For the better part of three years, I've been the sole operator of Carmella’s Jewelry, which became my full time job in 2016 and is now among the top 1% of all Etsy shops. I create all the jewelry you see in this shop by hand in my home, spending nearly every working hour a week in my home office (our basement). During busy times of year, like before Christmas and other major holidays, that can mean working alone in my basement for up to 50-60 hours per week.
Back when I became successful enough to consider this my full time job, I went through a lot of mental struggles of feeling suddenly very lonely, even though my husband and two young children would fill the house with noise and chaos every evening and weekends.
Prior to working full time from home, I mainly worked in offices for non-profit associations and not-for-profit organizations. With most office jobs, not only do you feel fulfilled with the purpose of getting to work with a team toward a common goal, you get the added benefit of becoming friends with your coworkers. It makes sense considering you’re with these people every weekday of most weeks out of the year.
That’s 2,080 hours each year spending time with adults other than your spouse/partner or a close relative. Even if you don’t have good friends outside of work, that’s a lot of social time. At the very least, these are people you get to bounce ideas off of, eat lunch with, ask for advice about where to take your kids to daycare or which dentist they like the most in town. Plus, they’re adults you probably have a lot in common with, given the fact that you’ve all been hired to work toward the same mission or for the same business.
When something happens that forces (almost) everyone into social isolation, you’re going to go through an adjustment period. There’s no way around it. And with coronavirus possibly keeping people in social distancing scenarios for as long as 8 weeks or more, people are going to start feeling the effects of this social isolation.
As someone who has willingly been in a sort of social isolation scenario for several years, I wanted to offer some advice to all of you who might be feeling the added anxieties of this new and unfamiliar way of life.
My first piece of advice…you need to realize that it’s totally normal to feel this way. Before I started working from home I considered being a full time jewelry artist to be my absolute dream job. I imagined setting my own hours, working in coffee shops and designing wonderful jewelry, browsing supply stores, relishing in the fact that I’d be my own boss. When it finally happened, my life mostly resembled those amazing things I’d dreamed about, but I found that I still didn’t feel satisfied with this life…it felt like I was still yearning for something different. I couldn’t understand why I’d finally gotten to live the life I’d always longed for and still felt so much unease all the time.
It took me a long time to realize that this kind of life is lonely and to let myself be bummed about that fact. Because it sucks that I’m alone A LOT. That’s my first piece of advice, realizing that it’s okay to feel bummed about the isolation side of this situation. We’re all doing it for the good of humanity, but it is okay to feel like it sucks. Once you let yourself understand that, you can start looking at the positive sides of your situation.
If you are working remotely, I highly suggest keeping in touch with your coworkers as much as possible. Take advantage of the fact that we live in a day and age where technology allows us to keep in touch with each other virtually in almost the same way as it feels to be sitting side by side with a colleague. My favorite part about my jewelry shop is getting messages from my customers, especially when those messages go from discussing jewelry, to discussing real life. I absolutely love those kinds of customer interactions, where I create a piece of jewelry for someone I feel like I know because of messages we’ve exchanged.
Play music or a podcast or have the TV on in the background while you’re working. My husband likes to laugh whenever I claim not to watch much television because I probably binge “watch” 20-30 hours of television a week while I’m working (Hulu, Netflix, Disney Plus, Amazon Prime, we’ve got em all). I don’t actually watch the shows though, it’s just like they’re in the room with me keeping me sane while my eyes are on my work. Having the background noise is absolutely essential for my sanity. With jewelry, my brain is in creative mode, so having the TV on in the background isn’t a distraction. If you need your full brain’s concentration, try listening to piano music or classical music--something that won’t disrupt your train of thought.
Make sure you have everything you need before you get started. A cup of coffee, your notebooks & pens, a phone and chargers, etc. Anything you think you’ll need to keep you at your desk for a good chunk of time…whenever I find myself pausing to get a glass of water, I have too many temptations pulling me away from going back to my desk, like laundry, or a snack, or dishes, or a snack, or calling a friend, or a snack….food is my biggest distraction, which is partly why I started intermittent fasting about a year ago, but that’s a whole other blog post.
Keep yourself motivated. Sometimes it’s still hard for me to take that initial first step down my basement stairs when I get home from dropping the kids off at school. Once I get started though, I often find that I feel better when I’ve avoided procrastinating because I don’t feel rushed to finish the day’s tasks. Sadly with the kids home as well, that’s a whole new battle we’re going to have to tackle, but I think I’ll be taking it one day at a time…and hiding in the basement to work might be a lot easier now!
Honestly, maintaining that work flow will probably really help with distracting you from the social isolation of working remotely. It’s best to keep busy. You’ll still feel like you have that sense of purpose and you’ll have more reason to keep in touch with your coworkers on a regular basis. If you don’t have enough to fill the days now that you’ve got fewer meetings to work around and less mini breaks chatting with your coworkers by the water coolers, catch up on mundane tasks or go through old emails to make sure nothing slipped between the cracks.
Stay OFF social media. If you use it for work (like I do in maintaining my jewelry shop’s Facebook and Instagram pages), download page manager apps so you can avoid going onto your own personal page and getting all panicky about the state of the world (doesn’t it feel like no news is good news these days?).
Look for other resources that might help maintain sanity and have websites bookmarked on your browser for easy access. If all else fails and you start feeling the effects of the loneliness, there are plenty of mental health resources that you can access from the comfort of your home, and I’m sure they’re all going to be far more helpful than I’ve been in this long blog post.
Even though we’re all going to be seeing a lot less of each other over the coming weeks, it’s a comfort to know that none of us are actually alone.
You might feel lonelier than normal right now, but the reality is, we’re all in this together!