Being a digital nomad might be bad for your mental health

Is digital nomadism a glamourous life of exotic beaches and dynamic cities? Or is it an existence stripped of meaningful human relationships?

Digital nomads have been much-talked about since the rise of the internet. We’ve done it, along with everyone else. The theory is simple enough: digital technology frees you to work anywhere, and so you can choose great places to say, and work from there, while seeing the world.

The theory may be flawed.


It fails to account for human psychology. Human beings are social animals, and a social group is critical to the way we live. The impact of social isolation can be profound on a digital nomad as Pieter Levels found out:

Then the depression set in. “I started feeling lost. I started asking, ‘Who am I?’ A large part of [your identity] is your environment. When you’re moving around from place to place, and you aren’t making long-term friends, you lose a big part of your identity. I’m a pretty strong and stable person, but I wasn’t prepared for that.”

These are serious issues. As beautiful as your lifestyle can look on Instagram or your blog, that lack of intimate human relationship can have a profound effect on your mind and body:

It’s understandable that the life of a digital nomad life can be tough on a psychological level. There is plenty of research that suggests in-person contact is an important aspect of working relationships. At the same time, psychologist say loneliness can literally be bad for your health.

I wonder if the obvious has blinded us to the possible? Perhaps the power of digital is less in freeing us to wonder around, and more to work where is meaningful for us. For example, I’m self-employed. My colleagues from the NEXT organisational team are in Hamburg, I’m in Shoreham by Sea in the UK. My other clients are scattered around the Uk – and the world. But I have a community of people around me in the town that I see everyday – friends on the nursery and school run. Familiar faces in my local coffee shops – and pubs. Digital has allowed me to feel more rooted in the town that I call home than I would if I was a standard commuter. And that’s psychologically comforting, not unsettling.

Interested in the psychology of the web? We’ll be delving deeper into the topic at NEXT16, with Nathalie Nahai, Web Psychologist & Author, The Web Psychologist. Join us as we explore your Digital Ego.