The fear of overcoming social isolation was never a concern of mine when I started working from home full-time.
Living in the heart of Austin, Texas, there were a plethora of coffee shops, parks, and co-working spaces within a few miles that I could rotate working as I pleased. Working in the right public spaces kept me motivated and introduced me to new people all the time.
Plus, if anything, freelancing meant LESS commute time; so after the work day was done, I could go straight to the music venue on SOCO and grab a margarita with friends and family.
The city of Austin was my office, and I was loving it. And then the pandemic hit. My office was suddenly restricted to the only room in my apartment – my bedroom.
As an extrovert, or someone who is energized by social interaction, this was a hard blow to my mental health. Obviously there are a lot of reasons that COVID has affected our overall public health, but as an extroverted freelancer, quarantine was just about as scary as the disease itself.
It got so bad that I started having full-on conversations with my dog, Pepper. While Pepper is certainly a great listener, it wasn’t enough.
In this article, I’m going to tell you the four tactics that have helped me overcome the feeling of social isolation as an extroverted freelancer in the hopes of helping others in the same position, or those who are adapting to a remote position.
And to be clear, everyone needs social interaction, even introverts.
Also important note before I begin — Symptoms of isolation/loneliness are similar to those of clinical depression. If your feelings are starting to interfere with your ability to do work or are quite severe, it might be worth it to speak to a professional therapist.
And if you’re having serious thoughts of self-harm or suicide, please, please call 800-273-TALK or go here for live chat with a trained counselor who can help you immediately. Don’t hesitate or feel ashamed, we all need help sometimes.
Tactic 1: Tell Someone – “This Sucks.”
Okay I’m not claiming to be a genius for coming up with this one. But calling someone you trust and just getting it all out can be one of the best ways to overcome isolation. I know we are usually taught not to complain and be grateful.
But for me, screaming off the rooftops “THIS SUCKS!” And then hearing someone else say “THIS DOES SUCK!” actually helps things suck less.
Of course, there’s a fine line between getting things off your chest, and ruminating in your negative feelings.
Dr. Kowalski, a professor of psychology at Clemson University, put it this way to the New York Times – “Yes, it’s good to complain, yes, it’s bad to complain, and yes, there’s a right way to do it.”
You want to avoid what psychologists call wearing “muddy glasses,” where you find something to complain about no matter what. The same goes with rehashing the same problem over and over again, whether with your trusted friends or a Twitter feed.
When I vent, it helps me feel less alone and oftentimes provides me with some feedback from others that gives me a fresh perspective on the issue.
Tactic 2: Explore the Ol’ Outdoors
I’m going to be honest, there’s still a fair amount of anxiety that runs through me when I leave the house. And we all should exercise caution and follow CDC guidelines when entering public spaces.
But going out into an outdoor space is one the best ways you can safely escape cabin fever, since it provides guaranteed space apart.
Plus nature has always been a solace for many including myself. I prioritize going into an outdoor space at least four times a week, even if it’s just a walk around the block. I’ve actually been motivated even more to find new hiking trails and secluded areas I’ve never discovered!
The important thing is to use nature as a reason to unplug. I don’t know about you, but having 5 hours worth of Zoom calls doesn’t exactly scream “health.”
Tactic 3: Accept that Zoom isn’t Enough
Speaking of Zoom, when I did my initial research for how to overcome social isolation during COVID, I got tons of advice about using Zoom to perk up my social life.
Zoom Cocktail Hours, Weekly Zoom Family Meetings, etc. were recommended.
I tried it, and while zoom calls are a great alternative, I actually found myself drained after zoom calls when i usually feel a burst of energy after socializing.
A Zoom Birthday Party via Bloomberg
There actually is a term for this feeling of “ugh I need a nap” after Zoom calls — zoom fatigue.
There are many documented reasons for Zoom fatigue, including:
- More emotional effort is needed to seem interested
- You’re missing out on non-verbal communication (from the face down)
- The general feeling of “What if the kids run in” — or in my case “What if my boyfriend gives my co-workers a show again by walking in shirtless?”
- Looking at your own face can be stressful
One of the main ways I’ve overcome Zoom Fatigue is simply by reducing the amount of Zoom meetings I have per-day by mindfully scheduling, creating meeting time caps, and taking some calls by phone instead.
Zoom calls do have some potential, professional benefits.
For example, some people actually feel more comfortable in online meetings. Also, it can reduce psychological/emotional bias by putting all members of the team on the same playing field (no more CEO on a literal high pedestal).
Tactic 4: Give your at-home working space a makeover
There’s a reason people say “I grew my business from my kitchen table” and not “I grew my business from my bedroom.”
When you work in or near your bed, your brain will start to associate that place with work, and can cause difficulties sleeping.
I worked literally four inches from my own bed for over a year, and my bedroom definitely turned into a work-space instead of a relaxing space.
It got harder to sleep. I found myself feeling like I was still at work, even though I logged off. Just the mere fact that I could look up from my bed and see my laptop, notes, and reminders staring right back at me got my brain spinning.
So, when I lease ended, I prioritized getting a place that had a designated work space — and I’m making it my own.
If you aren’t able to change the space altogether, studies show that simply rearranging items can increase productivity.
The Beauty in Virtual Connection
While adapting to this virtual world has been difficult for me and countless other freelancers, it’s important to recognize some of the benefits of working virtually.
One major benefit is money savings. My habit of trying out new coffee shops every week for example, was certainly dipped into my earnings quite a bit.
What’s especially important to me as a sustainably-focused freelancer is that the pandemic is also having some positive impacts on the environment. Pollution levels are decreasing, traffic congestion is lowering, and there are less people in public spaces to create waste.
Even for me personally, I’ve felt a much bigger sense of gratitude for the people in my life and the privileges I have in the space I live. Overall, it’s important to remember that it’s okay to feel down sometimes. Just remember to: Say “THIS SUCKS!”, Limit Zoom, Take a Walk, and treat yourself to that cool office chair you’ve always wanted.