Solitude often gets a bad rap. Experts extol the virtues of social connectivity; it’s linked to better immunity, improved stress resilience, and even longer life. Being alone, on the other hand, is all too often equated with loneliness. Research suggests that social isolation and loneliness increase the risk of heart disease, obesity, anxiety, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, high blood pressure, and even early death.
But research is also increasingly showing that there are real benefits to finding things to do by yourself. Doing things by yourself allows you to enjoy activities you love at your own pace and in your own way. Through solitary pursuits, you learn more about yourself and reflect on your experiences.
Being Alone vs. Loneliness
While there is a wealth of research pointing to the psychological downsides of loneliness and social isolation, there is an increasing amount of evidence suggesting that a certain amount of quality time alone is critical to well-being. Some things, this research suggests, are just better off being done by yourself without the distractions, opinions, or influences of other people.
Even though people sometimes fear seclusion, research has shown than many people actually seek and prefer solitude. Your desire for alone time is heavily influenced by your overall personality.
Your preferences for solitude play a role in determining whether being alone has a positive or negative effect on your well-being. Where extroverts often dislike being alone, introverts tend to prefer it. Of course, just because you tend to be introverted does not mean that you want to be alone all the time. Even the most introverted of people need a support network and social connections.
And being an extrovert does not mean that you aren’t capable of enjoying your own company. Even if you naturally seek the company of a crowd, you can learn how to enjoy a little time to yourself now and then.
It is important to remember that being alone and loneliness are two very different things. Loneliness involves being isolated despite wanting social connections, where being alone means taking time for yourself between regular social interactions.
Times When Solitude Can Be Beneficial
It’s voluntaryYou also maintain positive relationshipsYou can return to social groups when desiredYou feel good about spending time alone
Choosing to be alone at times can 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 to Do By Yourself
If you are naturally drawn to other people, finding activities to enjoy all on your own might seem difficult at first. Adding some quiet moments where you can be alone can come with a number of benefits, particularly if you are always on the go and struggle to slow down and take breaks.
Some things you might want to try:
Take yourself out to dinner. Dining out is often viewed as a social experience, but treating yourself to a nice meal can give you a chance to relax and enjoy the experience in peace.
Go to the movies alone. It’s not like you spend a lot of time socializing in the middle of a film, but being with other people means you might be distracted wondering what they think of the movie and what they might have to say later. Seeing a film alone means that you can fully focus on the story and visuals in front of you without wondering about what your companions might think.
See your favorite band or musician by yourself. Not only will you get to see your favorites 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 who you share common interests with. You might be doing something on your own, but it can actually help widen your social circle.
Go for a hike. Spending time in nature can be great for your health, but it can sometimes be tough to find people who want to go. Going alone can give you a chance to connect with nature, challenge your body, and enjoy some 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 can help people focus their priorities, gain a greater appreciation for relationships, and improve future goal-setting.
If you do hike alone, take all necessary safety precautions. While the point is to be by yourself, make sure someone knows where you will be, and you should always have the ability to contact the outside world if needed.
Travel. Vacationing and traveling alone may 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. Sign up for a class where you can learn a new skill, whether it’s something like cooking, archery, art, dance, or some other hobby that has always interested you. Instead of being focused on doing what other people want to do, you can pursue something that satisfies your own interests.
Visit a museum. Rather than feeling rushed or pressured, wandering through a museum on your own is a great way to spend time looking at the exhibits that you’re interested in and skip the ones your not. It also means that you can check out things at your own pace and react to exhibits without wondering what other people are thinking.
Volunteer. Research has shown that prosocial actions like volunteering can have a number of positive benefits. Look for opportunities in your community where you can devote a little time to a cause you are passionate about.
The Benefits of Being Alone
Most research suggests that too much social isolation takes a serious toll on both physical and mental health. But there are benefits to spending time on your own, as long as you balance it by maintaining strong and supportive social connections.
It Can Improve Concentration and Memory
When you are working in a group, you might exert less effort to memorize information because you simply assume that others in the group will fill in the gaps, a phenomenon known as social loafing. Working on things alone can help you focus your attention, which can improve your retention and recall.
In one study published in the journal Psychological Bulletin, researchers found that groups working collaboratively to recall information performed worse than individuals recalling things on their own.
It 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 get to know yourself. When you are surrounded by others, you might set your own ideas and passions aside in order to appease the wants and needs of friends and family. Taking time on your own gives you a critical opportunity to make creative choices and focus your attention without worrying about what other people are thinking.
It Boosts Creativity
Collaborative brainstorming is often seen as one of the best ways to generate new ideas, but research has found that people are often better at solving difficult problems when they work on their own. Where group efforts are often about achieving consensus and fitting in with the crowd, solo work encourages innovation without added social pressure.
It Improves Your Relationships
Relationships are often strongest when each person takes time to take care of themselves. Even when it comes to friendships, the old adage may be true—a little absence might really make the heart grow fonder.
One study published in the British Journal of Psychology found that highly intelligent people actually become less satisfied the more time they spend socializing with friends.
Having friendships and a strong social support system is important for your mental health and well-being, but taking a break and going it solo once in a while may help you appreciate those connections all the more.
It Makes You More Productive
Group work is often lauded for improving collaboration and innovation, but it can also be distracting. Even trying to focus on more than one thing at a time has been shown to dramatically reduce overall productivity. So even if you don’t have the luxury of focusing on projects solo, you can reduce productivity killers by simply focusing on one task at a time.
It 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, getting time alone isn’t always easy, particularly when technology has transformed how people spend time alone. Even when you are by yourself, you may never take a break from communicating with others. After all, they’re just a text, tweet, or DM away.
Even in cases where you are not able to get time completely by yourself, cutting back on digital communication for a brief time might be helpful. In one study, researchers found that when teens went five days without communication devices, they improved their ability to interpret emotions and facial expressions.
Just be careful not to let periods of solitude 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 are used to surrounding yourself with friends and family or even prefer the company of strangers, learning to appreciate the joys of going solo may take some time.
Make a plan. The best alone-time often happens when you set aside a specific period to be by yourself. It shouldn’t be forced isolation that leaves you feeling withdrawn or anti-social. Set aside an evening or a weekend for a little refreshing “me time.”Eliminate the distractions. If you find yourself tempted to work, check out social media, or talk on the phone, start by turning off any potential distracting devices. Leave your laptop and phone aside and focus on doing something that you don’t normally get to do on your own.Learn to value solitude. In an ever-connected world that often devalues being alone, it is important to remember the importance of taking time to spend with just your own thoughts.
One fascinating study found that participants would rather engage in mundane tasks or even administer electrical shocks to themselves rather than spend 6 to 15 minutes alone in a room with nothing to do but think.
In the study, participants much preferred to spend their time engaged in mundane tasks rather than being left to their own thoughts. The researchers concluded that most people would rather be doing something—even something negative—than sit and do nothing.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you need to completely escape all forms of external stimulation when you are alone. The key is to engage in activities that allow you to feel a sense of inner solitude. Some people can achieve this feeling while listening to music or reading a book, while others might require the quiet of a peaceful session of meditation.
Find what works for you, then make sure that you have regular moments where you can retreat to this quiet mental space.
A Word From Verywell
Whether you are an introvert who thrives on solitude or a gregarious extrovert who loves to socialize, a little high-quality time to yourself can be good for your overall well-being. The trick is to remember that this alone time is for focusing on you—for cultivating your passions, finding new inspirations, getting to know yourself better, or even engaging in some much-needed rest and relaxation. Even when you are busy, pencil in a little time each week for some moments of seclusion.