Remote workers who travel (aka digital nomads) are a unique breed. Taking what most people agree is one of the most stressful things they do (travel) and make it a lifestyle. In fact, many remote workers make travel their work as well.
Sometimes it gets to you. Sometimes all you want is to be surrounded by people who speak your language and actually know you.
A few months ago, I almost quit traveling. It was all getting to me: the temporary friends, the constant barrage of new information, and the isolation of feeling like an outsider.
While situations differ, this seems to be a feeling that most 'digital nomads' will encounter at least once in their travels. We have a high-stress lifestyle hidden behind a picture-perfect Instagram account and it’s easy to forget to take care of the most important aspect of our lives: our mental health. So here are a few methods to help us all live our best (or least panicked) lives.
Be kind to yourself
As a digital nomad with anxiety and depression, I know the downward spiral of self-respect that comes with disappointment. If something goes wrong at work, if you don’t get a positive response from that pitch, if you’ve had some really difficult classes, you start to look at yourself as the problem. You blame yourself for not working hard enough, for overlooking something important, or for just not being good enough. It’s crazy the things our brain tells us when we’re disappointed!
When you’re feeling down, be kind to yourself. Listen to these thoughts, acknowledge the feelings, but don’t internalize them. Instead, forgive yourself for being impatient or grumpy or “lazy.” Let yourself learn from it, and move forward. Remember that you, like all humans, are flawed. But you’re still worthwhile and capable. Treat yourself with the same kindness and forgiveness that you would expect from your friends and family.
However if the spiral becomes too much, consider it a prime opportunity to try the next step: take a rest day!
Take rest days
Remote workers are unique in that we are never really not working. Whether we are planning for our next English lesson, staging the perfect picture for Instagram, outlining our travel blog as we adventure, or just waiting for the next disaster-induced email, our minds are constantly at work. This is an excellent recipe for early burn-out in what is aptly called the “burn-out generation.”
The only way to really escape this? Scheduled rest days. This will look different for every nomad. For me, it looks like Netflix and ice cream. For you, it might look like a long walk and a home-cooked meal, with no Instagram photos allowed. Maybe it looks like a spa day. You can even throw in some calls to friends and family back home. But the most important aspect of a rest day is that you are not allowed to work. You’re not allowed to schedule your next week of classes, answer work emails, or even remind yourself that you could be working. It’s like what weekends used to be before we all became workaholics.
The best way to ensure that you won’t be pressured into working is to schedule these days. Let your coworkers know that you won’t be available, block your website for the day, turn off notifications from students. Even if you can only schedule one or two complete rest days a month, I promise it will feel like a breath of fresh air and you’ll be able to go back to work with a fresh perspective and a rejuvenated soul.
Cultivate your self-awareness
Yes, it sounds like some hippy-dippy mumbo-jumbo, but hear me out! This can be a difficult process to define and implement, but it is also incredibly important for living a full and healthy life. I see this as getting to know yourself openly, honestly, and judgment-free. We are all flawed human beings, but we also have incredible strengths. We must become aware of these aspects of ourselves to understand our underlying motives and fears.
You may ask, how do we do this? How do we delve deep into our subconscious and fearlessly face the depths of our soul? The easy answer is drugs. The harder, and more lasting, answer is I don’t know. I try to meditate and journal as often as I can because it helps me be honest with myself. Others find that diving into their passions gives them clarity. For others, it means extensive reading and reflection. It might look completely different for you.
I think that the best way to cultivate your self-awareness is just to try. Find what works for you, but don’t shy away from knowledge that makes you uncomfortable. It’s through this process that we can understand what we actually need, we can forgive ourselves for mistakes, and we can truly be kind to ourselves. And who knows, maybe you’ll reach enlightenment. If you do, please let us all know how, because that would be awesome.
This is my final piece of advice for digital nomad self-care. If you are feeling depressed, anxious, overworked, lonely, exhausted, disappointed, shy, uncomfortable, confused, weird, or none of these at all, sign up for therapy. Even if you feel fine, but you want to improve yourself. Everyone can benefit from counselling and it’s easier than ever to find a remote counsellor or coach. I have recently signed up for counselling and it has helped immensely.
No matter where you are on your journey, if you've only just started being location independent or you're well on your way, remember that mental health is incredibly important, especially for remote workers both on the road and who work alone.
However, whatever you take away from this post, remember that you’re making your dreams happen and that’s pretty darn cool. So make sure you’re happy and healthy doing it!
Sara Kuenzi is a freelance writer currently based in Nepal. As a digital nomad with depression and anxiety, she strives to provide support and information for aspiring travellers with mental illness. She loves adventure travel, movies, and all things cat-related. She also works as a remote English teacher and loves learning about new cultures and ideas from her students.