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6 ways to deal with loneliness when working alone

If working alone has you feeling lonely, get these 6 simple, cost-effective tips on how to cope with loneliness while working remotely.

March 27, 2020 by Cyn Meyer

Working alone has a lot of benefits.

You get more done, generally. You don’t have to play office politics. You get to take your breaks as you like when you like, and you’re the master of your own day-to-day destiny.

But there’s one really big downside that I wish someone would’ve warned me about:

Even if you’re the most rugged introvert, working alone -- completely alone -- is lonely.

Like, paint a volleyball and name it “Wilson” levels of loneliness. And that loneliness, whether it creeps in or hits you all at once, can really throw off your groove when you’re trying to run a business.

We get it, and we’ve been there. Today, we’ll tell you how we get around it with our six favorite coping strategies to combat loneliness when you’re flying solo.

Let’s dive right in.

6 ways to cope with loneliness while working remotely

#1. Take the time to exercise

While it may sound unrelated, our first way to combat loneliness while working alone is to incorporate exercise into your daily routine. 

Why? There’s nothing more powerful for your mental health than exercise.

A study published in the Front Psychiatry scientific journal revealed that exercise reduces anxiety and releases endorphins, the result of which helps you produce positive feelings and reduce your perceptions of pain.

Plus, being physically active also improves your sleep quality and keeps you more alert during your waking hours. In fact, partaking in physical activity makes you 65% less sleepy during the day, so you can work more productively when you need to during business hours. 

Productivity aside, loneliness leads straight to a decline in your mental health. Its negative effects worsen depression, anxiety, mood disorders, and cognitive decline.

Exercising is a great way to proactively practice self-care and curb the effects of loneliness on your mental health.

Sadly, though, only 23% of Americans get enough exercise. 

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, adults should complete at least 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 1.25 to 2.5 hours of vigorous-intensity per week. 

The fact that people aren’t getting enough exercise isn’t surprising. If you look at the sheer amount of time spent in front of a screen, it’s an overwhelming 12 hours a day for adults and 6 hours and 40 minutes daily for teens.

That’s right, you could be whittling away half your life in front of a screen, and maybe even more than that, if you're not getting up to take some exercise breaks.

Look, will exercising cure loneliness? No, probably not. But it can and will help you combat some of its worst effects, and as far as preventatives go, it’s a cheap one.

So, get up and move. Dance if that’s your speed, do some high-intensity yoga if it’s not. 

Whatever you do, don’t fall into the trap of draining half your day in front of a screen. It isn’t healthy, and it only adds to the compounding effects of loneliness.

As does skipping breaks in general.

#2. Take regular breaks (free from your screens and devices) 

Whether you take a break to hit the gym, go for a walk around the block, or stand up and stretch, taking regular breaks from your work is a must, especially when you work alone. 

When you work alone, remote, or from home, it’s easy to stay entranced by your computer screen without the traditional water cooler chat or drive-by desk interruptions from officemates and colleagues. 

And, as you know, screentime is a dangerous rabbit hole to get trapped in.

Taking a break is an easy way to get yourself out of that hole, though. Not only is it an effective way to avoid entrepreneurial burnout, but it also greatly improves your focus. 

According to a University of Illinois study, one break per hour helps you perform better by giving your brain a brief diversion for the space it needs to renew energy and focus.  

Unfortunately, like exercise, it’s a trending behavior to skip out on breaks, including your lunch break. 

According to research by Tork, 62% of millennials would go for a longer lunch break if they could, compared to only 46% of boomers. 

What’s more, 16% of millennials claim they’d go as far as taking a 10% pay cut in lieu of a daily lunch break. 

The fact that this is almost double the percentage of gen-Xers and more than triple the percentage of boomers reveals that, culturally, we’re headed toward a chronic habit of ditching lunch breaks.

All this to say, don’t fall victim to the cultural pressure of working through your breaks. While it may feel like you’re staying productive, the reality is it contributes to further health decline, on top of the impacts from being siloed at your desk. 

Instead, take one break every hour, which boosts your energy, focus, and overall performance.

Better yet, take it even further and schedule some proper breaks -- the kind with friends -- after the workday.

#3. Schedule social plans after work

While it may not be directly related to combating loneliness during working hours, our third tip for fighting loneliness is short and sweet -- make social plans outside of work.

Socializing on social media doesn’t count. It needs to be face-to-face, whether that’s on a Zoom call or otherwise. 

One UCSD study found that face-to-face social interactions enhance your well-being, while using Facebook will likely have a negative impact on your physical and mental health. 

If you don’t want to plan social time after work, combine a couple of our tips and schedule a lunch with someone or take a midday break to go on a hike with a friend.

If you’re not in a position to get out-and-about on the town, a virtual face-to-face happy hour, knitting hour, or cat .GIF hour works just as well.

Either way, schedule a face-to-face social activity on your calendar and do it regularly. 

A significant 20% of remote workers struggle with loneliness, making it one of the top struggles of working alone (tied with collaborating and communicating).  

And with an overwhelming 98% of remote workers planning on continuing the lifestyle for the remainder of their careers, this loneliness issue is here to stay and only becoming more vital to combat.

That said, we know carving out personal time for social activities isn’t always an option. There are families to tend to, pets to lavish with affections, and a dozen other barriers that can keep you stretched for time.

For that, there’s another option -- online communities.

