I Hate Being Alone: How To Be More Comfortable Spending Time By Yourself

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated May 15, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide, substance use, or abuse which could be triggering to the reader.
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There are plenty of reasons why a person may not feel comfortable spending time alone, from deep-seated trauma to simply not being used to it. That said, being able to spend time on your own can be a useful life skill. Of course, complete social isolation can be harmful, since humans are wired for connection. However, being comfortable with a reasonable amount of intentional alone time can make you more adaptable to different life situations and potentially bring you a host of benefits. Read on for a look at a few common reasons people may not enjoy spending time alone, along with some tips for getting more comfortable with it.

Therapy can help manage unwanted thoughts

How much alone time is healthy?

First, it’s important to note that there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of how much alone time is normal. Different people can have significantly different needs when it comes to how much alone time or time away from people they need to feel safe and energized. The introvert-ambivert-extrovert personality spectrum is one way to conceptualize this need. People who are more on the introverted side of the spectrum typically find they need more alone time to process their feelings and experiences, relax, and recharge. Those who fall closer to the extroverted end of the spectrum typically tend to feel energized by connection with others and are likely to seek it out when they’re feeling depleted. An ambivert’s tendencies may be somewhere in between. 

It’s not right or wrong to be an introvert or an extrovert. The amount of alone time you need is personal and valid. However, there may be some benefits to getting outside of your comfort zone from time to time and seeing what benefits you may gain from taking more or less alone time than you usually do. For instance, a 2022 study found that people who naturally sit closer to one extreme of the spectrum may be “more susceptible for the development of neurotic defense mechanisms when faced with demanding life situations that require personality traits from the opposite side” of the spectrum. 

While changing the way you’re wired or depriving yourself of what you need is not recommended, this study provides food for thought. In the context of alone time, it may mean that staunch extroverts, others who rarely take time on their own, or those who do but rarely enjoy it can benefit from getting a bit more comfortable with this practice. If you’re introverted, you might benefit from spending more time with friends or family. If you’re extroverted, consider taking some days alone at home to focus on your mental health without the influence of others. You might also take a social media break to find validation from yourself. 

The potential benefits of time alone for mental health

If you’re uncomfortable at the prospect of spending time alone, why do it? The answer is that it can bring a variety of benefits to you—sparing time with things to do by yourself even if you’re an extrovert is a good way to start. Read on to learn about a few of them.

  • Stress relief. Research shows that intentional alone time can be relaxing and stress-reducing, perhaps because it offers your brain the ability to rest without excessive external stimuli or perceived judgment from others.

  • Time for self-care. Being by yourself can also give you time for solitary activities like meditation, which has been shown to correlate with a host of health benefits from improving memory, sleep, energy, and self-esteem to reducing depression and helping you manage negative emotions. One way to meditate is by practicing mindfulness, which typically entails observing your thoughts and feelings without judgment. 

  • Increased creativity. One study found that people who choose to spend time alone tend to be more creative. Without the distractions and projections of other people, you may be better able to tune in to your own natural creative expression. 

  • Overall well-being. Another study even found that adolescents who spend a reasonable amount of time alone—about 30% of their waking time—were more likely to “show better overall adjustment” than those who spent excessive or barely any time on their own. 

  • Getting to know yourself. Spending time by yourself can help you gain a deeper understanding of who you are and why. Not only can gaining this knowledge be gratifying and helpful on your own personal journey, but it may improve your relationships as well if you’re in touch with who you are and what you want and can express it to others.

Therapy can help manage unwanted thoughts

Why someone may be uncomfortable spending time alone

Understanding the root cause of why being alone makes you feel uneasy may help you figure out how to address it. Every person is different, but one of the following common reasons for this discomfort may resonate with you.

Low self-esteem 

When a person experiences low self-esteem, they’re likely to depend on others to give them the validation they aren’t currently able to give themselves. In other words, other people are likely to end up being responsible for a fairly significant portion of their well-being. So when others aren’t around, the individual may have difficulty being in touch with their own sense of value—which can be uncomfortable and even distressing. Time alone can also make a person more vulnerable to the harsh words of their inner critic, which can be difficult to withstand without the right strategies for managing it. Tactics to build self-esteem—such as practicing positive self-talk and learning to set boundaries—may help.

A lack of self-knowledge

If you feel like you don’t know yourself very well, it could be that you simply haven’t taken the time to do so yet. Perhaps you’ve had a packed schedule because of work, education, or caring for family, or maybe you’ve gotten to know yourself more in the context of a close romantic relationship or friendship than you have alone. Regardless of the reason, you might feel odd at the prospect of spending time with just you. However, approaching the situation with nonjudgmental curiosity and an open mind—just as you would if you were getting to know a new friend—can be helpful.

