Navigating Mental Health as a Digital Nomad

UPDATED: June 20, 2023
PUBLISHED: May 31, 2023
digital nomad taking care of his mental health by journaling

It’s easy to romanticize the idea of being a digital nomad, untethered to any destination or destiny. Your desires the only things that compel you to go or stay. This lifestyle has been glamorized in recent years, with social media presenting the dream of flexible work, affordable living and stunning landscapes. 

However, the reality of the digital nomad lifestyle, like any other lifestyle, is that it is neither perfect nor for everyone. Constantly being on the move may offer a temporary distraction, but it’s not necessarily one that is meant to be permanent. Living as a digital nomad also brings unique challenges, many of which can impact one’s mental health. 

Sonia Jaeger, Ph.D., a psychologist, psychotherapist and digital nomad, has seen this play out for many people. “Some people choose the digital nomad life because they think it will solve their mental health issues, but at some point, the issues that they try to leave behind catch up to them,” she says.

Being a digital nomad isn’t for everyone

Not everyone can enjoy digital nomadism in the long-term. In fact, Jaeger suggests that certain characteristics can indicate whether someone will adapt to the lifestyle successfully. “People with conditions like Attention Deficit Disorder might be drawn to the nomad lifestyle because the constant change and new stimulation can actually help them,” she says.

Yet, for others, the absence of a permanent address and the demands of staying connected across time zones may lead to mental strain. This strain is compounded when multiple challenges with living the digital nomad lifestyle arise at the same time. Being a digital nomad requires adaptability, open-mindedness and a certain degree of discipline. Nayantara Dutta, a digital nomad and freelance writer and content strategist, found the lifestyle liberating and lonely, but “despite the challenges, I find that the most wonderful part of being a digital nomad is knowing that you can create a home for yourself anywhere in the world,” she says.

Mental health challenges for digital nomads

For some, the goal is to be a digital nomad, whatever the cost. They may find remote jobs that allow for flexibility without thinking about how the jobs will play into their happiness. However, the digital nomad dream may become grim if it’s not sustainable. 

Dutta highlights the constant change and instability, stating, “It can be very challenging for your mental health to navigate the instability of this lifestyle.” The feeling of being unrooted and constantly starting over may lead to a sense of displacement and a longing for stability.

Taking on multiple intensive changes

Being a digital nomad involves more than just changing physical locations. One mistake Jaeger often sees is people making the move to become digital nomads when they start a new business. “A lot of nomads start living this new lifestyle at the same time as they start a new business, and each of those things are already a huge challenge,” Jaeger says. But combined, the stress compounds. 

On the other hand, Jaeger says it is challenging to make it work as a digital nomad if you’re the only person on your team working in that remote lifestyle: “People underestimate how stressful it can be to communicate remotely in teams, especially across time zones. We’re just starting to understand what we need to make that work. But if [your employer] really prioritizes that and addresses it proactively, then there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be possible, whether it’s the leader or anyone else in the team to be nomadic.”

The pressures of the facade

One group of people Jaeger has observed struggling with their mental health are those selling the digital nomad dream. 

“The whole, ‘if you do this, you can also live this amazing lifestyle’ kind of person tends to have more issues because it rarely is as nice as their portrayal,” Jaeger says. “If you end up spending 16 hours in a s—ty hostel room just to take those five pictures on the beach with your laptop, keeping up that facade and keeping up that online persona can be really hard work, especially if you’re not feeling it and if you’re not doing that well.” 

Establishing better mental health habits as a digital nomad

Despite the potential difficulties, living a fulfilling and balanced digital nomad life is within reach. Many people can flourish as digital nomads. For podcast publicist Alice Draper, “becoming a digital nomad has only improved my mental well-being: I am more confident, adventurous and easily able to let go of what I can’t control.”

Among those who do well in the lifestyle, Jaeger has noticed one key factor: Digital nomads who have addressed preexisting mental health issues and developed self-awareness are better equipped to recognize early warning signs and implement strategies for maintaining their well-being. 

“It only really works if you’re making it a sustainable way of life and of work, and that means earning money and working a healthy amount of hours,” she says.

Create routines

Establishing routines not tied to a specific location is one key strategy Jaeger proposes. This could involve organizing your day, keeping in touch with your loved ones or maintaining a steady exercise regime. Journaling, for instance, can boost your mental health and give you a space to process your emotions. 

Dutta has developed personal rituals, such as singing to herself on empty streets and writing in her journal, to create a sense of home within herself. In addition, Draper emphasizes setting boundaries, such as maintaining work-free weekends and carving out travel recovery time. 

Recognize your warning signs

As Jaeger suggests, “Make sure you’re aware of your own personal warning signs… When do we notice that we’re not doing that well anymore?” Recognizing these signs is important for digital nomads, as being aware of early indicators of mental health issues may allow individuals to take proactive steps toward addressing their mental health needs. 

Adapting the digital nomad lifestyle to support your mental health

The pace at which digital nomads travel may also play a role in their mental health. While some nomads may thrive on rapid travel, others may find solace in slower exploration. It’s important for digital nomads to be intentional in how they create their nomadic experience. Individuals must find their own pace rather than copying what they see others do, Jaeger says.

“Often, the issue is that people don’t really travel at the speed that works for them. I don’t think there’s one ideal speed for most nomads. It really depends on your lifestyle and the finances and the way you set it up,” Jaeger says. “Find a version of this digital nomad lifestyle that works with your needs. For some people, that will mean staying in specific time zones or weather types or traveling a bit more slowly or maybe even faster.”

The digital nomad lifestyle is an extraordinary adventure, allowing individuals to break free from conventional norms and embrace the world on different terms. However, it is vital to recognize that it’s not a cure-all, nor will it make preexisting issues disappear. By understanding the challenges, identifying the characteristics that contribute to success and incorporating healthy habits into their lives, digital nomads can navigate the path with resilience, fulfillment and a solid foundation for mental health. 

Photo by GaudiLab/Shutterstock

Iona Brannon is a freelance journalist based in the U.S. You can read more of her work at