#4. Join an online mastermind or group

Our fourth way to fight loneliness while working alone is to engage with colleagues and peers through an online mastermind or group.

Joining a relevant online group is a powerful way to engage and build camaraderie with like-minded people.

Plus, it gives you the chance to collaborate with others, which comes with the added benefit of fueling your motivation. In fact, you’re likely to stick with your task 64% longer when you collaborate with others compared to working on it alone.

Brit Kolo, the founder of Marketing Personalities, told me that joining a mastermind group is the best investment she’s made in her business to date -- not only does because of the business growth but also because of the lifelong friends and supportive community it provides.

“I’ve grown as a human being, a leader, and a CEO. The other business owners in my mastermind group have become lifelong friends, and I do not say that lightly.”

Better yet, if you have the extra boost in time and energy, be proactive and start your own mastermind group

Signs point to the world needing more thought leadership like what you find in a mastermind group. An HRPA study found that a whopping 63% of millennials feel their leadership skills aren’t being developed.

If joining a mastermind is too much of a commitment, explore Facebook Groups, which you can find by heading over to the search bar, typing in your topic of interest, and clicking the “groups” tab.

With over 1.4 billion people using Facebook groups, there’s bound to be an active group related to your business and interests where you can meet other members and build relationships.

Of course, if masterminds and Facebook groups aren't to your tastes, online communities like you’ll find on Reddit or other forum-based software also work. Slack communities are another popular remedy.

The important part is to find your tribe and build a relationship with them. Relationships that you can and should nurture with live video chat.

Not coincidentally, that’s our next tip for staving off loneliness in a remote environment. 

#5. Leverage video conferencing

Another powerful way to fend off loneliness while working remotely is to use live video apps to connect with your colleagues and friends.

Why video conferencing? It works, according to a landslide majority of users.

98% of people believe video conferencing helps them build relationships in and out of their companies. 

On top of that, 96% of people agree or strongly agree that video conferencing is an effective way to improve connectedness between remote team members. 

Even if you’re flying solo, you can still lean on video conferencing to connect with other people on a deeper level, whether team members or not.

Video chat is more engaging than, say, a phone call or email, because it gives you an extra layer of nonverbal communication that’s otherwise left out in non-face-to-face communication. 

70% of our communication is nonverbal, which means when you’re relying on text or audio, you’re only getting 30% of the connection at best.

That’s definitely not going to improve on anyone’s loneliness -- not as much as it could be improved on, anyway.

Video will also help with your collaborative and innovative efforts. So much so that according to a study by LifeSize, 50% of companies that use video conferencing are more innovative, and 55% of them are more collaborative.

If you’re looking for free video conferencing tools, consider Skype, Webex, or Zoom.

(Prefer alternatives to those? Then check out this guide on the top 10 webinar platforms for creatives.)

The moral here is to take advantage of technology and use live video conferencing to engage face-to-face with people during your workday.

Our final tip takes it a step further -- engaging in-person at coworking spaces.

#6. Mix it up with a coworking space or place outside your home

Assuming it’s safe to travel, another effective way to cope with loneliness while working is to physically leave your home office and use either a coworking space, shared office space, or even a coffee shop. 

The point is to occasionally change your environment to include other humans and work from a place other than your home. Doing so increases your chance of escaping a lonely rut, engaging with other people, and striking up conversations, even if it’s a brief one with a barista.

Finding a local coworking space near you shouldn’t be an issue these days since they seem to be popping up everywhere.

The number of coworking spaces has skyrocketed to over 26,300 worldwide. In the US alone, the number is anticipated to grow to over 6,200 by 2022.

In terms of people, the Global Coworking Unconference Conference (GCUC) projected tgat there will be 5.1 million coworking members globally in 2022, which is a mighty 24.2% annual growth rate. Thus far, all signs point to that being an accurate projection.

So that’s plenty of potential coworking colleagues to befriend, even if, in current circumstances, you might have to do it at a distance. Get out there (as you can) and add a few more colleagues to your address book -- it'll help fight off the solo blues, and who knows, it might even turn into a future career opportunity.

Combat loneliness and find your groove again

Working alone doesn’t mean you have to be lonely. 

It’s important to take the initiative and prevent loneliness from taking its toll as you nurture your remote career and business. 

To summarize:

  • Be proactive in taking care of your mental health by exercising regularly. Its many benefits will boost your well-being and business overall. 
  • Take regular breaks, too. Contrary to what you may think, they actually make you more productive and focused.
  • Plan for social activities and meetups outside your workday. The face-to-face time is much needed and shouldn’t fall to the wayside, even if you have to do it over conferencing software.
  • Join relevant online groups like masterminds and Facebook groups to meet other like-minded people and build lasting relationships. Reddit or Slack communities also work for this purpose.
  • Enhance your communication with other people by using live video conferencing tools as much as you can. Too much of our communication is nonverbal to rely on text and audio alone.
  • Finally, if it’s safe to do so, incorporate working from coworking spaces and places outside your home office into your weekly schedule. Little environmental changes can have big impacts on your mental fortitude.

Look, as a team, we’ve all been remote workers for years, and the truth of it is that you’ll never fully escape the loneliness that comes with working alone. 

But you will adjust, and by incorporating just a few these strategies, you’ll soon find that working alone doesn’t have to mean becoming an island. You can still have your tribe, even if you have to go to the far reaches of the internet, conference call platforms, or co-working spaces to find it.

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