How to be Alone, but not Lonely

It’s okay—and healthy—to be alone sometimes, but not everyone enjoys it. Some people fall straight into loneliness when they spend time on their own, even if it’s just for a little while. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

First things first, it’s important to know the difference between being alone and being lonely. Being alone is an observable fact; it’s you on your own without anyone else around. On the other hand, loneliness is very subjective; loneliness is an emotion that is felt when you’re unhappy about being on your own and you’re wanting some kind of companionship that you’re lacking. Loneliness can be felt when you’re alone, but it can also be felt when you’re in a room full of people if you’re not with a friend or loved one or just can’t relate to anyone nearby. Being alone and being lonely are two different, separate things and they don’t have to go hand in hand. It’s possible to overcome the feeling of loneliness and learn to enjoy and appreciate time alone.

One key to it is changing the way you see being alone. People who are prone to loneliness often feel fear about being alone. If they’re single, they fear that they’ll always be single and then being alone becomes stressful. They feel hopeless, and descend into loneliness. People who don’t have many friends or who live in a city far away from the people they love can feel the same kinds of emotions. It’s important to address these fears and remember that being alone now doesn’t mean you’ll be alone forever. If you don’t want to be alone, you can actively work toward changing it, whether that means finding a romantic partner or forming new friendships. But it’s important to know that in the moment, things aren’t going to change so it’s time to make the best of the current situation. Accept that you’ve got time to yourself and identify the positive aspects of the situation.

For example, if you live alone you don’t have a roommate eating your food, you can decorate however you like, and even walk around naked if you want to. If you’re single, you can travel wherever and whenever you choose, you can spend more time focusing on work without neglecting a partner, and you can sleep soundly without someone tossing and turning next to you. Basically, if you don’t share your space or your personal life with someone, you can do whatever you want to do without having to compromise or give up what you want to do. Whether your time alone is a regular occurrence or just a single day, being on your own means being able to decide exactly how you want to spend your time without having to work out a plan that everyone is happy with—it’s all about what you want. Even if you’d rather not be alone in a particular moment, recognize that you have a lot of freedom and that that’s a great thing. If you can start to see the situation in a positive light, you won’t feel the negativity of loneliness so much.

If you do start to feel lonely, take a minute to try to identify what got you feeling that way. Sometimes it can be triggered by something in particular, like a memento from an ex or a song that reminds you of friends that live far away. When you’re struggling with loneliness, it can be helpful to get rid of anything that is making you feel worse. Put away the memento, take the song off of your playlist. It doesn’t have to be forever, but until you’re feeling more comfortable alone and loneliness isn’t so much of a problem, it’s best to set the trigger aside.

Once you’ve decided to change your perspective and have put away anything that sparks negative feelings, start to consider what kinds of things you can do with your time alone. Yes, you will still be alone and it may not be what you prefer, but if you can find ways to enjoy your time, you’re much less likely to feel lonely. You’ll be preoccupied with activities you enjoy and your focus will be elsewhere. If you have hobbies, it would be a good time to dedicate some more time to them. But what about if you don’t?

Well, how about learning something new? Is there anything you’ve always wanted to learn but haven’t had the chance to get into? If you’ve got a lot of alone-time on your hands, it’s a great opportunity to develop your interests. Maybe you’ve always been interested in history; you could pick up a couple books about a specific era or watch some documentaries. Or maybe you’ve considered taking up yoga; you could start doing yoga at home with a video routine or join a class in your neighbourhood. You could even learn how to paint or play guitar. Your time alone allows you to take part in activities you care about without distraction. You can grow your skills and knowledge-base more than you could if you were busy spending that time with other people. Putting your focus into your interests will pull you away from feelings of loneliness and help you to appreciate the time you can put into learning.

There are other ways to spend your time on yourself that are helpful too. Consider taking the opportunity to get to know yourself. Sometimes we get so caught up with our day-to-day lives that we don’t think about what we want or where we’re going. If you’re not sure what you want to do with your life, if you’re not sure what you’re passionate about, or if you’re just not even sure you like who you are, it’s time to sort through those issues. Take up meditation or journaling to get out your thoughts and start to work on your problems and discover what your goals are. You might even consider seeing a therapist to help you get started, even if it’s just for a couple of sessions. Working on yourself will help you be happy both short- and long-term and you’ll be in a better place to form a relationship in the future.

While learning about who you are, you might find that you could improve your relationship with yourself. Psychologist Dr. Wayne Dyer says “You cannot be lonely if you like the person you’re alone with.” People who don’t like themselves very much tend to be less comfortable with being alone so working on loving yourself can help you get over loneliness. Not only that, you’ll feel more confident and content in your everyday life. Learn what makes you you and work toward accepting yourself, even the parts you perceive as flawed. If you can learn to love all parts of yourself, you’ll feel more at ease while alone and loneliness won’t be an issue for you.

In learning to like yourself, a little self-pampering is helpful. Spend some time indulging yourself and you’ll not only be building up your relationship with yourself, but you’ll be enjoying the time alone instead of feeling lonely. It doesn’t have to be anything major: have a long bath, treat yourself to a long nap, order your favourite food for dinner, or play a video game. Don’t go overboard and eat until you feel sick or spend more than you can afford or anything like that; just do something for yourself that makes you feel good, even if it’s small. Know that you deserve it! When you spend your time alone doing something that makes you feel spoiled, it’s hard to feel lonely—you’re too busy feeling good. And when you do it in the pursuit of self-love, you help yourself in a way that will positively impact your present and your future.

Loneliness is a terrible feeling, there’s no denying that. It’s rooted in sadness and a sense that something is missing from our lives. When our focus is on what we want but don’t have, it’s natural to start feeling down. The key to overcoming loneliness is finding a way to enjoy being alone, and luckily there are a lot of options to get to a point where being alone isn’t a problem. Whether you decide to distract yourself with hobbies and diving head-first into your interests or you’d rather work on feeling comfortable with who you are so you can enjoy spending time with yourself, you can absolutely move forward and leave loneliness behind. It’ll take some work, but you can do it. Spending time with people you care about is fantastic, but that doesn’t mean that time without them is lacking in anything. Shift to seeing the positives in solitude and take advantage of it, and you’ll never have to feel lonely again.

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