Being Alone: Loneliness Vs. Solitude

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry
Updated February 20, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Being alone can be different than being lonely. For example, some people may enjoy spending time alone at a restaurant or the movies. However, the distinction can be difficult to understand for others, and loneliness may accompany solitude. Learning to be alone without feeling lonely can mean enjoying time alone when others aren't present. To start, there are a few ways to distinguish loneliness from solitude.

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Loneliness and depression don’t have to coincide

What is loneliness? 

In a literal sense, loneliness is a state of being affected by adverse reactions to being alone, like profound sadness or melancholy. Loneliness is a mental phenomenon, not physical, often strongly tied to emotions and thought patterns. 

Because loneliness is psychological, it can also occur when spending time with others. Some people experience loneliness when in a crowded room or around friends and family members who don't have their best interests at heart. Perceptions of loneliness may have less to do with whether someone is in solitude or has many friends and family members around them. 

The impacts of loneliness 

Loneliness is an emotional response to a desire to belong. It is natural for humans to want to fit in, find connections, and be accepted by others. Being lonely is often normal. It is a socially induced state that can be a reminder of a social need for love and belonging that affects mental and physical health

Loneliness reduces skin temperature, making individuals colder. It also induces a stress response in the body, potentially leading to health challenges like high blood pressure and cholesterol. Lonely people may also get sick more often because of a reduced immune function. For some people, loneliness is paired with depression, a mental health condition characterized by prolonged sadness, distress, and lack of pleasure.

It may be valuable to note that loneliness is a state of mind. You can experience the stress of loneliness whether you're physically alone or surrounded by people. Adding more people to your life may not reduce the perception that you are alone, but finding high-quality connections that you can trust and rely on could. 

Fighting loneliness

To fight loneliness, it may be beneficial to identify it as what it is. If you notice thoughts that increase feelings of sadness or thoughts of isolation, label them as loneliness. You can then begin to pinpoint what might be causing this loneliness. 

Ignoring your thoughts or emotions may make you feel worse. Instead of isolating yourself or meeting people for superficial connections, try to find people in your social circle who make you feel appreciated. In addition, partake in activities that make you feel self-love, like your hobbies and interests. You may find that being comfortable alone can help reduce thoughts of loneliness. 

The Long Loneliness by Dorothy Day

Dorothy Day wrote a book called The Long Loneliness. In it, she suggests that a solution to loneliness is genuine love from one's community. Some sources may claim that romantic love is the only connection that reduces loneliness. However, Dorothy posits that individuals can believe they are valuable, validated, and happy without a romantic partner.

Some people find a sense of belonging when they match up with a partner. A romantic relationship could be one way for people to connect. Couples may form a little world of experiences and inside jokes between them. However, people who are in romantic relationships can be lonely, as well. In addition, if being in a romantic relationship causes you to lose connections with friends or family members, it may not be healthy in the long term. 

Community, as Dorothy Day states, is often a sense of belonging. It doesn't necessarily mean the people in your neighborhood, though it can. It can mean finding people you connect with and can talk to without fear of judgment or isolation. You can form these types of bonds with friends, family members, coworkers, and others. 

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Loneliness vs. solitude

Building community within yourself by learning to accept yourself for who you are may also reduce loneliness. When looking to others for validation and acceptance, it might be difficult to believe that what you are receiving is true if you see yourself in a negative light. 

Although solitude, isolation, and aloneness can seem like loneliness, loneliness is mental, and being alone is physical. They do not necessarily coincide for everyone. Learning how to be alone and happy can be a significant step forward. Below are a few benefits of being physically alone. 

More time 

You may have more time to focus on yourself when you're alone. Use your alone time to pursue your creative hobbies, learn a new skill, or go for a hike. When you're alone, you can choose to see it as quality time with yourself. 

Fewer responsibilities 

Being with other people can mean paying attention to them and offering support. Although these behaviors can be essential for social ties, they can also be draining. Being alone can be a break from social responsibilities and the energy of others. 

Self-reliance 

When no one else is around to help you, you may have to work through problems by yourself. Solving your own problems, relying on yourself for validation, and making yourself feel loved can be a confidence booster and a reminder that you are capable of many feats. Self-reliance can also increase confidence, which may help you show up more authentically in your relationships. 

Learning 

When constantly surrounded by others, you might go along with their decisions or let them make the calls. However, being alone allows you to make more decisions for yourself and learn more about your values. Finding out what you enjoy and dislike can help you be more honest with those you connect with. 

Getty/Xavier Lorenzo
Loneliness and depression don’t have to coincide

Managing loneliness with professional support 

Loneliness can be challenging to cope with alone if you experience it frequently. In addition, if it's a symptom of an underlying condition like depression, it may not go away without treatment. In these cases, reaching out to a licensed therapist can be valuable. If you face barriers to in-person therapy, online formats may be helpful. 

Studies show that online therapy can help those experiencing difficult-to-process emotions related to loneliness. In one study published in Behavior Therapy, a peer-reviewed academic journal, researchers examined the usefulness of online therapy in treating symptoms of loneliness. Treatment involved an eight-week online cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) program, guiding clients in understanding unhelpful thoughts that can lead to unwanted behaviors and emotions. After treatment, participants reported reduced feelings of loneliness and social anxiety, as well as increased quality of life. 

If you are experiencing isolation, online therapy may be advantageous. With support through a platform like BetterHelp, you can receive the ability to connect with a licensed therapist via live chat, voice call, or videoconference. You may also be able to reach out to your counselor outside of sessions via messaging, allowing you to remind yourself that you have someone on your side throughout the week.  

Takeaway

Your desire for external validation may decrease as you get to know yourself better and are more comfortable alone. You can start to look to yourself to feel comfortable and valued. However, if loneliness is not subsiding or you think you may benefit from support, contacting a licensed therapist online or in your area is another way to start addressing these challenges. You're not alone, and support is available.

You're not alone with your loneliness

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
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