Past trauma or an anxiety disorder

For some people with mental health challenges, the thought of being alone can trigger negative or even traumatic memories from their past related to being on their own. For example, a person who experienced physical neglect or the emotional isolation of abuse in their childhood may avoid being alone as an adult in an effort to not have to relive that trauma. The same could be true for someone who got lost or separated from their family or caregiver as a child, who experienced a traumatic event alone or who went through the divorce of their parents at a young age. 

In more severe cases, an experience like one of these could later manifest as an anxiety disorder or another mental illness that makes even the prospect of being alone trigger distress or panic. Autophobia, for instance, is a disorder where a person may feel extreme anxiety when alone or even when considering the possibility of being alone. One symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) could be a fear of being alone too, especially if the inciting trauma happened when a person was by themselves. People with mental health conditions may often fear loneliness or being abandoned. 

Separation anxiety disorder or other anxiety disorders in relation to any attachment figure could also be a possibility for those with clinical fears of being alone. For mental health conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder formed in early childhood or a personality disorder, speaking with a therapist or counselor may be recommended. You can find a provider online or in your area. You can also find support for a substance use disorder,* which may increase your risk of anxiety or other mental health conditions. Treatment may help you gain insight into your personal challenges and make progress faster than you would on your own.

Unfamiliarity

Finally, spending any significant portion of time alone can simply seem foreign to someone who has little experience with it. You may simply not know what to do with yourself or where to start. As with any other new experience, it may feel like a shock to the system at first and can take some time to get used to. Keeping this in mind can help you power through the awkwardness or discomfort and give yourself time to settle into how things feel and work when you’re by yourself.

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Tips for getting more comfortable with alone time

Spending time alone means you don’t have to answer to anyone. You can focus on your needs and desires without having to take anyone else’s into account, meaning the experience can be completely customized to you. If you’re looking to embark on the journey of spending a bit more comfortable time alone, a few tips may help. First, remember that the ability to spend content alone time can be thought of as a skill like any other. Think about the last time you tried something new. It probably felt uncomfortable or awkward at first, and you may have been frustrated that you didn’t pick it up right away. Over time, however, you likely saw improvement. Remember that patience and practice are key for any new endeavor. Try not to be too hard on yourself or give up too soon.

In addition, it can be helpful to ease into the experience. For instance, the next time you find yourself with some incidental time alone, like when driving to work, cooking dinner, or exercising, consider eliminating all distractions. You might turn off the TV, music, or podcast even just for a few minutes, and try getting used to a bit of silence. Or, next time you go to pick up a sandwich on your lunch break, consider eating it alone at the café once instead of taking it back to eat with colleagues. You don’t have to book a solo vacation abroad as your first step; instead, you can dip your toes into the world of alone time bit by bit.

Finally, you’re likely to find that you enjoy time alone more if you’re doing something you like. Riding your bike, playing pinball, going for a swim, or creating some art are all examples of things people may enjoy doing alone. Planning specific activities for your day or afternoon to yourself can be helpful too, rather than sitting alone on the couch. If you have somewhere to be and a set idea of what you’d like to do, you may be more likely to follow through and actually enjoy it.

How speaking with a therapist may help loneliness and mental illness, including anxiety disorders

Getting to the root of why you’re uncomfortable spending time alone can be powerful. If you’re simply not used to it or have always been too busy, you may be able to simply ease into a healthy routine of spending time alone now and again with the help of the tips above. However, if there’s a factor like low self-esteem, past trauma, or a suspected mental health condition at play, it may be beneficial to seek out the help of a therapist. Together, you can process your feelings about alone time in an effort to get at the core issue. From there, they can help you develop healthier coping strategies for difficult feelings and learn techniques to practice getting comfortable with the amount of alone time that’s best for you. 

Research suggests that online therapy can offer similar benefits to those of therapy conducted in person for people in a variety of different situations. If you feel you’d be more comfortable speaking to someone from the comfort of your own home, online therapy is an option. With a platform like BetterHelp, for example, you can fill out a brief questionnaire and get matched with a licensed therapist whom you can meet with via phone, video call, and/or online chat. Regardless of the therapy format you may choose, a qualified counselor can be a strong asset in your journey toward getting more comfortable spending time with yourself.

Takeaway

Spending some intentional time alone can provide a variety of benefits, whether you’re naturally introverted or extroverted. If you’re feeling uncomfortable at the prospect of having time on your own, getting to the root of why you feel this way is often the first step toward addressing it. It may help to speak with a licensed therapist during this process. If you don’t feel comfortable with traditional in-person therapy at this time, you may benefit from online therapy, which allows you to connect with a therapist from home or anywhere with an internet connection. Take the first step toward addressing fear of being alone and contact BetterHelp today. 

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