Combat loneliness as an indie worker with these coping mechanisms
Working independently brings freedom, ownership, and autonomy, but it can also bring isolation and loneliness. Long hours working alone, dealing with problem clients or cashflow issues by yourself and struggling to maintain that tricky work/life balance can all contribute to loneliness. Here we explore a few ways to avoid and manage loneliness and keep you happy and healthy, though it’s worth mentioning that if you are worried about the way you are feeling, you should see your GP.
Identify what makes you feel lonely or isolated
Sometimes being alone is great, and brings some welcome peace and quiet. At times where it makes you feel low, though, it’s worth noting what it is about that situation that is bringing you down. It may well be a combination of things, but try to pin down exactly what it is that is making you feel that way. For example, do you really never see other people, or do you not feel engaged, valued or understood? Has a particular person or situation made you feel this way? Try grabbing a pen and paper and writing it down - this can be quite cathartic in itself. Bear in mind also that loneliness is a feeling, rather than a fact. It’s a perfectly normal feeling, but it doesn’t mean that you actually are isolated or alone in reality - it’s just how you are perceiving it at the time.
If you do have people around, try to reach out to them. They are probably oblivious to how you’re feeling, as we tend to think mostly of how we ourselves are feeling, and will want to help - even if it’s just by having a cuppa and a chat. If those people are also independent workers, you can be fairly confident that they also feel, or have felt, that way - they’ll get it. If it’s your family and friends that you feel a bit cut off from, get in touch with someone you feel really comfortable with and see if you can meet up or speak on the phone. You don’t need to open your heart to them if you don’t want, but making the effort to see how they are and spend quality time with them will only make you feel good, and make them feel valued too. This will get the ball rolling and you can start reaching out to other people that you’re less confident with, if that’s what you want (there’s nothing wrong with having a few, good, close friends).
Take every opportunity to interact
Even if it’s just a quick hello on your way to a meeting, or a two-minute chat while waiting for the kettle to boil in the office, each and every interaction can boost your self-esteem - not to mention open doors for your work. Try it on the train or while walking to the shops; some people may be taken aback by a ‘hi’, but often they’ll gladly reciprocate and may even start a conversation. If you arrange to meet up with someone or attend a get-together, do your utmost to show up rather than backing out at the last minute. It might be scary to start off with, but it’ll get easier over time.
Look outside your current circle
You might have drifted apart from long-standing friendships and acquaintances, in which case you should look further afield. Book clubs, running clubs, and volunteering are all good starting points, as are sites like Meetup.com. Think about your interests, rather than the ‘sort’ of people you want to meet, and about what you want to contribute as well as what you hope to gain. If you do develop new friendships or relationships, be mindful of how they make you feel about yourself - not all friendships are good ones. Are you happy when you spend time with them, or do they take you for granted? Do you feel like it’s an equal relationship? Quality is far more important than quantity, so make sure that you are both making the effort.
Think about how you use social media
This is a tricky one, as social media can be a fantastic way to easily connect with others. It’s especially important for people who aren’t able to get out and about as much as they’d like. For some people and businesses, social media and an online presence are absolutely vital. However, it’s very easy for people to share a small, selective slice of life (and business) on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn etc, which can give the impression that they are having a whale of a time, all the time. This simply isn’t true, and can lead to all sorts of unfair, self-imposed comparisons. If you use social media to reach out and connect, that’s brilliant. If you find that you’re relying on engagement via social media to make you feel adequate or up to an unreasonable standard, perhaps try to make a distinction between your business and personal use of social media. You might not be able to avoid the former - and nor should you - but spending a little less time on the platforms in personal time might be helpful.
Be kind to yourself
Try not to be too hard on yourself. Feeling lonely or isolated is completely normal, and everyone feels that way from time to time. If you work for yourself, or remotely, feeling a bit lonely is inevitable. As mentioned above, try to avoid comparing yourself to other people or undervaluing yourself, and take care of yourself. Make sure you’re eating, drinking and sleeping as well as possible, and - above all - give yourself a break. You’re only human, and everyone around you feels how you feel at some point.