Survivial Skills for Freelancers

Freelancing and feeling lonely? Combat isolation with these 6 top tips

Freelancer loneliness is no joke – and it’s widespread. In a survey of 1,500 freelancers*, 64 per cent said they regularly felt lonely, while a shocking 55 per cent said the social isolation of working alone had left them feeling depressed.

Sure, no one misses the office politics and the tedious commute, but we’re social creatures and it’s easy to miss the buzz and connection of working in an office – no matter how independent, self-reliant or introverted you are.

Spending weeks on end staring at the same four walls with only the cat for company is a sure-fire recipe for misery and frustration (believe me, I’ve been there!).

Prioritising your mental health is key to a happy, healthy working life – and combatting loneliness is a great place to start. As I say in Survival Skills for Freelancers, going solo doesn’t mean going it alone.

Here are six tried and tested tips to help you avoid isolation and stay connected.

1. Vary your surroundings

Getting out of the house might sound counterintuitive. After all, the point of working from home is, well… to work from home, right?

Yes and no. Spending too long in your own company isn’t just draining – it contributes to feelings of isolation and reduces productivity.

Many freelancers find shared working gives them the lifeline they need to overcome the loneliness that comes with the job title – and those who use coworking spaces get a lot more from doing so than desk space.

When I asked the freelance community what they enjoy about coworking, responses included the buzz, camaraderie and chat, opportunities for collaboration, improved productivity, mutual support, the chance to network, less loneliness, a vital boundary between work and home – and, of course, great coffee!

But it’s not essential to join an organised coworking space to get a sense of community. I enjoy the buzz and connection that comes from working at my gym, but you may prefer to mix it up by trying different coffee shops, your local library, or even a park when the weather is good.

Even varying your surroundings once a week helps to combat that Groundhog Day feeling.

2. Schedule in rest and social time

When you’re smashing through a busy workload, it’s easy to forget to take care of yourself – but you can’t keep running on empty!

Taking on too much and trying to do it all with too few breaks is the quickest route to freelancer burnout. Building regular breaks and exercise into your daily routine helps to release endorphins – those powerful, feel-good chemicals that help to ease stress, anxiety, and depression.

Here are just a few ways to build exercise into your day:

  • Go for a run, swim or bike ride
  • Take the dog for a long walk in muddy wellies
  • Dance around your kitchen while you wait for the kettle to boil
  • Challenge a friend to a game of tennis.
  • Lift some weights at the gym
  • Take a yoga, Zumba or spin class.

Even if you don’t feel like it – in fact, especially then – forcing yourself to disengage from ‘office mode’ can recharge your batteries and help you return to your desk with renewed focus and energy.

3. Find your tribe online

When I started out as a freelancer, there was no social media – in fact, there was barely any internet! These days, there are ready-made online networks of amazing, talented and creative people just like you, all around the world.

Finding likeminded people to cowork, collaborate and share with can be a real gamechanger when you’re self-employed – and groups such as Freelance Heroes, Being Freelance or the Marketing Meetup community are a great place to start.

Group members share their experiences and post questions, challenges and suggestions, and the community responds with help, support and advice. As with most things in life, you get out of online communities what you put in – so dig in, introduce yourself, browse their posts, give generously, and don’t self-promote unless you’re invited to!

4. Join local business networks

Networking can be a lifeline for the home-based freelancer – as well as a great source of new clients and colleagues – and it’s not as scary as you may think.

I used to think networking wasn’t for me. I equated the word with standing in a room full of serious, suit-wearing strangers, all set on selling their services. Then I discovered that not all networking is the same, and that the secret to enjoying it is to find the groups and events that fit your business and personality – so be prepared to experiment with different groups and formats.

Sure, it can take a while to find the right crowd but you’ll know it when you find it. Try asking the freelance communities online for recommendations in your local area, or check out Facebook Events, Eventbrite or meetup.com for inspiration.

5. Limit your use of social media

This one is less about connecting and more about protecting!

Social media has a habit of amplifying our feelings. If you’re feeling confident, resilient and in control – great. But when you’re feeling low, disconnected or lonely the last thing you need is the highlights of everyone else’s seemingly perfect lives.

Remember that social media is edited highlights – and don’t be afraid to take a social detox when comparisonitis starts to get the better of you. Switch off, pick up the phone or arrange to meet a friend for a natter. I guarantee it’ll make you feel ten times better.

As the saying goes, “Don’t compare your insides with other people’s outsides”. Stay in your own lane, and don’t worry about what other people are – or appear to be – doing.

6. Help someone else

Finally, one of the best ways to lift yourself out of a rut and to shift your focus outwards is to help someone else. Cultivate an attitude of collaboration, rather than seeing those who do the same job as you as your competitors.

Offer to help out at local business events, to speak at meetings or conferences, or to guest on your favourite podcast. It may take you outside your comfort zone but it’ll give you a renewed focus and a confidence boost into the bargain.

What could you do differently today?

*Freelancer Loneliness Survey, undertaken by The Leadership Factor (TLF), commissioned by Viking, 2019.

Photo of the bestselling guide to self-employment, Survival Skills for Freelancers, by Sarah Townsend

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