One of the often overlooked facts of freelance life is that it’s a solitary pursuit. Even if our work requires contact with many people, we're still solo acts at the end of the day. The team spirit found at a multi-person company doesn't exist, and in its place, many freelancer find a sense of disconnect.
Left untreated, loneliness can lead to depression and other behavioral health problems that can also have a major impact on body – so what’s a solopreneur to do?
Dr. Jeremy Nobel, faculty at the Harvard Medical School Department of Global Health and Social Medicine and founder of the Foundation for Art and Healing, says the secret lies in the a distinction between alone and lonely.
Being alone can be contemplative, enjoyable and essential for creative work, while being lonely is the experience of feeling disconnected. Loneliness is a self-assessment about how we perceive of our place in the world in any given moment: How we see ourselves in comparison to those around us, determines how relevant (or irrelevant) we feel.
This can get out of hand fast when we are faced with the need to constantly upgrade skills, keep up with the latest trends and compete with more and more people for less and less work.
The good news is that creative activity seems to be the alchemy that can turn lonely into alone.
The Foundation for Art and Healing recently launched the The UnLoneliness Project to raise awareness that creative expression through any kind of art medium is an effective way to ease loneliness.
Nobel explains, “A growing amount of evidence supports the claim that creative expression improves health and well-being for individuals and community. Freelancers in particular have an opportunity to harness the power of creative expression in the making, sharing and reflecting of creative work, pursuits which for many come naturally and spontaneously!”
Try this 3-part creative cure for freelancer loneliness:
First, pause the social stream.
Since feelings of loneliness often come from comparing where we are now with where we think we should be, social media can be a real trigger. While it can be a great way to check in with friends and connect, it can easily slip into loneliness inducing territory.
If you find yourself obsessively scrolling through newsfeeds wondering why you aren’t getting a certain kind of client, taking more vacations, eating more lobster rolls, trying on more hats and going to more weddings, it is time to shut it down.
BONUS: Turn your phone off and head to a park. Connecting to nature actually helps you feel less alienated.
Next, make something.
A simple act of making something, anything, to express yourself will do the trick. It can be something really small for example, write a haiku about what you observe in your immediate surroundings or make a collage depicting how you feel at the moment.
BONUS: Rather than relying on the resources your computer or digital devices offer write with pen on paper or draw in a sketchbook. The physical activity helps to shift focus inward and eliminates distractions.
Then, share what you made
Show someone what you made. Sharing your creative expression can lift some of the burdens of your emotional state. This doesn’t mean presenting your work in a formal exhibition or performance (although that could be a meaningful goal).
Just handing what you made to the next person your encounter or taking a photo and sending it to someone can do the trick.
BONUS: Exchange your creation for someone else's. Receiving something made by someone else is another effective way to feel reconnected.
Loneliness can be the shadow that stalks any solopreneur. If we channel it into creating rich interior lives that reach full expression when we're alone, we can not only battle feelings of isolation, but also become our more authentically ourselves.