Loneliness is commonly given a bad rap. Experts highlight the virtues of social connectivity; It is linked to a better immune system, better resistance to stress and even a longer life.
Being alone, on the other hand, is very often equated with isolation. Research suggests that social isolation and loneliness increase the risk of heart disease, obesity, anxiety, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, high blood pressure, and even premature death.
But research has also shown that there are real benefits when we find things to do alone. Doing things alone allows you to enjoy the activities you love at your own pace and in your own way. Through solitary activities, you learn more about yourself and reflect on your experiences.
being alone versus loneliness
While there is a wealth of research pointing to the psychological downsides of loneliness and social isolation, there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that a certain amount of quality time alone is critical to well-being. Some things, this research suggests, are best done yourself without the distractions, opinions, or influences of other people.
Although people sometimes fear isolation, research has shown that many people actually seek and prefer solitude. His desire to be alone is heavily influenced by his personality in general.
Your preferences for solitude play a role in determining whether being alone has a positive or negative effect on your well-being. Extroverted people often don’t like to be alone, and introverts on the other hand tend to prefer it. Of course, just because you tend to be an introvert doesn’t mean you want to be alone all the time. Even the most introverted people need a support network and social connections.
And being outgoing doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your own company. Even if you naturally seek out the company of other people, you can learn to enjoy a little time with yourself from time to time.
It is important to remember that being alone and loneliness are two very different things. Loneliness means being isolated despite wanting social connections, and being alone means taking time out between regular social interactions.
The moments when solitude can be beneficial
- when it’s voluntary
- When you also maintain positive relationships
- When you are able to return to social groups whenever you want
- When you feel good about spending time alone
Choosing to be alone can sometimes be rejuvenating, but the important variables are that it is something you choose and something you enjoy. Being alone is harmful if it feels like a punishment or if you feel excluded from social connections.
Things you can do alone
If you’re naturally attracted to other people, it may seem difficult to find activities you enjoy on your own at first. Having a few quiet moments when you can be alone can bring a number of benefits, especially if you are always on the go and struggle to slow down your life and take breaks.
Some things you might want to try:
- go out to dinner. Eating out is often seen as a social experience, but enjoying a good meal by yourself can give you a chance to relax and enjoy the experience in peace.
- go to the movies alone. It’s not like you go to the movies to socialize in the middle of the movie anyway, but being with other people means you’ll be distracted wondering what they think of the movie and what they might say next. Watching a movie just means you can fully focus on the story and images in front of you without wondering what your peers will think.
- Go to your favorite band or musician on your own. Not only will you be able to see and listen to your favorite musicians without having to worry about finding people who want to go with you, seeing a concert alone can be a great way to meet other people with whom you share common interests. Yes, you are doing an activity on your own, but at the same time, this can be very useful to widen your social circle.
- go for a walk. Spending time in nature can be great for your health, but sometimes it can be hard to find people who want to go with you. Going solo can give you the opportunity to connect with nature, challenge your body, and enjoy peaceful solitude.
- Previous research has shown that nature can have a number of psychological benefits, ranging from restoring attention to relieving stress.
- Researchers suggest that being alone in nature it can help people focus on their priorities, gain a greater appreciation for relationships, and improve future goal setting.
- If you walk alone, take all necessary safety precautions. While being alone is the goal, make sure someone knows where you will be, and you should always have the ability to contact the outside world if necessary.
- Travels. Going on vacation and traveling alone can seem particularly intimidating., but it can also be an exciting and rewarding way to challenge yourself and learn new things. Traveling alone is also a great way to build self-sufficiency and confidence.
- Learn something new. Enroll in a class where you can learn a new skill, whether it’s something like cooking, archery, art, dance, or some other hobby you’ve always been interested in. Instead of concentrating on doing what other people want to do, you can find something that meets your own interests.
- Visit a museum. Instead of feeling rushed or pressured by others, strolling through a museum on your own is a great way to pass the time looking at the exhibits that interest you and skip the ones that don’t. It also means that you can appreciate things at your own pace and react to works without wondering what other people think.
