Feeling lonely is a known health hazard. Being physically or emotionally isolated may not only impact mental wellbeing but has been shown to trigger chronic inflammation, often a precursor to life threatening illnesses including cancer and heart disease.
Recently I’ve noticed that isolation is a growing theme in my work with clients. The situations differ: a thirty-something woman feeling left out as friends start having children, the herbalist working on her own or the partner in a multinational company who works 80 hours a week and misses their family. Regardless of working or living solo, or with others, at times we can feel we’re on our own and unacknowledged.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics 61% of the two million plus businesses in this country are owner-operated, with no employees. That amounts to more than 1.2 million Australians, many of whom work alone. It’s a mindboggling statistic, especially when taking into account microbusinesses are a worldwide trend. While co-working spaces, networking events, online forums and social media create opportunities for connection, for many it can be a huge struggle to find support and balance.
Research indicates that it’s not social isolation alone that impacts on wellbeing (after all, there are healthy introverts who often need a large degree of solitude) but social disconnectedness that has the biggest negative impact on physical health. Connection is a human need and the impact of disconnection is 21st century disease.
4 ways to beat isolation
- Consciously connect: from making eye contact to physical contact (when appropriate), focus on being fully present when communicating with others.
- Seek out like minds both in and out of work: from bird watching to stargazing, volunteering or crafting – increase your opportunities to physically and virtually connect.
- Check your balance: beyond your bank account what do you have too little or too much of? Such as reflection time, collaboration, movement, focused attention, play and rest. When did you last indulge in some guilt-free daydreaming?
- Prioritise life: I find the problem with ‘work/life balance’ is too often we try to cram ‘life’ in around ‘work’. This just gives work too much oxygen. When we invert the equation and focus on finding enrichment and pleasure in life, it increases our motivation to keep work contained.
Staying sane working from home
A year ago, after spending more than half my life studying, working and being an active part of my community in Melbourne, I moved to Sydney. This was not only a change of postcode but it totally altered the way that I work.
I’ve needed to create rituals delineating work and downtime, now I work from home. These include:
- Setting clear work and play times. This has included altering my business hours to make sure I don’t spend all day at home and quarantining my administration so it doesn’t creep into non-work time.
- Working in a dedicated space to keep me focused on clients, writing and learning. This also means using the laptop and phone in other spaces for non-work purposes.
- Making regular lunch dates. Breaking the work day with a walk to eat a healthy lunch in harmonious space on my own or with others is a positive motivator to get moving and have a change of environment.
- Doing regular neighbourhood activities. It helps to feel part of the community. I go to a local lunchtime meditation session, dance at the community centre and tend my plot in a community garden.
- Walking every day – rain, hail or shine. Fortunately it’s mostly sunny in this part of the world. Moving my body and spending time outdoors at least once a day is non-negotiable.
- Scheduling at least one social activity a week with friends (other than partner/family). Sometimes we can get socially lazy living with others. I’m enjoying getting to know my Sydney friends better and discovering new experiences.
- Maintaining professional connections. I’m connecting with a delightful array of fellow naturopaths and lead regular professional supervision groups, to address the inherent isolation in our profession. I’ve also sought guidance from other professionals who’ve helped with this huge transition in my life and work. You don’t need to go it alone. A mindful business coach and psychologist have made these changes as smooth as possible for me.
If you’re feeling isolated, consider investing a wellbeing, business coaching or professional supervision session.