After the COVID-19 pandemic, there's been an increase in the number of people working as freelancers or remote workers. There are plenty of advantages to this approach, including greater flexibility and freedom, but there are challenges as well. One of the biggest challenges freelancers face is social isolation, which can have a negative impact on their mental health.
In this lesson, we’ll discuss what social isolation means, how it impacts your mental health, why freelancers are at greater risk, and how you can avoid feeling socially isolated.
What is social isolation?
Social isolation is the feeling of being disconnected from others, including social relationships or interactions with others. While social isolation can affect anyone, it's especially challenging if you work remotely. Remote workers don't have as many opportunities to engage in social interactions and build relationships with coworkers as they would in an office setting. You might not be friends with your conversations, but having daily interactions can help combat feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Why are freelancers at risk of feeling socially isolated?
There are several reasons why freelancers are at risk of feeling socially isolated. Freelancers often work alone, either from home or from a co-working space. While this can be great for concentration and productivity, it also means that freelancers don't have the opportunity to interact with colleagues on a regular basis. This lack of social interaction can be exacerbated even further by the fact that many freelancers work irregular hours and may not have a set routine, which makes it harder to form social connections.
Freelancers may also struggle to set boundaries between their personal and professional lives. When you work for yourself, it becomes so much harder to switch off work mode and focus on other aspects of your life. You may have a harder time maintaining a healthy work-life balance, which can lead to feelings of burnout and exhaustion, which only add to those feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Many workers lack the support network that is typically available to employees of larger organizations. When you work for a company, you have access to a variety of resources through your employers, including human resources personnel, IT support, and other employees who can provide guidance and support. Freelancers, on the other hand, are often responsible for all aspects of their work, from client acquisition to project management to invoicing. Being responsible for everything without any support to lean on adds to feelings of stress and loneliness.
You may even find that you have a harder time establishing long-term relationships or a sense of community. Freelancers work on a project basis, meaning that they may only work with a client for a limited period of time. It may also be harder to work with people or on projects that you feel really passionate about, making it difficult to form meaningful friendships through work.
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How lack of social contact affects freelancer mental health
The lack of social contact has been linked to various mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, and stress. According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), social isolation can lead to an increased risk of premature death, poor sleep, and even cognitive decline. According to their research, being connected to others socially is a fundamental human need that is crucial to our physical and mental well-being.
Stress can affect our mental health in a number of ways:
Depression and anxiety
Prolonged isolation can lead to feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worry, increasing the risk of depression and anxiety. After all, human beings are social creatures. We need meaningful connections with others to thrive. When these connections are absent, people can feel unsupported, which can lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental health challenges. Without the stimulation that comes from daily conversations and interactions, it's easy to become bored, disengaged, and less motivated, which only compounds these issues.
Feelings of overwhelm and burnout
Without the social support and access to mental health services you get through formal in-person work, it's far easier to become overwhelmed and unable to cope with stress. Friends and family may not be able to understand the pressure of your work and may not provide the feedback, advice, and encouragement you would normally get from your coworkers.
Being socially isolated can lead to increased levels of stress. As a freelancer, you simply don't have access to the support you need like you would in a formal workplace. You are responsible for finding and signing clients, handling your own tech issues, and resolving complaints. All of this increases your stress levels and can lead to hypertension, health problems, and depression.
Reduced cognitive functioning
Have you ever heard the expression, your brain is a muscle? Social isolation can lead to reduced cognitive functioning, including memory problems and difficulty focusing. A Spanish study found that isolation and loneliness impact cognitive functions like recall and verbal fluency.
Increased risk of substance abuse
Some concerns have been raised about the negative effects of remote working on public health. A survey conducted by Quiet Genius showed that people with addiction or drug abuse issues who work remotely are 61% more likely to report that their drug use has increased since they stopped working from the office. If you feel isolated, it's easy to see why you might turn to substance abuse as a way of coping with boredom and loneliness.
Reduced physical activity
Being socially isolated can lead to a sedentary lifestyle, especially if you don't have to leave your house to go to work or grab lunch. Exercise is an important part of mental health, and without opportunities for physical activity, people can become less healthy both physically and mentally.
How to avoid becoming socially isolated as a freelancer
When you start your journey as a freelancer, it's easy to become consumed with earning enough money and paying your bills, but it should never come at the expense of your mental health. It's important to consider your mental well-being as a freelancer, not just your financial health or business. Make sure that you are looking after all of your needs, especially your need for social connection. Here are a few things you can try:
Join clubs and social groups
Try joining a few social groups or clubs that align with your personal interests. Take a look at your local Facebook page or classifieds site for book clubs, sports classes, or volunteering groups that interest you. You can use these groups to connect with like-minded people and form some relationships. It'll also force you to leave the house and interact with others at least once a week! It may take a while to get back into the habit of socializing, but like anything else, it'll soon feel natural again.
Go to social events
Accept more invitations! Going to parties, festivals, concerts, and classes can be a great way of meeting new people and getting facetime with new friends. If you are able to, why not throw a party or invite others to join you at an exhibition or workshop? Virtual meetings are great, but you need facetime too. Sites like Meetup.com or the Bumble app are a great way of making new friends and finding things to do with new people.
Use social media
Social media doesn't replace face-to-face interactions, but it can help reduce feelings of loneliness. Platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook can help you build your professional network, connect with potential clients and collaborators, and stay up to date with the latest industry news and developments. You can also join online communities and groups where you can discuss your interests, either professionally or in your personal life.
Volunteer in the community
Volunteering is always a great way to keep social. Find a charity near you that you are passionate about. You can even use the skills you use as a freelancer to help the charity, e.g., completing their design work, running their social media accounts, or doing some PR and marketing for the cause.
Set strict boundaries
If you want to be more social, you need to find the time for it. Set boundaries for yourself and your clients so that you have time to rest and relax with others. Make a point of keeping your weekends and evenings free, or commit to having one meeting-free day every week. That way, when an opportunity to socialize crops up, you know that you have free time to take advantage of the opportunity.
One of the best ways to avoid social isolation as a freelancer is to join a co-working space. Co-working spaces are communal workspaces where freelancers, entrepreneurs, and remote workers can work alongside one another in a shared office environment. By working alongside other people, you can combat the feelings of loneliness that can come from working alone at home. You'll also have the opportunity to network, collaborate with other professionals, and build relationships with like-minded individuals. Many modern co-working spaces also have special social events you can participate in.
Attend industry events and conferences
Another great way to avoid social isolation as a freelancer is to attend industry events and conferences. These events are a great way to connect with other professionals in your field and learn new skills and techniques.
Find a mentor
Finding a mentor can be a valuable way to avoid social isolation and connect with others. A mentor can provide guidance, support, and advice and can also help you build your professional network. Your mentor can also be a great sounding board when you feel frustrated with work, and they can probably point you in the right direction when you are struggling with issues that are common to your industry.
As a freelancer, you can easily become isolated, which can lead to feelings of loneliness and depression. Make a point of prioritizing self-care and building a community for yourself. Set a daily routine with clear boundaries so that you have time to exercise and catch up with friends. If you feel as though your mental health is declining, get in touch with a professional. Help is readily available to you when you need it most.
You can also use a productivity platform like Indy; join a network of freelancers who you can connect with, ask to collaborate, and build relationships that can lead to getting client referrals. Not only that, but Indy also has tools that can help you manage your entire freelance business, from contracts to invoicing and everything in between. See how Indy can help simplify freelancing, and get started today.