A new study into loneliness examines the effects of solitude on people’s well-being. The results challenge the notion that spending more time in isolation creates lonelier people. In fact, doing so may improve your mental health and resilience.
Do you often find yourself overwhelmed by life’s pressures? Do you sometimes need to take a “time-out,” retreating from social situations and parking up with tea or coffee and a book or a movie? You don’t need to feel bad about it; alone time can be good for you and could help to reign in feelings of loneliness and stress.
A new study suggests that although seclusion is often framed as a sign of loneliness, it actually aids individuals in decompressing from the contemporary world’s demands and can help people feel more liberated and in control.
The study involved 178 participants who were asked by researchers to fill in a three-week diary. Throughout this time, participants wrote down how many hours they spent in solitude each day. This included the time they spent away from contact with other people both in-person and digitally.
The resulting research suggests that feelings of stress were ranked lower when people spent more time alone on average during the day.
Each day, the participants were required to answer three questions posed by the researchers; how pressured did they feel to act in a certain way, how much control did they feel they had over the events of their day, and how free did they feel to be themselves?
When participants spent more time alone during the day, their answers to the questions would be significantly more positive.
Although participants tended to feel lonelier on days when they spent more time in solitude than what they were generally used to, this effect did not translate the same way for people who generally averaged more time alone.
As a result, researchers have inferred that negative feelings toward solitude only arise when you are alone and want to have company. What this proves is that many people are unaffected by seclusion and can happily stay in solitude without negatively impacting their mental health and well-being.
“Solitude can be extremely relaxing, because you are your own captain,” explained Netta Weinstein, a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Reading who led the study. “There is no boss wanting a task completed, and no conversations which come with pressure to be entertaining and likeable.
“Of course being with other people is very rewarding, but it can take a toll too, so a certain amount of solitude may help to balance the time we spend socialising, and boost well-being.”
The study sought to uncover whether there is a “tipping point,” in which once you spend a certain amount of time alone per day, the solitude begins to harm your well-being.
However, the results found no correlation that a certain amount of time alone could begin to negatively impact your well-being.
In the study, which was published by the journal Scientific Reports, participants were asked to record how strongly the statement, “today I feel stressed,” resonated with them. The longer they spent alone, the lower their stress levels generally were.
One concern noted was if people spent more time alone, they ranked their day as less good and reported higher feelings of loneliness.
But whether people were proactively choosing to be alone was more important. The researchers ascertained this information by working out how much each participant agreed with statements regarding embracing and valuing solitude, including whether they found it important or beneficial to their well-being.
When a person was alone by their own choice, the length of solitude no longer affected whether they enjoyed their day and whether they felt lonely. Those in the study who spent the most time in solitude were not affected by the same increase in feelings of loneliness and reduction in satisfaction with the day that participants experienced on average.
“The finding lies in contrast with a common stereotype that people who are alone more frequently are ‘lonely people’,” explained the researchers.
Ultimately, being alone only had minimal consequences for well-being over a short period, and when “a person spent an unusual and greater amount of their time in solitude than was normal for them.”