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The very definition of nomad assumes loneliness. Individuality. Singularity.
But just because you embrace the digital nomad life doesn’t mean you embrace solitude. Every human has an inherent desire to be with others. While some people are intrinsically introverts, even those that truly value solitude do need human interaction.
Traveling and working solo works for a while. But at some point, you will crave regular human contact. That’s entirely normal and healthy.
Realize That Loneliness Is Normal
Scientific American interviewed scientist Gareth Cook, who says this about how our brains are wired for social interaction: “…research shows that there are two distinct networks that support social and non-social thinking and that as one network increases its activity the other tends to quiet down – kind of like a neural seesaw.
“Here’s the really fascinating thing. Whenever we finish doing some kind of non-social thinking, the network for social thinking comes back on like a reflex – almost instantly.”
When you struggle with loneliness, take a moment to define why. Has it been a while since you’ve talked to friends or family? Have you been entrenched in a project, to the point that you haven’t made time for socializing? Maybe you’ve just been in a location where human contact is sparse?
It’s okay to recognize that you need to be around people, and how much interaction is very individual. What you need to be aware of is not letting loneliness turn into isolation or depression.
If you do start to feel isolated or overwhelmed by the loneliness, try one of these suggestions.
Sometimes just telling someone helps. The act of sharing your burden may dissipate some of the sadness that accompanies loneliness.
If you have a friend or family member to call, text, Facetime, or Skype, do it. Even if you aren’t very close, a familiar voice can instantly help you feel a much-needed connection.
Take Up A Hobby
Not any old hobby, but something somewhat specialized. If you already have a hobby, find your people. Talk to others online and in person and let your passion keep you connected. If you don’t have a hobby, here are some interesting ones to look into:
- Do you juggle? Join the International Jugglers Association.
- Magicians can join the International Brotherhood of Magicians and meet up at events worldwide.
- If you know what the International Association of Vexillology is, you should join. There are chapters and meetings everywhere.
- Pilots can join http://www.ifalpa.org to find events and community.
Many hobbies have enthusiasts all over the world and online communities, which means you’ll always have something in common with someone nearby.
For some, “treat yourself” means buying an expensive pair of shoes or a new car. But in this case, please treat yourself to your surroundings. Be purposeful and why you are treating yourself. You’ll be around others, you’ll enjoy a pleasant diversion, and taking in the sights, sounds, and tastes of the local culture is a big part of why you chose this vocation.
Ask the first person you see in the morning for their expert advice: What is your favorite restaurant? What is your favorite club? Where is the best place is to catch a movie or play? Are there any local festivals or events to attend?
The locals will know where everyone congregates. And you should use that knowledge to treat yourself to a night out. Make it a date night with your location, and truly soak in the culture.
Learn to Be Alone Well
What does that mean? It means allowing your natural proclivity for solitude to develop. It means learning to love who and where you are right now.
“Developing the capacity to be alone well means developing a greater tolerance for, and intimacy with, your experience – the emotional, cognitive, visceral, imaginative, and sensory moment-to-moment arisings that constitute your basic aliveness,” says Karin Arndt, Ph.D. in Psychology Today.
Help Someone Else
Volunteering your time and abilities is a great way to give back to a world that offers you so many opportunities. Plus, helping others is beneficial to you. This Carnegie Melon study found that in a group of people over 50, volunteering helped significantly lower their blood pressure. And this study from the National & Community Service noted that volunteers had better physical and mental health than non-volunteers.
Depending on your location and length of stay, check the opportunities to volunteer here. Many organizations request 1-2 weeks of commitment, but there are plenty of places that will appreciate your help for even just a day. Explain that you are in the country temporarily and that you wish to donate your time and talent. They’ll find a way to put you to work.
Read A Book
Yes, a book. You’re digital, but the power of immersing yourself into a good novel is one way to get past a phase of loneliness. The characters become your people. The drama becomes yours without the hassle of actual drama. Find a library, download a new authors work, ask for a suggestion from a local bookseller.
Keep A Journal
You can journal anything but keeping a gratitude journal may help you look back and see all the incredible things you’ve accomplished. As you’re starting, write down the place you are, the work you’re doing, note who has been kind and engaging, record something funny or beautiful you saw today. You need to see in black and white, right in front of your eyes, that your life is good.
Being able to go back over your journal, and being able to pick out positive parts of your day as you write will help you get past an extreme bout of loneliness.
Unless you’re five years old, making new friends is hard. But walking up to a total stranger and saying, “Hi, I’m not from here. Would you like to show me your favorite place in town” is exactly what you can and should do. Most people feel out of their comfort zone talking to strangers anyway but asking for them to interact with you based on nothing. That’s harder.
Be brave. Do it anyway. Find a friendly looking person in a cafe and ask if you can take them to a museum. Approach someone who is reading a local newspaper (people still do that, right?) and ask them what events are going on nearby today. Go to church. Look for other nomads online and arrange a meeting. Go to a sporting event and ask the person sitting next to you what pub is the best after game hangout.
Even if you think you can’t, try it one time in each new location. You’ll find yourself with a growing list of acquaintances and maybe a new friend or two.
Know that this is Temporary
Loneliness is temporary, as any feeling is. Keep that in mind. You have an abundance of people you know and love, and still more people to know and love that you haven’t met yet. An hour, a week, or a month of loneliness is part of your mindset. If you can see this emotion as another passing feeling, you can move past it and embrace where you are right now.