For the self-employed, the coronavirus pandemic can be even more isolating

April 1, 2020, 7:30 PM UTC

Hannah, a freelance marketer and publicist, usually works from home but has a couple meetings a week. That is, she used to have them. Now, with her clients’ budgets uncertain in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, even Zoom meetings are being postponed, and her work has suddenly moved solely to email interactions.

“We may be used to working from home and working alone, but this is on another level,” she says. “As someone I met on a Zoom networking event said, it’s business unusual. I think for many people the uncertainty of how long this will continue is the worst bit.”

Rebecca, a copywriter, has noticed the natural comparison between the self-employed and people with regular jobs. Her husband, now working from home, has a daily meeting with his team via Zoom and a pretty active WhatsApp chat going on. “Seeing the adapted office camaraderie firsthand has highlighted the fact that us freelancers don’t have that level of colleague connection.” 

“Social connection boosts both our physical health and our mental health,” says Lee Chambers, an environmental psychologist. Although self-employed workers can have their families or partners at home, the lack of a corporate framework, plus the inability to spend periods of time outdoors and being on lockdown in a place designed for relaxation, “can leave these workers feeling like they have no one to express these anxieties to,” she says, affecting their well-being and mental health.

“If we don’t make a concerted effort to address this,” Chambers says, “it will become increasingly difficult to cope” with isolation, which in turn can cause stress, anxiety, and depression. So what to do?

Reach out to your friends 

While it may seem counterintuitive since you can’t physically see them, this can be a great opportunity to grow and reinvest in your friendships. “Now is the perfect time to make your social connection a priority and build it into your working life,” says Chambers. Odds are all your friends, even those working in a team, are struggling to adjust to this new dynamic. They certainly miss having friends around. “Schedule a call with your close friends,” he suggests. “Be intentional with it, and book it in like a meeting. Talk to them about how they are feeling, and ask if there is anything you can do to help.”

Collaborate with other freelancers

Whether you join a Zoom group or find a freelance buddy to check in with every other day on how you’re doing, connecting with other freelancers can provide you a “team” of sorts. Chambers suggests keeping each other company while working on your goals and bouncing ideas off each other for work and your mental health during this time. Just as Rebecca sees her husband connecting with workers, it’s possible to create this environment with others. 

Make sure you have a schedule 

As hard as it is when you are stuck at home, outline what you’re going to do each day—and which friend you’re chatting with! Whether that means making your bed before you do anything else, outlining your tasks for the day, or taking a lunch break without your laptop before you, planning is important. Also, while it’s tempting to work from bed (who’s going to know, right?), don’t do it. Chambers advises getting dressed for work as if you were still going to a coworking space and incorporating working breaks into your day.

Define the end of your workday 

Under normal circumstances, self-employed workers find it hard enough to end the day without someone telling them to sign off. Now, with literally nowhere to go, it feels almost impossible to walk away from the computer for the day. So Chambers suggests creating plans for the evening you can look forward to. “Maybe you can cook and create something delicious, make time to watch something from your favorite series, or put the kids to bed and read them a story,” he says. “Don’t forget to connect with the loved ones right there with you for the journey.”

Find a way to help others

Collectively we’re all struggling right now, so lending a helping hand (figuratively!) can help you connect with and help others. As Chambers says, “Maybe you can spare some groceries for your elderly neighbor. How about calling another freelancer you know and seeing if they are okay?” In this time of minimal communication, it’s more important than ever to pick up the phone and conduct meetings, interviews, or regular checkup calls. You can also offer a skill of yours for free for a good cause. “Don’t forget that whatever you are feeling, you are not alone, it’s part of a shared human experience many others will be feeling,” says Chambers.

Don’t be scared to ask for help

At the same time, don’t hesitate to ask for help yourself to get through this period of isolation. “During this time, when we are all coming together as a species to fight against a bigger challenge, we all become more helpful and compassionate toward others’ needs,” says Chambers. No one is alone in this, and you can always call someone other than your friends if you need to.

More must-read careers coverage from Fortune:

—4 ways to keep networking while social distancing
—17 companies that are hiring during the coronavirus crisis
—Why it’s important to know your communication style at work
What is a 401(k)? And why do you need one?
—Listen to Leadership Next, a Fortune podcast examining the evolving role of CEOs
—WATCH: Can you be a leader and an introvert?

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