation, loneliness, or anxiety.
In fact, a recent study by Viking found that 64% of freelancers feel lonely on a daily basis.
Attempting to bulldoze through these feelings will likely end up going badly, unless you’ve got the right disposition for this type of work in the first place. You may only end up digging yourself deeper into these negative feelings.
So, is it possible to find a balance between working at home and still maintaining a human connection to the outside world?
Schedule at least one day a week to socialise
If there’s one thing I’ve learnt, it’s that unless I set a social event in stone, I’ll often end up working through it or make excuses. I make sure that at least a week or two in advance, I set aside one day a week on which I spend time with friends.
Finding these friends in the first place can sometimes be an issue. Put your own passions to good use here and seek out interesting Facebook meetup groups, or look for clubs in areas you want to develop in. I personally like sports for this, as most sports are already bonding activities, and there is a huge multitude to choose from – plus it helps keep you fit when you may otherwise be sitting by your desk for several hours a day.
Work from a coworking space
Coworking is the concept of going to work in a shared office space alongside other independent professionals, or groups from smaller companies. You will either have to rent a desk on an occasional daily basis, or can opt for a regular monthly slot – some places offer 24/7 access and permanent desks, while others only operate during business hours and will require you to take your belongings with you at the end of the day.
You might wonder, why go back to an office when it’s where you’ve just escaped from? This is a reasonable point; however, a coworking space is on your own terms, with no boss looking over your shoulder, and you can leave whenever you want.
The bustle and normality of the coworking office space can help you feel far less isolated, and as plenty of them offer free coffee as standard, you’re quite likely to meet some of your new fellow professionals for some occasional water-cooler chatter and networking.
The downside is cost – it can vary significantly depending on where you are based, but expect to pay at least a couple hundred $/€/£ if you want a monthly contract. This only equates to a couple of cups of coffee a day though – which you’ll likely now be getting for free anyway!
Hit up your local coffee shop
On the flipside of free coffee comes paid coffee – but with perks. Heading to your local coffee shop can give you a similar environment to a coworking space, but at the cost of a drink or two. They often offer wifi, tables, and comfortable seats, making them ideal work environments.
At the same time, you’re not too likely to make many new acquaintances here – unless you get lucky with some friendly seat neighbours or baristas). Some places may be too hectic to stay properly focused, but that’s normally nothing a pair of headphones can’t handle. If nothing else, spending a few hours in a coffee shop every now and again can get you out of the house and help you feel less isolated.
Attend industry-related meetups
If you’re working as a freelancer, you’ve likely working in a specific niche. Attending meetups for professionals in your industry can help with networking, staying informed with industry-wide changes, and simply making friends.
Try to keep socially-beneficial working hours
Working as a freelancer can sometimes mean working completely anti-social hours to keep time with your clients on the other side of the globe. However, working late evenings and nights cuts into your prime socialising hours – making some of the points above obsolete if you can’t actually leave your home when you’re supposed to meet up.
It’s normal to crunch every now and again; deadlines are deadlines and should be met where reasonable. However, do your best to set up your workday in a way that things are done on time, so that you can still meet your social obligations.
Meet kindred spirits online
Not all socialising has to be done in person! Depending on your niche, there are online groups for all sorts of freelance professions.
See if you can find forums, Discord groups, Facebook groups, or subreddits with a focus on your particular niche. I’m a member of several Discord groups in various marketing niches, which are a great way to simply have a chat, or get feedback on your work from like-minded professionals.
To find something on Discord you could use a site like Disboard to search for your niche (“graphic design”, “marketing”, etc.), and it will suggest many options for you to join. You can easily search within Facebook or Reddit to find groups there, or just use Google for a more general search.
If you prefer something non-work-related, you can try videogames. While you should watch out that you don’t get distracted by them for too long, online games can be a great way to meet people – or simply relax after a hard day’s work.
Get yourself a four-legged friend
Even if you manage to get out more after work when opting for a home office, you might still miss having some company around while you work. If you’re able to properly look after them, a dog, cat, or many other kinds of pets can make amazing companions for someone working from home. You’ll already be home a lot in any case, which will allow you to take good care of them, and the addition of taking them on walks or playing with them will keep you more active.
Of course, a pet can’t be a replacement for a person (although some would argue they’re even better), but they sure can help you feel less anxious and isolated, and get you through your working hours with a more positive mindset.
Get your blood pumping
I’ve touched upon this a few times throughout this article, but staying active can have a huge impact on your mental health. You might just fancy jogging a couple of times a week, but there are many other alternatives with more people around – such as the gym, sports clubs, dance classes, and much more.
Talk to a professional
If you’ve tried several of the above points and still feel like nothing is changing for you, it’s worth talking to a professional to see if they can get to the bottom of things.
However, it may simply be that working from home isn’t for you. Just as there are people who thrive on the distraction-free day that freelancing offers, there are plenty of others who need a workspace filled with colleagues and activity to stay sharp.
Overall, the main thing to realise when working from home is that you need to be proactive to avoid these negative feelings. While a workplace forces people together – whether they like it or not – working as a freelancer comes with a few of its own burdens, the primary one of which is the stark independence.
Try not to let things go on for too long, as once you reach a certain point, it becomes increasingly hard to make a change. Kurzgesagt has a great video on loneliness which I’ve added below; it can be eye-opening to see how loneliness can manifest without people being fully aware before it’s too late.