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5 Mental Health Benefits to Spending Time Alone

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Do you like doing things alone?

For a lot of people it feels uncomfortable or unnatural to do things all alone. As humans, we rely on connection with others, but it’s also important to take time for yourself. Spending time on your own gives you a chance to get to know yourself better, increase empathy and creativity, build resilience, and it also lets you be in control.

Spending time alone doesn’t have to mean that you’re antisocial. Even if you enjoy being around people a lot of the time, everyone needs time alone once in a while. Knowing that you need time to yourself doesn’t mean that all of your time needs to be spent by yourself, it just means that you know to prioritize alone time every so often.

Some people think it’s odd to do things alone. There’s a sort of stigma attached to being alone, which can make it more difficult to do. Sometimes it can be jarring when people don’t act the way we expect them to. In our society, we tend to imagine people in perfectly paired off little groups or family units, so when we see someone on their own sometimes it registers as odd for a moment. That doesn’t mean it actually is weird though! Spending time on your own is a perfectly valid choice.

Why is it important to spend time alone?

Humans are social creatures, but it’s still important for us to spend some time on our own. Spending time by yourself has a lot of benefits.

Here are 5 reasons why it’s important to spend time alone regularly:

1. Increased empathy.

When you spend time alone, you don’t have to worry about pleasing or impressing other people around you. You are more likely to act according to your values when you don’t have the pressure of everyone else’s perspective. While it can be helpful for others to give advice or support when you ask for it, it can be overwhelming sometimes to have others weigh in on your choices.

When you’re surrounded by a large group of people, it’s also more difficult to tune into what each individual is feeling. This is especially true on social media, where people are even further removed from one another but still in constant contact. Have you ever found that when you take a break from social media for a few days, you feel less on edge with other people afterward? Taking a break from the demands of interacting with others can help you replenish your empathy stores.

2. Increased creativity.

Taking time to yourself gives you a chance to let your imagination run wild. When you aren’t focused on others and their needs, you have more time to think about what inspires and interests you. The social pressure that we all feel when we’re with others can get in the way of creativity. Being by yourself lets your mind wander, which can open up new ideas and ways to be creative.

3. Build resilience.

It can feel uncomfortable to be alone or do things on your own. Once you try it once or twice, it will probably feel less weird. Spending time alone isn’t always everyone’s idea of fun, but we all are alone from time to time. Learning how to be OK with being alone can help increase your level of happiness and build resilience for when you do difficult things. It’s always nice to have something you can point to that reminds you you’re more capable than you think.

4. Get to know yourself better.

How well do you know yourself? One way to get to know yourself better is to spend time by yourself. Being alone gives you a chance to reflect on what is meaningful to you, what your values are, and what your goals are. When you know what is important to you, you can act in ways that align with your values, which can be a great feeling. Making choices without being influenced by others can help you get in the habit of trusting yourself and your own judgment.

5. Let yourself be in control.

Being alone gives you a chance to be the one in control of what’s going on. You don’t have to worry about anyone else’s needs or plans. You can pick where you go, what you do, and how you do it. This can be especially necessary when you are almost always surrounded by people, like in a caretaking role. When your default is to prioritize everyone over yourself, it can feel hard to do something different. Spending time by yourself can give you a break from putting others first and allow you to practice self-care.

When you don’t have anyone else to worry about, you can do exactly what works for you. You don’t have to focus on making everyone else happy, which leaves you more time to do the things that make you happy.

How can I start spending more time alone?

If you’re not feeling ready to spend tons of time by yourself, try building up to it. Start with 10 minutes a day, if that feels OK for you. Give yourself some time alone for a walk around the neighborhood or something else that feels good to you.

In this day and age, being alone doesn’t just mean having no one physically around you. It also means no one there digitally either. We often have our phones on and at the ready at all times, but this state of being constantly reachable can make you feel like you never have a moment to yourself. To get the full alone time experience, put your phone on do not disturb or even airplane mode (or get really wild and turn it all the way off). When you don’t have your phone as a distraction, see what else you notice!

Now that we understand that spending time alone is important, you might be wondering what you should actually do when you’re on your own.

Here are 40 ideas for things you can do alone to get you started:

Cook for yourself.
Move your body.
Take yourself out for dinner.
Take a class in a new skill.
Take lessons in a new hobby.
Volunteer for an organization.
Go to a concert.
Visit a museum.
Go to a planetarium or take yourself stargazing.
Spend a day outside.
Watch the sunrise.
Read a book.
Go to a spa.
Plan your next trip.
Go see a movie.
Go see a play.
Work on a home improvement project.
Bake something for someone (including yourself).
Go for a hike.
Take a drive.
Make art.
Write a letter to someone (or even your future self).
Take yourself out for a drink.
Go to a restaurant you’ve always wanted to try.
Browse a bookstore or library.
Write in a journal.
Look through old photos and videos.
Clean or organize something in your home.
Make a new playlist and dance around to it.
Pamper yourself with a home spa day.
Get a massage or acupuncture treatment.
Spend the night in a hotel or Airbnb.
See the sun rise or set.
Practice a new language.
Take a solo trip.
Assess your values.
Write down your goals and steps to get there.
Learn about something that’s always interested you.
Do a crossword or other type of puzzle.

What is your take on alone time? Let us know in the comments. 

Getty image by Tom Werner

Originally published: August 16, 2022
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