Spending time alone doesn’t have to mean you’re lonely. Alone time can be an opportunity to get to know yourself better, improve your mental health, and do things you enjoy.
“Humans are social beings, hardwired to be connected to others. At the same time, it’s important to learn how to tolerate and even appreciate alone time in extended periods,” says Heather Z. Lyons, PhD, a psychologist, and owner of Baltimore Therapy Group in Baltimore, Maryland.
Whether it’s voluntary or necessary, here are 10 ways to be happier alone:
1. Develop a relationship with yourself
Being alone gives you the chance to nurture your relationship with yourself. However, it’s not always easy to do this.
“Alone time might be difficult for people for different reasons,” says Lyons. “Use the discomfort as an opportunity to learn about yourself. Reflect on what comes up for you when you are alone,”
For example, you can do this by thinking or journaling about your values, likes, dislikes, and current emotions.
In a large 2020 study conducted in the United Kingdom, participants completed a survey every two years about their overall mental well-being and volunteering habits from 1996 to 2014. Those who volunteered at least once a month reported better mental health than those who volunteered infrequently or never.
You can also do this without leaving home. “You can volunteer to tutor students via video, or donate to a food bank,” says Tina B. Tessina, PhD, LMFT, a psychotherapist in Long Beach, California.
3. Learn something new
Take the initiative to absorb and learn new information or practice a skill while alone. “This might include engaging in activities that require executive functioning skills like focus such as reading or creating,” says Lyons.
“Consider doing something different than usual: this is a great time to try something new or take a class via video,” says Tessina.
Being active can go a long way towards happiness. “Partaking in a daily, mindful walk, or engaging in some form of physical activity could alleviate anxiety,” says Leela R. Magavi, MD, a psychiatrist and regional medical director at Community Psychiatry in Newport Beach, California.
In a large 2018 study, researchers found that people who worked out regularly experienced 43.2% fewer days of poor mental health in the previous month than those who were inactive.
5. Spend time in nature
A large 2019 study found people who spent at least two hours in nature over a week were much more likely to report greater well-being and health than those who spent no time outside.
Whether the time spent outside was in small increments or big chunks did not affect the results, and benefits peaked at 200 to 300 minutes a week outdoors. Go on a long walk, read in a park, or just sit outside.
6. Practice gratitude
It’s all too easy to get caught up focusing on what you don’t have.
“I recommend my patients to list things they are thankful for physically, emotionally, and spiritually every morning and evening, especially when lonely during the holidays,” says Magavi. “Furthermore, creating gratitude lists and reading these out loud in front of the mirror could help target multiple sensory centers in the brain to maximize the benefits of this activity.”
7. Take a break from social media
While social media may seem like a chance to connect with others, it can actually cause stronger feelings of loneliness.
A large 2019 study of students aged 18 to 30 years old found an association between social media use and a sense of isolation. For every 10% increase in negative experiences on social media, users reported a 13% average increase in feelings of isolation.
8. Take yourself on a date
While doing something you like may seem obvious, you rarely have the opportunity to do precisely what you want.
“Most people have never had a sustained period of time to think only about their preferences. Create space during your alone time to ask yourself, ‘What do I really want to be doing?,'” says Jeni Woodfin, LMFT, a therapist at J. Woodfin Counseling in San Jose, California.
Take yourself to see a movie or peruse a new museum exhibit. Or, if you want to stay in, cook yourself your favorite meal.
Meditating not only improves mindfulness, but a 2010 review found the practice can increase the amount of gray matter in the brain. This part of the brain is responsible for perspective-taking and emotional regulation.
While the idea of meditating may sound intimidating, the actual practice is accessible to anyone. You can try meditating solo or with the help of apps or Youtube videos.
10. Foster or adopt a pet
Yes, technically, this would give you a companion, but a pet can’t talk back, so it counts.
“Having an animal at home with you creates a relationship that can bring joy, laughter, and unexpected challenges that will keep you on your toes,” says Woodfin. “Animals give us a reason to get out of bed. If you’re struggling to find the motivation to keep moving, having a pet that needs to go for a walk is a win-win situation.”
When to see a professional
Over time, if feelings of anxiety and depression persist or develop, professional care may be necessary. According to Woodfin, a few signs you may need to seek professional help include:
- Disregarding your appearance or not changing your clothes for multiple days
- Consistently declining invites to engage with others
- Regularly spending all day in bed or on the couch
- Overindulging in alcohol, marijuana, or other drugs as a way to numb or stimulate yourself
“The warning signs of increased isolation, increased drug and/or alcohol use, and a decrease in the care and keeping of your body are serious enough that a call to a mental health professional would be helpful,” says Woodfin
Spending time alone doesn’t have to be a lonely experience. Instead, it can be a time of happiness. Engaging in activities such as nature walks, journaling, and meditation can help you enjoy your time and better understand yourself.
However, if you think you may be experiencing anxiety or depression, it’s always best to seek help from a mental health professional.
Sarah Fielding is a freelance writer covering a range of topics with a focus on mental health and women’s issues. She is also the co-founder of Empire Coven, a space for highlighting trailblazing women across New York.