Does Becoming A Digital Nomad Help Fight Anxiety And Depression?

Noam LightstoneLife Lessons And Experiments Leave a Comment

In case you’ve been living under a rock, there’s this whole new “work remotely from your laptop wherever you are” fad going on. It’s been mainly popularized by Tim Ferriss’ book, The Four Hour Work Week.

Tim and many others argue that the standard type of job, 9-5, mortgages the best years of your life for hours in a cubicle, 2 weeks vacation, limited sick days, strict rules, and all in all a pretty bad deal.

Say something that might be offensive? Go to HR. Need to go visit your sick Mom? You still have to ask permission from a higher up.

Digital nomads are a group of people (myself included, as I started to talk about in my What It’s Like To Travel The World series…) who are leveraging the tools the internet provides so that almost all work can be done from a laptop. This way, we can work from wherever we want – both in terms of an office (at home, co-working space, coffee shop) or world location (Costa Rica, Prague, Paris, Vietnam,… whatever place you’ve always dreamed of visiting).

But as I contemplated the huge benefits of the lifestyle and how grateful I am for it – seeing amazing sights, living wherever you want, meeting lots of new people… I got to thinking:

Can becoming a digital nomad be a good prescription for us? Will it teach you how to control anxiety? Will you learn how to fight depression?

The Advantages Of Living A Mobile Lifestyle – Why Become A Digital Nomad?

Different people pursue this lifestyle via different methods. Some become freelancers, spending their time locating clients and working for them. Others negotiate mobile work agreements with larger companies so that they can travel around the world as they work.

But, why chase this lifestyle? Why is it all the rage now?

In my opinion, it all boils down to one word:


You have the freedom:

  • To work from whatever location you want.
  • To go explore a famous site like The Eiffel Tower or new restaurant mid-day.
  • To interact with people all around the world.
  • To work how you want (productivity hours, wake up time, sleeping in if you go out one night…)
  • To choose who you work with (clients, working alone or with people,…)

The lifestyle offers you a chance to pack many new experiences into a short time. You will see far more than the majority of people will ever experience in their entire lives. With all the research showing how the experiences we have are directly correlated to our own happiness… digital nomadry seems to offer many benefits that can really improve your overall quality of life.

Arguments For The Lifestyle Based On The Causes Of Anxiety And Depression

I talk about how depression stems from poor self-image, high stress, low self-worth, and feeling like you are not doing much in life/aligned with your true desires. Also, how I believe that anxiety, stems from having fears resulting from past traumas and not pushing through them.


Visiting a Buddhist temple mid-day for a break.

These problems can also be caused by having poor people in your life and a stagnant lifestyle.

From a pure environment standpoint, there’s no comparison between snow-stormed Ottawa, Canada to the palm trees that surround me in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. I can’t help but feel more relaxed. (Not saying Ottawa is always snowy and crappy. Sometimes it’s downright beautiful… just not in the Winter months).

It would seem that if you become a digital nomad you can tackle both anxiety and depression head on, both from a business and personal perspective:

On the business side, you must overcome your fears that can range from locating clients, being on a shoe string budget or going without money coming in for a long time, and dealing with large amounts of information (overload causes a huge amount of anxiety).

In dealing with these issues and doing something many are too scared to do (or cannot do due to life circumstances), you have a HUGE rush to your self-esteem. “I’m doing this. This is INCREDIBLY hard, but it’s worth it.” If you are a freelancer or entrepreneur, you also have very good control on who you answer to and your work style, enabling you to cut out toxic individuals. You can even take mental health days if you have a really bad time.

On the personal side, you are thrust beyond your comfort zone and must deal with a great amount of issues – How do I make friends? What about VISA rules? What are the cultural differences?

Again, overcoming all of these challenges boosts your self-esteem and re-enforces the message that you can accomplish what you want. You’re also going to be having more experiences than many people have in their entire lifetime, meeting people from different walks of life and seeing everything from Buddha’s tree of enlightenment to the Taj Mahal.

