Dealing With Isolation and Loneliness When Working From Home

A few years in a large corporate environment is enough to convince most people they’d rather spend their time pretty much anywhere else.

And it won’t matter if you work in a cubicle farm or some open-plan hipster paradise – these places all eventually start to wear a bit thin, especially if there’s a lot of internal politics going on.

Which is pretty much always.

Anyways, people in that position usually find another job, leave to start their own business or ask to work from home a few days per week.

This blog post is for anyone who’s thinking about working from home, either for themselves or as an at-home employee.

It’s a bit of a cautionary tale, so hopefully, it will stop you making some of the mistakes I did.

The “Work From Home” Dream vs. Reality

When people think about working from home they picture no more commuting, not having to cram down their breakfast before rushing out the door, and generally just enjoying a better quality of life.

The above are all realities of working from home – they’re the better aspects of it.

But nobody warns you about the isolation that comes along for the ride.

To be fair, most HR departments in bigger companies do warn new at-home workers to spend time outside their home immediately before and after work each day.

The problem is that most people ignore that advice.

So what invariably happens to remote workers/entrepreneurs is you “accidentally” isolate yourself.

You know you should go for a walk/jog/run before work but never do that.

You have your groceries delivered, and order takeaway instead of going out to eat with friends.

Several weeks later you wake up feeling like crap, but you’re not sure why.

That’s when you realize that you haven’t been outside your home in days or maybe weeks.

A lack of human contact can have the worst kind of impact on your overall health.

Humans are designed to live in tribes, and not in isolation.

That’s why people who get washed up on a desert island eventually go nuts.

It’s why isolation is used as a form of torture.

The Psychological Fallout of Isolation

For me, I ended up with a nice big dose of depression.

I knew I was tired and angry all the time but had no idea why.

Nobody told me that being this pissed off the whole time wasn’t about anger – it was a sign I was more depressed than I cared to admit.

That’s probably because I didn’t really believe in depression up to a few years ago.

Yup, that’s a weird thing to admit, but I thought people were simple being far too sensitive.

Then in 2011 my entire life fell apart in the space of six weeks, but I didn’t have time to sit around feeling “bad” – I had shit to take care of, so I got busy with that.

For several years.

Until my life came to a screeching halt in 2016.

All of that was brought on because I isolated myself in my home thinking I was “living my best life” because I was busy all the time.

I wasn’t living anything like a good life.

And I had to find a way to deal with it because I genuinely felt like I was losing my mind.

In the end, I was prescribed with antidepressants along with multiple visits to a counselor (therapist).

Over the space of eight weeks my life started to return to normal.

The first thing I noticed was that I was able to sleep for more than 3 hours, and I also stopped grinding my teeth in my sleep.

So the first thing to accept is that you’re not alone – lots of other remote workers and entrepreneurial types are dealing with the exact same shit you’re dealing with right now.

In fact, something like 30% (and I think that’s pretty conservative) of people who work from home wind up dealing with depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.

The irony is that if you ask most of them they won’t be able to identify when the problem started – it just slowly became *normal* to not leave the house or talk to people for days at a time.

That feeling of isolation and loneliness lingering in your gut is usually more than just a feeling – it’s a sign there’s a deeper issue you need to deal with.

But, like I said, you’re not alone – there’s lots of ways of dealing with both the isolation that caused your depression and the depression itself.

Let’s take a look at what you can do.

Ask For Help

I know some people prefer to cure themselves naturally, but when it comes to mental health issues the first place I’d recommend going is to an actual doctor.

You can go to an acupuncturist or homeopath afterwards but get a professional medical opinion first.

As I mentioned earlier, what worked for me was a course of antidepressants and a few weeks of talking with a therapist.

I went from feeling like there was no point in getting  (and I mean absolutely no point) to being able to cope with life again.

The constant tiredness was gone, and the unpredictable outbursts of anger (absolute rage, if I’m being honest) went away too.

I still have good days and bad days, but it’s like 90% good and 10% bad, and not the other way around, thankfully.

So how do you avoid isolating yourself when working from home?

Develop Better Habits

Isolating yourself to the point of having actual mental health problems is something that takes time to “master”.

It starts with small changes in behaviour, that then become “daily habits”, and before you know it you’ve somehow managed to normalize not leaving your home.

At first you might not leave your house for an entire day.

Then that grows to a week.

And then two weeks.

You’re suddenly on the slippery slope to becoming socially awkward.

Oddly enough, you have to invest time and effort in becoming isolated i.e. you choose not to meet a friend for coffee.

So the best way to combat this is to develop good habits.

And that doesn’t mean getting up at 6am to run 3 miles, and then drink a macrobiotic kale shake before you sit at your desk.

That’s horseshit – nobody does that.

Well, nobody normal.

Start with something so small it’s almost impossible not to achieve it.

