Being A Digital Nomad: A Psychological Perspective

In our current digital era, it’s understandable that the idea of committing to a usual office job lifestyle that we as a society have grown accustomed to is far from ideal. And in a day and age with what feels like growing opportunities for alternative living, lifestyles and work, becoming a digital nomad is something that more and more people are becoming aware of and are beginning to consider.

By definition, digital nomads are those who use technology and telecommunications for work, who possess “the ability…to work remotely from their laptop and use their freedom from an office to travel the world”. This set-up allows those who wish to pursue a freer lifestyle the opportunity to do so, from any location they desire. A lifestyle that may seem alien to those of us who are accustomed to daily commutes and working a typical 9-5 schedule.

There has been no better time than now to be a digital nomad, especially now that we’re post-pandemic. We have proven to ourselves that – realistically – most work can be completed without the physical constraint of having to be present in an office, with some companies even shifting to remote working as a permanent strategy for employees due to remarkable increases in employee productivity.

Pursuing a life as a digital nomad is an enticing opportunity that the majority of us would – or have – taken advantage of. The concept of digital nomadism remains fairly simple, but what does the digital nomad lifestyle really ask of us and how does it impact us on a psychological level? Much like the motto of most digital nomads, let’s explore…

The Psychological Benefits of Being a Digital Nomad

In light of the recent COVID-19 pandemic, the drastic shift to remote working has been one that societies worldwide have had to rapidly adjust to, and it has shown us just how positive working remotely is for our mental wellbeing.

The relief from stress that working remotely provides is notable. A study conducted by PGi found that 82% of remote workers believed flexible work arrangements were related to their reduced stress levels. Research has even shown that being a digital nomad means you have a less stressful environment to work in overall. Given the marked impact that stress can have both on individuals’ mental and physical health, research seems to point to digital nomadism being beneficial for stress and thus for our wellbeing.  

Evidence even points to digital nomadism being directly linked to improved well-being. For those working remotely, one study demonstrated that over 80% of individuals surveyed believed that working partially remotely enabled them to take better care of their mental wellbeing. The remote-working lifestyle even points to increased levels of productivity and boosts in employee morale.

Despite being physically distant and disconnected from a grounded work environment, the support one can gain whilst being a digital nomad has never been greater. Social support that individuals can gain online as a result of growing virtual infrastructure – such as social media communities – and also co-working spaces globally, means digital nomads can access an expansive community of other digital nomads to gain social support when they want or need it. There is plenty of epidemiological evidence that exists to highlight the relationship between health and social support, with poorer social support leading to poorer mental and physical health, and thus, adopting the digital nomad lifestyle may be linked to better mental and physical health.

It is also worth mentioning that being a digital nomad provides individuals with the opportunity to more easily balance their work and life, which research has shown can in turn facilitate more positive mental health and wellbeing.

The lifestyle also provides the opportunity to build and gain new relationships with other like minded individuals, which can help improve self-confidence and self-esteem. Likewise, the travelling that comes with being a digital nomad boosts confidence and self-esteem, as well as feelings of independence and self-determination, which similarly can improve self-esteem.

Alongside research showing that travelling is linked to improved creativity, it is undoubtedly evident that the positive psychological implications of being a digital nomad are both pronounced and vast.

Other Benefits of Being a Digital Nomad

Of course, the benefits of being a digital nomad are not just confined to our psychological well being.

The flexibility that digital nomadism provides means individuals are faced with more opportunities on a day to day basis, giving individuals a list of possibilities for how they choose to pursue aspects of their work and life. Increased flexibility also means that digital nomads tend to have more free time, for reasons including their flexible working hours and gig work, as well as not having to concern themselves with regular commutes.

Its flexibility allows for individuals to not neglect their own interests or families. Working a regular job often leaves you with minimal spare time to spend on yourself or with your family, sometimes leaving you having to make the difficult decision between who to prioritise – but digital nomadism often eliminates this issue.

Not to mention that being a digital nomad provides a more even playing field for workers all around the world. There are limited barriers to becoming a digital nomad, the only fixed requirements are a stable internet connection and – if wanting to be freelance – a set of skills you can profit from.

Travelling exposes individuals to unknown and diverse situations, and as a digital nomad, this will provide you with the opportunity to discover, understand and embrace different cultures and cultural identity.

And finally, travelling provides excitement that work simply cannot provide – and thus, by becoming a digital nomad, it is without a doubt that every day will be an exciting new adventure that you are pursuing.

Negative Psychological Implications of being a Digital Nomad

Of course, like all things, digital nomadism is by no means easy or entirely positive.

Often, social isolation is a problem that digital nomads may be faced with, with research having shown that the lifestyle is in fact linked to social isolation. And unfortunately, research has highlighted that social isolation is linked to poor mental health, suggesting that digital nomads’ mental health is at risk as a result of feeling socially isolated.

Research has also shown that employees working from home had increased levels of emotional exhaustion, which was facilitated through receiving low social support from employers and superiors. One study even reported that remote e-working had a negative impact on employees’ emotions and emotional states.

Other Negative Implications and Risks of Being a Digital Nomad

There are a number of other risks and negative implications that may come with pursuing a lifestyle as a digital nomad. Increased risk and uncertainty is an aspect that must be considered before committing to this lifestyle, and is a consideration that may be easily overlooked. Particularly, the insecurity of jobs and employment is an ongoing uncertainty for some digital nomads. Also, digital nomads may struggle with anxiety as a result of continuous change and instability and uncertainty of their employment, retirement pensions and irregularity of income. These circumstances can pose a risk for both mental and physical wellbeing, so may be a consideration to bear in mind if you want to pursue the lifestyle in the future.

On the topic of physical health, the physical implications of being a digital nomad with working on laptops and computers daily may leave individuals with strained shoulders and necks, contributing to back pain.

Being a digital nomad can often leave people vulnerable to failure. A high risk of failure as a result of high competition, and with digital nomadism being on the rise, this means that competition is rising in areas such as marketing, consultancy and drop shipping, leaving a lot of digital nomads finding it difficult for their businesses to thrive in certain fields.  

The Important Role of Personality

Interestingly, research has pointed to digital nomadism being more complex that simply packing a bag and your laptop and jetting off across the globe. Different personality dimensions have been associated with telecommuting in a study conducted in Southern Illinois.

The big five personality dimensions are five basic dimensions that psychology has pin-pointed personality to be composed of. These dimensions include openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. The study found that both conscientiousness and agreeableness dimensions were linked to having positive telecommuting attitudes. One of the most interesting findings of the study, which also looked at emotional stability’s relationship with telecommuting attitudes, was that a higher emotional stability was linked to having poorer attitudes to telecommuting.

It therefore appears that, depending on your personality, your attitudes and your likelihood to pursue digital nomadism may differ considerably from person to person. This research would also explain why some people would rather work in an office environment rather than remotely, contributing to our understanding of personal preferences in the world of work.

It has never been easier to pursue the dream of being a digital nomad. Living and working around the world is an increasingly achievable lifestyle that continues to evolve as our communities, cultures and technologies advance hand in hand. Like any transition, it is important to take a critical perspective before taking a leap into an unfamiliar experience and new way of life, but you can set forth into the world of digital nomadism being all the more confident that you are prepared for all that it entails.

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Charlotte Pitts

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