Sounds pretty awesome right? Seems like a good way to learn how to manage your anxiety with the proper tools and become a happier person.

… But the greatest strengths of the lifestyle are also it’s greatest weaknesses.

Counter-Argument: Why The Digital Nomad Lifestyle Might Not Help Deal With Anxiety And Depression

If you aren’t in the right mindset and really have no prior experience in entrepreneurship or dealing with your anxiety, the lifestyle will have you bending at your knees. Different people handle stress different ways – Some people might love the challenge and fun of running around handling VISAs, other people might HATE it).

If you can’t prioritize, organize, and understand what’s going on, you’ll never be able to learn, step-by-step, how to break down the goal “move to another country and live there” to:

  1. Get and research VISA rules
  2. Find an apartment once there
  3. Sign up for travel forums to ask if anyone is in X city
  4. ….

(If you need some help with this, you can learn more about goal breakdowns and handling large tasks to really help reduce your stress and anxiety in Mastery Of The Mind).

…And then you’ll be drowning in more stress than you had at home.

For me personally before moving to Vietnam, most of what I had was stress. I accept that a lot of it was my own fault for cramming so many things together (moving from one Canadian city to home, having only a week to prepare for the trip, ending my relationship at the time…), but I think even with more time my predominant emotion would still be anxiety, because that’s just who I am.

Once I got to Saigon I was floored and excited with the opportunities and all the fun I was having for the first 2 weeks. Reality set in with my dwindling bank account and I had the the stress of having to find a nice place. This moved back to being extremely grateful when I found something amazing, then again fear of not finding a good job that could support me, then again gratitude for something that checked most of my wants and my book doing so well, and back to trying to work but getting out to explore the city and having adventures with friends.

Later on I’ll have to figure out how to extend my VISA.

I’m getting absolutely gouged by bank fees and need to see if I can open another account somewhere.

I need to deal with the loneliness the comes from being on a laptop a lot, or go find a co-working space… but then money comes in to play.

I’ve had medical issues I had to deal with, had no idea where to get certain items I need that if I was back in Canada I could just drop by any store and find…

But as I write this out I realize it’s more how my brain interprets and creates work. This is all stuff anyone would have to deal with, but different people can handle prioritizing, stress, and balance better or worse. Some people would come here for a week and give up based on all the logistical issues. Other would stick it through.

So, Should You Move Across The World To Help With Your Anxiety And Depression?

Wherever you go, there you are.

While I was lividly happy the first 2 weeks I was in Vietnam and really good at managing my anxiety, I’ve since come a bit down and returned to a more normal state. Yes, I’m far better at handling things than ever, but my brain is up to it’s old tricks… so it’s harder to listen to my gut, know when I can take a break, know if something is or is not a big deal…

I wouldn’t say being a digital nomad automatically solves anxiety or depression. In fact, as it did in my case, it can create more stress than it solves, especially at the start.

But in my opinion after leaving home for almost 2 months now, the pros far outweigh the cons. My home window sets a backdrop of construction of an urban centre, farm fields, and a Buddhist temple… This is something I simply can’t see back in Canada. I’m free to move wherever I want, whenever I want (at the expense of watching my bank account).

Meeting new people has also expanded my mind. As different as we are based on language, culture, and so on… humans are still humans and seem to look for the same things, they just might behave a bit differently to get those things.

Yes, I have been EXTREMELY fortunate for the resources I had to get to Vietnam, and the job I found. I am eternally grateful for that. Sometimes things just have to line up. But if you really want something, you’ll find a way to make it happen.

There is the quote that, “To travel is to take a journey inside yourself”, and while this lifestyle is not for everyone, I would encourage people to try it at least for a little bit just to see if it’s right for you. You don’t necessarily have to sell all your possessions and quit your job (though that might be a good idea), but hell, you could take your 2 week vacation from work and try to freelance as you travel a bit. Maybe you make good money.

I firmly believe in travelling and working remotely. You will learn how to manage your anxiety in various situations (because you HAVE to), and become a happier person as you have experiences some could, and will only ever dream of.


Further reading/resources:

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