Mental health and the digital nomad lifestyle
For those considering starting their journey as a digital nomad, it’s perfectly natural to be anxious about what could happen. Digital nomadism means venturing out into the wider world and taking care of yourself as you live and work remotely.
Or maybe you are an experienced digital nomad with a few countries under your belt already. Even seasoned travellers can experience travel burnout, stress and anxiety, we’re all human after all. Our mental health digital nomad handbook is designed for everyone with a passion for taking their work on the road. Let’s talk a bit about the issues you can face or may already have faced as part of the digital nomad life.
At some point in our lives, we all experience a degree of loneliness. This can be compounded when spending time on the road, as friendships may seem brief and fleeting before you move on to your next destination.
It doesn’t just have to be about friendships either, but travelling to countries where you don’t speak the native language can make you feel isolated and withdrawn. At the same time, you’re at a distance from your family and friends back home. Left to its own devices, loneliness can quickly sink in and cast a cloud over your digital nomad journey.
So what can we, as digital nomads, do to help ourselves? While everyone will experience loneliness to a different degree, the first part is to recognise that you are feeling lonely, and not to feel guilty about that.
Connect with friends and family
The beautiful thing about working online is that you have instant access to getting in touch with friends and family members from back home. From arranging a regular call with your parents to a group video call with your friends, keeping in touch with those close to you will remind you that wherever you are in the world, you are not alone.
Slow the pace
If you find yourself beginning friendships before quickly moving on to your next destination, it may be worth slowing the pace a bit from time to time. Rather than spend a week in a country, try spending a bit longer as this will help you develop lasting friendships and build a support network, as well as give you more time to explore your destination.
Join a digital nomad community
If there’s anyone else in the world who understand exactly how you feel, it’s other digital nomads. Luckily, digital nomads are a social bunch, who congregate via meeting apps, co working spaces and local events.
At coworking spaces, you’ll find adverts for the latest meetup and social events, fitness activities and more. By joining a digital nomad community, you’ll develop a connection with other remote workers who can be there for you when you need them.
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While fixed routines are often what we are hoping to avoid as part of life on the road, it’s easy to lose track of the positive routines too. From regularly going to the gym to keeping a healthy diet, some habits are best stuck to as much as possible to help keep our mental health in check.
Don’t forget the importance of sleep either. Long nights crunching deadlines can add up and take a toll over time for many digital nomads. Establishing a consistent sleeping routine has numerous benefits and can be one of the first things you try, alongside eating healthier food and attending fitness classes.
Conversely, allowing these routines to drop can further compound mental health issues.
If this seems overwhelming at first, we completely understand. It’s natural as you get used to a new destination to take the time to get adjusted. We recommend trying out the above routines at your own pace so you can gradually get used to maintaining positive physical health routines.
A nomadic lifestyle comes with a unique set of challenges, one prime example being travel burnout. It can be tempting for those becoming a digital nomad to pack their itinerary as much as possible, with multiple countries and cities crammed into one journey.
At the same time, you will be managing a full workload, which is not an easy feat when visiting 10+ cities in the space of a month.
Give yourself room to breathe
For aspiring digital nomads, rather than packing your travel list from the get-go, a golden rule is to give yourself free time to relax and adjust, avoiding initial burnout. This also helps you to acclimatise to factors such as jetlag and travel once you arrive at your destination.
For digital nomads who have been on the road for a while and are experiencing travel burnout, it may be wise to scale down on the activities and frequent trips to see if you are experiencing a down period.
Consider taking a trip home
If travel burnout symptoms persist, such as physical tiredness, difficulty sleeping and a lack of excitement, then it may be worth taking a trip back to your own country, even if only for a short period. Digital nomads are not digital exiles – reconnecting with your local support network, be it family or friends, may well be what gives you the spark to continue your journey.
Consider your travel plan
Sometimes it’s best to go back to the nomad drawing board and see if your recent activities have been causing your burnout. If you’ve spent weeks on end drinking at bars with countless sleepless nights, then you’ll most likely be feeling fatigued. What’s more, these moments will lose their charm when repeated over and over again.
As it is suggested in many areas of life, it’s best to think about quality in comparison to quantity. Being a digital nomad opens you up to some truly life-changing experiences with like-minded people – variety is key to making these moments truly unforgettable.
While there is no official information yet on how many digital nomads experience anxiety, an estimated 31.1% of adults in the US are estimated to have experienced symptoms of an anxiety disorder. Almost a third of the population, it’s clear that anxiety is by no means a condition dealt with by a select few.
Location-independent workers find themselves in new situations and travelling often to new countries. With this comes no small degree of uncertainty and potential challenges.
One of the first points to recognise is that new situations are a part of the digital nomad lifestyle, however there are practices you can keep to help mitigate symptoms of anxiety.
Research digital nomad destinations
Research can be your best friend when it comes to minimising feelings of anxiety. From planning your travel route in advance to learning a bit of the local language to help you get around, you can take the time before your journey to prepare yourself.
It may sound simple, but understanding when you are feeling symptoms of anxiety and taking a moment to breathe can help you to relax. Many digital nomads recommend practices such as meditation to reduce anxiety and centre oneself.
Pressure to succeed
Everybody faces a unique set of challenges when they begin their journey as a digital nomad. The digital nomad lifestyle typically projects an ideal, for example through social media, and feelings of guilt can arise if you are not ‘succeeding’ quickly enough.
It can be easy to blame yourself for not achieving ‘success’, without reflecting on the milestones you have achieved so far, especially if you are a beginner to the digital nomad lifestyle. It can also be easy to feel like a failure if you are not living the ideal life your friends and family think you are having.
To tackle feelings of guilt and the pressure to succeed, one step you can take is to reflect on your journey so far and to recognise that the digital nomad journey is not a straight road. There will be bumps and twists as you go, with challenges and success to be found at points along the way.
Maintaining a strong support network of friends and family can also help to dispel the pressure you are feeling, as you recognise that your connections will be there for you no matter the challenges you are facing.