Promise yourself that you’ll walk to the local coffee shop once this week, taking the time to say hello and goodbye to whoever serves you.

That’s it – nothing more than that.

After a few weeks of creating that “habit” your next step is to commit to getting to the same coffee shop 30 minutes earlier.

This is so you have time to read a few chapters of a favorite book, or whatever newspaper is lying around.

Then at some stage in the month ahead you can invite a friend to meet you for coffee there.

Just take baby steps because doing that puts less social pressure on you.

Cut Down On Social Media And Streaming

But…but…social media helps me feel less lonely and isolated!

No it doesn’t – that’s just a marketing tactic.

You’re probably addicted to social media but you haven’t figured it out yet.

We are a society connected to the most incredible information resource in the history of our species – the Internet.

But we’re connected to it at all times, even when we don’t need to be.

It didn’t start out that way, but app developers are now doing everything in their power to make sure you stay online.

They’re paid huge sums of money to ensure you remain addicted, exploiting your vulnerabilities every chance they get.

Remote workers and entrepreneurs can end up living their life vicariously through the Internet.

You don’t have time to meet friends for a coffee, but you have at least 2 hours per day to stalk your ex on social media, look at pictures of cats, and bitch about people behind their backs in private messages.

You have hours per week to dedicate to Netflix binges, but you can’t spare 2 hours to go to the cinema with friends.

Stop lying to yourself – get out and meet your friends.

Social media is toxic at the best of times, but it is absolute cancer when you’re already feeling depressed or isolated.

Join A Gym

Yeah, I know that sounds like the most clichéd advice ever given but it’s still valid.

A gym is a great idea because it forces you to leave the house – to leave work behind for a while.

The world won’t stop turning because you went to the gym for 30 minutes, but you need to actually do this to prove that to yourself.

Not a gym head?

No problem – take yoga classes, or sign up for those jiu-jitsu classes you’ve been threatening to for years now.

Go cycling in a local park.

Go jogging on the beach.

Hell, even just walk to a coffee shop that’s 15 minutes away, grab a coffee and walk back.

The point is that physical activity is a “cure” for not only depression and anxiety but also for loneliness – you’re surrounding yourself with people, even if you don’t know them.

Who knows you might even strike up a friendship or two.

Physical activity is good for your mood, for your mental health and just good for you, full stop.

Use A Co-working Space

These are a perfect, if somewhat expensive, solution for entrepreneurs or remote workers who feel isolated working from home.

In fact, that’s exactly why co-working spaces are so popular – they’re meeting a growing demand.

You probably can’t afford to use a co-working space every day of the week, but even if you use one for a few days per month you’ll notice that being around people actually lifts your mood.

But you’ll also notice that the other people in the co-working space don’t want to sit around all day gossiping – they have to work to do too.

So you get the best of both worlds – an office environment with people to talk to, but nobody is there to waste their time because they’re paying for their desk or office.

Day rates for co-working spaces usually start at around $20 for very basic facilities, all the way up to $50 for bigger operations.

Watch Out For Parkinson’s Law

This piece of advice is really important for entrepreneurs – you need to limit how many hours per day you actually work.

Parkinson’s Law basically says the amount of work you have to do will fill up whatever available time you have.

This simply means that if you decide to work 12 hours per day, you’ll find a way for 8 hours of actual work to instead take up 12 hours.

In fact, it’s more like 4 hours of actual work  taking 12 hours to complete.

So, as much as you’d love to get out and socialize you’re, “…just too busy working. It never ends. I don’t have enough hours in the day.”

The truth is you do have more than enough hours in the day.

But you invest that time in scrolling through social media feeds, staring out the window, and generally just wasting your time.

‘You act like mortals in all that you fear, and like immortals in all that you desire’
– Seneca

There’s a number of ways to stop being distracted, and the first of those is to eliminate access to social media sites (and ideally your smartphone) while you’re working.

If you can’t do that for the entire day then start off by using an app like Freedom for 15-minute sessions, and then expand those to an hour at a time.

Something I find very useful is to put an A4 pad on my desk and note what I did for the last 30 minutes.

You have to be brutally honest for this to be effective, but once you notice how often “social media” or “not sure” is written down you’ll get a wake-up call.

Parkinson’s Law is something I still struggle with at times, but that’s human nature.

Is Working From Home A Terrible Idea?

I’m going to sound like a hypocrite now when I say I love working from home.

I can walk my dog whenever I feel like doing that, or stroll to the shop, or take a coffee break…or read a book for 30 minutes.

Or take one of my famous (if you live here) afternoon naps.

Plus the harsh reality is that it’s either do this or go back to an environment where office politics, nepotism and ass-kissing are the order of the day.

Sure, working from home is not without its challenges, and isolation is one of the biggest things of those.

But once you know that isolation can become an issue then you can head it off at the pass.

That way it never needs to become an issue for you.