Career Advice

3 Ways Freelancers Can Avoid Isolation—and the Seasonal Depression That Comes With It

By Michael Tunney November 19th, 2014

One of the most important tradeoffs for freelancer freedom is loneliness. There’s a 2011 Gallup poll that shows self-employed workers reported having lower levels of wellbeing than other workforce groups—even those who are unemployed.

There’s no doubt that life as a freelancer has its perks. We
get to structure our days as we wish, work with clients we like, and don’t have to sell eight-hour blocks of our day to an employer. But when working from home or at the local coffee shop, we face social isolation, which puts us at risk for anxiety and depression. And as winter approaches, it comes with a heightened risk of seasonal depression.

To combat isolation, we’ve outlined three tactics that should help freelancers stay in the loop:

Make lunch meetings as important as your pitches

Consider offers to meet colleagues, prospects, and friends as important as email pitches you send to clients. If you fit meetings into your daily routine, you’ll get to interact with others face-to-face and may be able to find serendipitous work opportunities.

As Keith Ferrazzi, former CMO of Deloitte Consulting and author of the networking book Never Eat Alone, realized early in his career: “[Poverty] wasn’t only a lack financial resources; it was isolation from the kind of people who could help you make more of yourself.”

Too many freelancers experience this kind of social poverty in their careers. The best way to overcome this problem is by prioritizing actually meeting other people.

Join a coworking space

Coworking spaces have been popping up all around the country and for good reason. According to DeskMag’s 2013 Global Coworking Survey, 90 percent of coworkers reported an increase in self-confidence, and 71 percent believed their creativity had improved while working in a public space.

In Chicago, where I’m based, there are a number of great options like 1871, Space, and Grind, and they all have flexible membership options. These are great places to meet other freelancers and entrepreneurs in your community (and save money on coffee).

Turn your solo activities into group outings

Instead of working out by yourself, join a CrossFit gym or a running group. You can kill two birds with one stone by exercising with others, since exercise is essential for freelancers who tend to spend most of their day sitting in front of their laptops. With studies showing every hour of sitting lowers your life expectancy by 21.8 minutes, having the added social pressure of making your group workouts could keep you healthy and sane.

Adding fun activities to your routine can also help with anxiety and depression, which can be brought on by social isolation. Dr. Peter Gray, a professor of psychology at Boston College, conducted research that points to a strong correlation between the rise in anxiety and depression in young people and a decline in play.

Likewise, Charlie Hoehn, who has freelanced in various capacities for authors such as Tim Ferriss, Tucker Max, and Ramit Sethi, describes in his book Play It Away how having fun in group settings helped cure him of debilitating social anxiety.

From the outside looking in, the freelance life can seem like the best of both worlds, but really we are just trading one set of work issues for another. Staying in the loop can be hard when you work for yourself, but if you put in the extra effort, you’ll not only be happier—you may be able to discover new opportunities for your career as well.

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