The last thing on my mind when I left my editor job at a magazine to become a freelance writer was that I’d feel lonely.
At the time, I was consumed with excitement (and fear) about being my own boss. More paramount were big-picture items, like finances and how to structure my workday. But one year in, loneliness has proved an unexpected challenge, and it comes in waves. While I love the solitude that comes with working from home solo, without a built-in social structure I often find myself missing the minute details of my former office life: grabbing morning coffee with my work wife, the background buzz of cubicle conversation, and yes, even the meetings.
I’m not alone: A recent report on the state of remote work showed 19 percent of survey-takers chose loneliness as their biggest struggle with working remotely (second to unplugging after work). Additional research suggests that younger generations are the loneliest, and those who work more than desired tend to feel lonelier. I, for one, can certainly attest to overextending myself in order to feel like I’m working “enough,” and the tendency to overwork is a common one. Yet, we can’t look at the loneliness of remote work in a vacuum. It can stem from social isolation, or be a symptom of (or a way to cope with) stress, depression, anxiety, fear, and even burnout.
“We can work at home and not be lonely, but there's a negative spiral that's happening for so many of us who do this more isolating type of work,” says Shelley Prevost, a psychologist and life coach.
Funlola Coker, 31, a jewelry maker in Memphis who works from home, says she’s an introvert and not inclined to tune in if she’s lonely. More pressing for her are other freelancing gripes, like earning enough to sustain herself while not burning out from self-promotion. “I love working by myself, but I know that for my brain to stay healthy, I should see other people,” she tells Supermaker. Traveling has helped Coker get out of this rut and offset social isolation and loneliness on her terms. Last year, for instance, she went to New York City Jewelry Week, took a friend’s knife-making workshop in Montreal, and attended craft schools in Maine and North Carolina. “It's good to get exposure and experience from other people's stories,” Coker says.