When you consider all the benefits working from home provides, it might seem like the ideal situation–no commute or noisy co-workers and the option to wear pajama pants during Zoom meetings. But when you're at home alone and working diligently all day, you may find the silence and lack of in-person collaboration to be lonely.
Even if your house is full of people before and after work, eight or more hours of solitude during the day can feel isolating. When your communication is exclusively talking to others in conference calls or through a computer screen it can be difficult to feel connected or seen. These are feelings you shouldn’t try to ignore because, as they intensify, they can have a significant impact on your mental health.
“People feel lonely for many different reasons,” explains Julie Frischkorn, Vice President of Behavioral Health for PeopleOne Health. “Some people may struggle with social interactions, others may feel deeply misunderstood. Many are marginalized and/or in a later phase of their lives and dealing with the loss of their contemporaries; some because of social media, where it seems like everyone else is living their best lives; and [some struggle] as a result of various mental or physical health conditions. Loneliness is truly a public health problem. It's not just a 'feeling', and it can lead to all kinds of physical health maladies, including shorter life span and dementia.”
Loneliness doesn’t just affect your mental health. Research shows that loneliness negatively affects work productivity and performance ratings. If you feel like the primary source of your loneliness is the lack of a noisy office and co-worker distractions, there are simple things you can do to bring life to a quiet workday.
- Work in a public space at least once a week. Being around people in a coffee shop, at the library, in the park or even your local college campus could be just the right amount of social interaction to keep you from feeling alone. Set aside a few hours, one day a week, to take your laptop on the road to a new place where you’re surrounded by new people.
- Take fitness breaks throughout the day. Not only do fitness breaks combat the effects of sitting too much, they also provide a burst of energy and help you feel better. Take five or 10 minutes, a few times each day, to do a short walk around the neighborhood or a few strength training exercises. Whenever possible, take your fitness breaks outside where the fresh air and sunshine provide a natural mood booster.
- Plan a meetup. Ask a few co-workers if they want to get together for lunch or happy hour after work. If you don’t work in the same location, schedule some team building or a social activity via Zoom. If you're not close with co-workers, branch out and invite a friend you haven’t seen in a while to dinner. When you schedule regular social events on your calendar, it can make the time you spend working alone much more tolerable.
- Establish an office space near a window. Although the basement might be the most convenient office location in your home, it might not be the best choice to brighten your mood. While you might not be able to get outside during the day as much as you’d like, natural sunlight, fresh air and the sound of birds chirping can make you feel better and bring your workspace to life.
- Use background music. For some, it’s a distraction. For others, it can promote feelings of well-being and eliminates the silence that often promotes loneliness. Experiment with different genres to find one the one that works for you. If you crave conversation and are able to focus on work tasks, consider throwing a podcast into the mix to enjoy a degree of virtual banter.
While temporary loneliness is normal for anyone working alone, if you notice yourself retreating from social gatherings or feeling anxious on a more regular basis, it's important to take the signs seriously. As Frischkorn explains, loneliness is both a catalyst to depression and a symptom of depression. “Social isolation alone is unlikely to lead to a mental health crisis, but the compilation of a number of different factors in addition to social isolation can set someone up for a depressive episode.”
If you are feeling lonely, be proactive about reaching out. By making small changes to your environment and asking those around you for support, working from home doesn’t have to be an isolating experience. And if needed, don’t be afraid to seek the help of a trained professional.