- Participate in volunteering. Research has shown that prosocial actions like volunteering can have a number of positive benefits. Look for opportunities in your community where you can spend a little time on a cause you’re passionate about.
The benefits of being alone
Most research suggests that spending too much time in social isolation has serious consequences for both physical and mental health. But there are benefits to spending time alone, as long as you balance it and maintain strong, supportive social connections.
Can improve concentration and memory
When you work in a group, you may have to exert less effort to memorize information because you simply assume that others in the group will do it for you, a phenomenon known as social loafing. Working alone on things can help you focus your attentionwhich can improve your retention and memory.
In a study published in the journal Psychological Bulletin, researchers found that groups who worked together while withholding information fared worse than individuals who did it on their own.
Makes your interests a priority
It gives you time to focus on your interests. Being alone is an important part of self-development. It allows you to know yourself. When you are surrounded by others, you can set aside your own ideas and passions to satisfy the wants and needs of friends and family. Taking time on your own gives you a critical opportunity to make creative decisions and focus your attention without worrying about what other people are thinking.
increase your creativity
Group brainstorming is often considered one of the best ways to generate new ideas, but research has found that people are often better at solving difficult problems when working on their own. Where group efforts are typically about reaching consensus and fitting in with the group, solo work fosters innovation without further social pressure.
improve your relationships
Relationships are often stronger when each person takes the time to care for each other. Even when it comes to friendships, the old adage can be true: a little absence could really make the heart grow warmer.
A study published in British Journal of Psychology found that highly intelligent people become less satisfied the more time they spend socializing with friends.
Having friends and a strong social support system is important for your mental health and well-being, but taking a break and doing it just once in a while can help you appreciate those connections even more.
Being alone makes you more productive
Working in a group is often seen as an achievement for improving collaboration and innovation, but it can also be a distraction. Trying to focus on more than one thing at a time has been shown to dramatically reduce overall productivity. So even if you can’t afford to focus on solo projects, you can reduce productivity killers by simply focusing on one task at a time.
makes you more empathetic
Research suggests that a certain amount of alone time can actually help you have greater empathy for the people around you. Of course, spending time alone is not always easy, especially as technology has transformed the way people spend time alone. Even when you are alone, you may never take a break to communicate with others. After all, they’re only a text away.
Even in cases where you can’t fully get alone time, it can be helpful to cut back on digital communication for a short time. In one study, researchers found that when teens spent five days without communication devices, their ability to interpret emotions and facial expressions improved.
Just be careful not to let periods of loneliness turn into social isolation: Research has found that loneliness is linked to decreased empathy.
how to be alone
Being alone doesn’t come naturally to everyone. If you’re used to surrounding yourself with friends and family or even prefer the company of strangers, learning to appreciate the joys of being alone can take some time.
Make a plan. We can often have better alone time when we set aside a specific time to be alone. It should not be a forced isolation that makes us feel withdrawn or antisocial. You can set aside an evening or a weekend for some refreshing “me time.”
Eliminate distractions. If you’re tempted to work, check social media, or talk on the phone, start by turning off any devices that might distract you. Put your laptop and phone aside and focus on doing something you normally can’t do on your own.
Learn to value solitude. In an interconnected world that often devalues the idea of being alone, it is important to remember the importance of taking the time to live with yourself and your own thoughts.
One fascinating study found that participants would rather engage in mundane tasks or even give themselves small electric shocks than spend 6-15 minutes alone in a room with nothing else to do.
In the study, participants preferred to spend their time on mundane tasks rather than being left alone with their own thoughts. The researchers concluded that most people would rather be doing something, even something negative, than sit back and do nothing.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you should completely eschew all forms of external stimulation when you’re alone. The key is to engage in activities that allow you to feel a sense of inner loneliness. Some people may achieve this feeling while listening to music or reading a book, while others may require the silence of a peaceful meditation session.
Find what works for you, then make sure you have regular times where you can withdraw into this quiet space of mind.