If you feel lonely when not surrounded by other people – either physically or virtually – here’s how you can reclaim your alone time & learn to enjoy doing things by yourself
As anyone who has gone to the cinema on their own or spent an evening snuggled up on the sofa, reading a book in blissful silence, will know doing things on your own is a brilliant chance to enjoy your own company. In fact, recent research indicates that spending time in ‘positive solitude’ can be good for our overall wellbeing as it can be the perfect time for self-reflection, personal growth and even creativity.
However, it’s important to note the difference between loneliness and simply being alone. ‘Loneliness is the mismatch between the relationships that we have and the relationships that we want to have,’ says Catherine Seymour, head of research at Mental Health Foundation.
And loneliness can happen even when you’re with other people. ‘We can feel lonely when surrounded by other people if we feel disconnected from those other people,’ says Catherine. ‘Maybe we feel we don’t “fit in” with them, or are treated badly by them, or that they’re not interested in us, for example. Maybe we feel awkward around others.’
While loneliness is something most of us will feel at some point, how we experience loneliness will ‘vary from person to person or even at different points within our own lives’, explains Aisling Traynor, head of advice and training at Mental Health UK. ‘It’s a subjective experience, not necessarily dependent on the amount of social contact we have with others.’
On the flip side, being able to enjoy your own company and view being alone as an opportunity to focus on yourself can be incredibly rewarding.
‘Being on our own can be a chance to give ourselves some much-needed attention after a period of focusing on other people. It can be a chance to get our energy back. For people who get little time alone, it can be a luxury,’ says Catherine.
But how you spend your alone time matters. ‘While activities such as overworking and watching TV generally delay or suppress our feelings and cause negative impacts on our mental health, there are things we can do to keep our minds busy and be more comfortable with being in our own space,’ says Catherine. ‘Small activities go a long way in terms of giving us energy and keeping our minds busy.’
So, rather than seek distraction (hello TikTok), here are some ways to embrace solitude and love being on your own…
Seven ways to enjoy your own company
1. Reframe how you view being alone
‘Reframing alone time can be a useful tool,’ says Aisling. ‘This involves challenging the negative thoughts we’ve built up around our loneliness, such as that we aren’t worthy or that we are wasting valuable time by spending time on our own, to try to cast our situation in a more positive light.
‘When many of us were separated from family and friends during the pandemic, we used this time to reflect on where we were in our lives and plan for the future, to make a bucket list or to return to old hobbies or pick up new ones we found interesting.’
2. Occupy your mind
‘An important coping strategy, which you might find useful, includes doing activities that occupy your mind, such as listening to a podcast,’ says Catherine. Try a Headspace Mind Giftcard, £30, for access to a whole range of exclusive podcasts, mindfulness exercises and meditation online classes.
Want to live more in the moment? This how-to guide will help you make time for mindfulness.
3. Move more
‘Physical exercise can help with loneliness,’ says Catherine. The ensuing release of neurotransmitters called endorphins (aka happy hormones) in your brain can make you feel happier. Not feeling like lacing up your trainers? Our guide to fitness motivation could help.
4. Get back to nature
Research shows that spending 30 minutes or more a week in nature can improve symptoms of depression and lower blood pressure. Catherine recommends getting out in the garden or going for a walk in a green space.
5. Step away from social media
Stay away from social media, as it takes you away from enjoying your own company and can lead to unfavourable comparisons with others. ‘Be careful when comparing yourself to other people,’ advises Stephen Buckley, head of Information at Mind. ‘We all do it, but it can help to be aware that things are not always what they seem from the outside.
‘Social media is an example of this – we often see what other people want to share about their lives, and this can make us feel like we’re the only ones feeling lonely. But remember that you don’t know how other people feel when they’re alone or not on social media.’
Even if you’re not directly interacting with people, you’re interacting with their thoughts or input, and it’s important to detach, down-regulate and reset – especially as social media can actually boost feelings of loneliness. A study found that those who used social sites most frequently (defined as 50 or more visits a week) had three times the risk of perceived isolation than those who went online less than nine times a week.
6. Indulge in a little me time
The Mental Health Foundation suggests showing kindness to yourself with a little gift as if you’re your own friend. Whether that’s buying your favourite chocolate bar, dancing to your favourite song or luxuriating in a bubble bath, scented with something like Sanctuary Spa Luxury Bath Float, £12.50.
Take care of stress before it takes over with our guide to stress care as self-care.
7. Find a furry companion to hug
‘Spending time around animals can help with feelings of loneliness, either through owning a pet or visiting a local community or city farm. But it’s important to do what you feel comfortable with and try not to put too much pressure on yourself,’ says Stephen. Want to reconnect with your furry companion? Our Activity Superstore Dog Friendly Stays Gift Experience, £119, includes relaxing getaways for you and your four-legged friend to choose from, either in tranquil countryside spots, cosy market towns, along the seafront, or minutes from the bustle of a city.
If you’re still struggling with loneliness, there is help out there for those who need it. ‘Loneliness can be both a symptom and a cause of mental illness,’ says Aisling. ‘If you’re struggling, you should speak to your GP, but you might also want to consider reaching out to organisations, such as the Samaritans or online peer support communities like Clic.’