Makeup done? Check. Laptop fully charged? Check. Matcha latte in hand? Check.
I’m working from a coffee shop for the first time in months, and I can already feel a deep sense of energy bubbling up inside of me. I haven’t experienced this sense of motivation in ages. I’m self-employed as a freelance writer, and day after day waking up and rolling over to my home desk began growing old. By 2 p.m., my shoulders would hunch, my eyes would grow heavy, and I’d lose all motivation to keep typing.
Related: The Truth About Working From Home
A self-professed introvert, I don’t mind spending time alone. It’s part of the reason I became a freelance writer. But after my husband, a medical resident, began working 70-hour weeks (including many overnight shifts), I began growing lonely. Coupled with the fact that I had a falling out with my mother and my grandmother passed away, I began feeling isolated, as though I had no one to talk to when work got slow. Some days, I’d go six or seven hours without speaking to anyone, save for the occasional texting with friends.
More than 5% of Americans work from home full-time, and that’s not to mention countless others who work from home part time or have flex time at work. I’ve chatted with other work-from-homers, and the consensus is clear: The freedom is awesome, but the loneliness can be pervasive.
Below, you’ll find a guide for avoiding loneliness when you work from home, including tips from writers like myself and other professionals who’ve learned the best ways to be social without an office to visit or co-workers to chat with.
1. Grab lunch with a friend.
This has been one of the best ways for me to combat loneliness. I try to schedule lunch or coffee with a friend once a week in order to have a little socialization on my calendar. I aim for Wednesday or Thursday, when my work motivation begins to wane.
Hilary Billings, a speaker and podcast host, calls these supercharged interactions. “Set up weekly routines that involve being around other people who energize you,” she says. “Whether this is creating a standing lunch appointment with a close friend, joining an after-hours workout class or Skyping someone for a daily 15-minute power conversation, having those connection moments to look forward to releases thought patterns of loneliness.”
2. Volunteer once a week.
I know several freelance writers who get out of the house by having a part-time job. Although this can be a great way to socialize once a week, I didn’t like the idea of being beholden to an employer. (That’s why I became a freelancer in the first place.) Instead of getting a job, I began volunteering at a local Head Start preschool once a week for two hours. Playing with a group of 5-year-olds every Wednesday afternoon gives me a much-needed pick-me-up.
Jodi Womack, an author and speaker, also volunteers to shake things up. “I volunteer with a nonprofit organization in Los Angeles that connects professional women writers with at-risk girls,” she says. “I’ve been a volunteer for WriteGirl for seven years. It’s a great program for the kids, and it’s a great opportunity for me to connect with other writers.”
3. Head to the library.
Many people eschew coffee shops because they can be noisy and full of distractions. If you fall into this camp, consider heading to the library instead. You’ll get out of the house for a bit, and you’ll have a quiet setting to crank out some work in. It’s a win-win.
4. Keep meaningful photographs on your desk.
Lucy Harris, CEO of Hello Baby Bump, says one way she fights the work-from-home blues is by keeping photographs of her loved ones near her workspace. “Even though I may be alone, I look at the pictures to reminisce on the memory or the people in it, and suddenly I don’t feel as lonely because I know there are others around me and in my life,” she says.
5. Foster your weak-tie connections.
In life, we have both weak-tie and strong-tie connections. People like your parents, spouse and friends are strong ties, while weak ties are people who aren’t strangers, but aren’t friends, either: the front-desk clerk at your gym, the seafood guy at your grocery store, the barista at your favorite coffee shop. It turns out these weak ties can have an immense impact on our mental health. Some research even suggests they’re as important as our strong ties.
Business coach Stacy Caprio says she always makes a point of getting out of the house once a day. “As you do, smile and say hi to everyone you see, including your building’s door manager, the janitor, any neighbor walking outside, the person taking your order at the restaurant, or anyone you happen to see,” she says. “These small social connections and conversations will go a long way toward making you feel connected and less lonely without being a huge time draw or anything you have to plan in advance.”
6. Put on a podcast.
This tip comes from Sharon Rosenblatt, director of communications at Accessibility Partners. “I listen to podcasts during work,” she says. “While not ‘real people,’ it provides a nice background that is humanizing.”
7. Join a co-working space.
Big cities across the country are now filled with co-working spaces, with thousands of people paying a fee each month to rent a desk or office in a shared workspace. Although these spaces can provide a sense of community for the work-from-home crowd, there’s one caveat: They can often be pricey, with membership running up to $500 per month depending on the space and the city you live in.
No list of ways to avoid loneliness when working from home would be complete without mention of exercise. Exercise has countless benefits we’re all well versed in, one of which is improved mental well-being and focus. If you’re not doing so already, head to the gym or join an intramural sports league to get some much-needed mental energy.
9. Consider getting a furry friend.
I spoke with countless people who work from home for this article, and more than one touted the benefits of having a pet nearby. Their advice is shrewd—research has shown having pets can combat loneliness.
Psychologist and neuroscientist Sabina Brennan can vouch for the benefits of having dogs. “I have four rescue dogs, and they help me address loneliness in so many ways,” she says. “They have to be walked every day, so that forces me out of the house, and dogs are a great ice breaker—people will often stop to say hello to you and your dog.”
Brennan also says simply smiling at her pets improves her mood. “Smiling is critical for our health: It boosts our immune function, it lowers blood pressure, and it releases hormones that make us feel good—it’s a natural stress buster. Many of us see smiling as a reaction to something funny or in response to someone else’s smile, so if we work from home, we can forget to smile, which can compound feelings of loneliness. My dogs always give me something to smile about.”
Related: How to Survive Working From Home
Photo by @Elisall via Twenty20