Six Ways to Psychologically Thrive as a Digital Nomad
You're untethered and can travel anywhere. How does your brain feel about that?
Posted October 28, 2019 | Reviewed by Lybi Ma
You are untethered to a location. Have Internet, can travel. Being able to traverse the world without needing to be in a permanent spot can be freeing — and also a little discombobulating. Here are six ways to stay psychologically healthy while you are on the road.
You Can Feel Exhilarated and Homesick at the Same Time
You're having a great time. You have the freedom of not being tied to a desk, and you're your own boss. Ideal, right? But sometimes you really miss having a permanent spot to call home. In fact, on some days, especially days when you have a less structured schedule, you feel kind of lost. It is absolutely normal to feel two very different feelings at the same time. It's not a but situation — it's an and. You can feel happy and homesick simultaneously. Accept that feeling homesick is valid, and does not "cancel out" any positives you have gained. Emotions are temporary. One of the best ways to work through them is to allow yourself to feel them. If you are feeling homesick, write a post, contact a loved one, try a new adventure in your location. And let yourself feel.
Keep Better Track of Your Money
Financial well-being is part of overall well-being. Nothing can stress you out quicker than running low on funds. Keeping track of your money on an easy-to-follow budgeting app like You Need a Budget (YNAB) can be a life-saver. It also gives you that "sleep through the night" factor that flare-ups of stress can interrupt. I have no business affiliation with YNAB. I do pay a yearly fee to use it. And I can vouch for its awesomeness, and how easy it is to stick with, even when you are on the road. It works even if you have ADHD or other difficulties that can create challenges with organization and detail.
Before a budgeting app, you kept a "mental tally" of your accounts. You are probably dropping money on things you didn't even realize. It's the little day-to-day costs that really add up. Acknowledging it is the first step. When you use a budgeting app, you now notice that your monthly online subscriptions have bumped up a few dollars. Or you have been charged for something you didn't buy — which is more likely to happen when you are traveling. But now you are able to catch it as soon as it happens. Using a budgeting app also helps you to always maintain some consistent money in the bank — especially important when you have variable income from month to month.
Have a "Comfort Object" or Routine
Because things change around you daily, you want some things, practices, or rituals that stay the same. Humans crave consistency. If your consistency is that things are always changing, it can lead to burnout. Carry something that reminds you of home. It can be something small. The important part is that it is something that helps you refocus on what's important to you. This is especially helpful after a long day. I travel with a framed photo of my family and a small piece of art. One of the first things I do when I arrive at my destination is putting them on the nightstand in the hotel room. Comfort objects can be a great focal point for meditating or just for pausing and taking some deep breaths.
There is comfort in routine. For centuries, routines (and rituals) have played an important part in maintaining well-being within a culture. They are ways to mark time. When you are going back and forth between time zones, having a nighttime ritual can be an important touchstone to help your brain get into its new circadian rhythm.
If you usually exercise regularly at home, keep doing so while you are on the road. Consistency is key. There are programs that allow you to pay a monthly fee to access several gym chains around the country. The one I pay for through my health insurance costs $26 a month. Many gyms around the world have a one-time walk-in fee. And never underestimate the exercise you can accomplish just by walking around outside or just by doing bodyweight exercises.
You are probably trying to keep costs low. After all, part of being a digital nomad means giving up some financial security. However, sometimes you just need to spend some money on yourself. Part of why you chose to be a digital nomad is so that you could experience new things. Make sure you are allowing yourself to do just that. Spending some time just letting yourself relax or be pampered can help you hit restart in your brain. What helps us relax differs from person to person. You'll know you've found the right activity when you just feel a sense of calm, and you have moments where you are just thinking of... nothing.
Have a Balance of Socializing and Alone Time
We all have different levels of socializing. Some of us are extroverts, and we relax by being around other people. Some of us are introverts, and we prefer to relax by being by ourselves. Many of us are a combination of the two. While it's important to make social connections while you are traveling, learn what your signal is when you need some time alone. Maybe you are feeling what I refer to as being "peopled out." You just want to be alone. Or maybe you are itching to talk to someone when you are alone. It's probably time to go out and strike up a conversation. There is no right or wrong way to do it. If you are new to starting conversations with people you don't know, the more you practice, the easier it will get. Getting to know other people will also help you make business contacts and get new gigs, which are especially important when you are a freelancer.
Consider Online Counseling
Many therapists (myself included) provide services via HIPAA-compliant video. If you are using an online counseling app instead, read their terms and conditions very carefully. Some therapy apps collect user data, with few legal protections on your side — your data could be bought or sold.
Online counseling is a good option when you are traveling in a remote area and you need a neutral third-party to discuss issues. It's also a good option when you have a varied schedule and just can't make it in for a face-to-face appointment. Just because you're on the road doesn't mean your problems go away — they are just different problems. Remember, asking for help is a strength, not a weakness.
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