In the age of work-from-home and remote jobs, alone time is on the rise. After being in a cramped office filled with lots of people munching loudly on their lunchtime salads, this time alone can be a relief.
But for others, alone time is scary and the looming feeling of loneliness can look daunting. Yet, being alone and loneliness are completely different things, though we may use them interchangeably. Being alone, if done correctly, can benefit us greatly.
So how do we avoid letting our own loneliness get the better of us and utilize our alone time to improve ourselves?
Alone doesn’t always mean lonely
We should start by looking at the difference between feeling lonely and being alone. Feeling lonely is that feeling of isolation, sadness, and anxiety, which can be dangerous to your health in the long-term. In a 2018 study, researchers found that people who felt the most lonely were more prone to chronic diseases like heart disease, lung disease, metabolic problems, strokes and more. The study also stated that in adult populations, loneliness could be linked to overall morbidity and mortality.
But, on the other hand, being alone, or having alone time can be beneficial to you by improving your emotional queues, boosting creativity, and benefiting your memory. Being alone means taking time out of your day to spend with yourself without any distractions such as people, phones, and emails.
In short, being alone is what you’re doing and loneliness is what you’re feeling.
Alone time is harder than it looks
Being alone stinks. As kids, we were punished by being put in time-outs alone, so our connotations with being alone oftentimes is associated with negative feelings. A 2014 study shows that people would prefer to get an electric shock rather than spend just 6–15 minutes alone.
People often associate being alone with introverts, shy and introspective people, yet the louder and more social extroverts can benefit from alone time too. But it’s how you spend this time that really counts.
Make a plan and treat yourself
Think of alone time as dating yourself. If you’re trying to get to know your date, you wouldn’t sit on your phone for two hours or watch a movie in silence would you? No, so why do it with yourself? Go do something fun, ask yourself hard questions, or reflect on the day's events. Do something you want or need to do, so you’ll keep coming back to it.
Also, you probably wouldn’t head into a first date without a plan. Taking time for yourself to be alone may sound like free time to do whatever you want, but you want to make sure you don’t fall into old habits and have an idea of what you want to focus on for this time alone.
Make sure you put your phone away when you’re gearing up for alone time. Not only does it stop the comparison game that leads to jealousy, envy, and fear of missing out (FOMO), it also has been proven to improve your nonverbal emotional cues. Watching TV may seem relaxing and good self-care, but you want to do something that starts internal conversations with yourself, so you can check in to see how you’re doing.
This can look like doing a yoga practice, meditation, or journaling. If those seem too slow or boring to you, then you can also step outside and get some fresh air. If you have a slow day, try going on a hike or a long walk, but if you’re pressed for time, then take a walk around your block, but leave your music and podcasts at home. This is a time for self-reflection, not self-distraction.
A 2019 study found that people who spent at least 120 minutes in a natural environment like a park or forest, reported better overall health and well-being over people who don’t spend time in green, outdoor areas.
And if you’re not much of a walker, then go on a weekend getaway to a place with no service, take yourself out to dinner, or take a walk around a local museum. Whatever you’re doing, focus on yourself and how you feel, and leave your distractions at the door.
Maybe it looks like grabbing a good book, brewing your favorite Vitapod pod, and sitting by a big tree for an hour. In the end, make it something you will enjoy and benefit from.
Make your alone time a space for you to reflect, recharge, and restart. This is how you can make the most out of your time alone and avoid feeling lonely.