Being Alone: Loneliness Vs. Solitude

Updated January 25, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

If you're one of those people who can go to a movie by yourself or sit contentedly at a restaurant without a companion while you eat, then you probably understand that being alone is different from feeling lonely. But for many people, this distinction is hard to make. Maybe you're one of those who always feels lonely when you're alone. Here's the good news: y don't have to. You can learn some tips from those solo movie-goers and diners. Learning how to be alone without feeling lonely means you can be happier when it's just you.

Loneliness And Depression Don’t Have To Coincide

Defining Loneliness

When we define loneliness literally, it is a state where one is affected by or characterized by the depressing feeling of being alone. It is feeling lonesome. It feels like you lack sympathetic or friendly companionship. It is feeling isolated. You can see by the definition that loneliness is a mental state, not a physical one.

What does that mean for lonely people? It means that you can work in that mental state and change it, and it has nothing to do with how many people are around you. In fact, many people feel loneliness creeping in even when they are with other people.

When you are with people, but not able to interact with them or feel included, that can also feel quite lonely.

What Is Loneliness?

You've got a definition, but loneliness is more than that. It's our emotional response to the need to belong. All of us have this basic need to fit in with other humans somehow, to be accepted for who we are. Everyone feels lonely at some point in their life. Everyone. It's normal. It's human.

Loneliness is a socially-induced pain that reminds us we need other humans to survive. And it has a real effect on both mental and physical health

Loneliness reduces our skin temperature and makes us feel colder. It also induces a stress response in our bodies that can lead to health problems like high blood pressure and high cholesterol. And of course, those symptoms increase the risk of heart disease. Lonely people also tend to get sick more often because of reduced immune function.

Loneliness can also lead to depression, and conversely, depression can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation. Loneliness and depression can create a vicious cycle. The good news is you can get out of the cycle with the right tools.

It's important to remember that loneliness is a state of mind. You can experience the stress of loneliness regardless of whether you are physically alone or surrounded by people. It's not the number of people in your life that reduces loneliness, it's the quality of the connection. Having close friends that you see in person can greatly reduce feelings of loneliness. Social media use, however, often amplifies feelings of loneliness, even if you are "connected" with many people.

Fighting Loneliness

The first step is learning to recognize that you do, in fact, feel lonely. You can then begin to pinpoint what is bringing on that state. Ignoring your feeling of loneliness can make you more depressed and isolated. One of the best things you can do is to force yourself to go out and do something. Meet up with friends, or at least go to a public place where you'll be around other people.

Most people find that if they give in to their loneliness and avoid people by staying home, it only gets harder to connect with others. This can also be a sign of depression. 

The Long Loneliness

There is a book by Dorothy Day called The Long Loneliness. In it, she suggests that the only solution to this loneliness is the love that comes from the community. It's an important point to note, especially when our culture can tell us that things like romantic relationships cure loneliness. Many people think they are alone because they do not have a romantic partner, but the truth is that you can feel valuable, validated, and happy without a romantic partner.

It is true that many people find a sense of belonging when they match up with a partner. A romantic relationship often seems like an easy way to feel like we belong. Couples may form their little world of experiences and inside jokes. But even people who are in romantic relationships can be lonely. It's easy to lose yourself when you join a couple. But being in a relationship should not cause you to lose connections with other friends or family.

Community, as Dorothy Day points out, is a sense of belonging. It doesn't necessarily mean the people in your neighborhood, though it can. It means finding your tribe and being able to feel like there are people who "get" you. You can do that with all kinds of people. You can form bonds with friends, family, and co-workers. All of these are places to find community, to find your tribe. You may even belong to multiple tribes.

Loneliness And Depression Don’t Have To Coincide

Loneliness VS. Solitude

There's also something to be said for building community within oneself – that is, learning to accept and be happy with ourselves for who we are. After all, if we expect others to validate and accept our being, shouldn't we be able to do so as well?

Being alone sounds an awful lot like loneliness, but in fact, it’s a completely different state. Loneliness is a mental state, and being alone is a physical state. They do not have to coincide with one another.

Learning how to be alone and happy is one of the biggest steps you can take towards combating the feeling of loneliness. One way to embrace being alone is to think of all its benefits. And yes, there are benefits to being alone sometimes. 

Here are a few examples:

  1. You have more time to do things you want to do.  How can you use this to your advantage? Use your alone time to pursue your creative hobbies, learning a new skill, or going for a hike, etc. 

  2. You have fewer responsibilities. Being with other people means, in part, paying attention to them and helping them when they need it. Those things are important to forming social ties, but they can also be draining at times. Being alone can be a break from social responsibilities.

  3. You learn to be self-reliant. When no one else is around to help you fix something, you have to find a way to get it done yourself. This can be a great confidence booster as you discover you can do many things you didn't think you could. Confidence not only makes you happier, it also makes you more appealing to hang out with when you're ready to get out and meet people.

  1. You learn what you like. When you're surrounded by others all the time, it can be easy to go along with their decisions. But making decisions is the only way to discover where your own heart lies. You may have to make compromises sometimes, but at least you will know what your preferences are and will be able to them honestly with others. Do you want to order the same drink everyone else ordered out of habit, or do you want to find out what you prefer?

Another useful synonym for loneliness is solitude. You should embrace solitude. Whereas loneliness implies a negative feeling, solitude is a place of strength. It's the place where you find yourself. Go seek it out.

Managing Loneliness With BetterHelp

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 when treating symptoms of loneliness. Treatment was an 8-week online cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) program, CBT works by helping individuals better understand the intrusive, unhelpful thoughts that can lead to unwanted behaviors and emotions, such loneliness. After treatment, participants reported reduced feelings of loneliness and social anxiety, in addition to an increase in quality of life. 

These results are in line with those of a number of recent studies pointing to online therapy as an effective treatment for a range of mental health concerns.

If you are experiencing feelings of isolation, online therapy can help. With online counseling through BetterHelp, you’ll have the ability to connect with a licensed therapist, via live chat, messaging, voice call, or videoconference. You will also have the opportunity to reach out to your counselor outside of sessions. If you have a question, would like to review a specific topic, or simply want to talk, you can send them a message and they will respond as soon as they are able. The licensed professionals at BetterHelp can help you feel more connected and less lonely. Read below for counselor reviews, from those who have experienced similar issues.

Counselor Reviews

“I have been working with Christal since about April or May. She has become a friend, helpful in some of my most lonely times. I am thankful for the time I have had with her counseling.”

“She is one of the most supportive, compassionate, motivating therapists I’ve met. She compels me to grow, challenges my old mindsets, and reminds me that I am never alone in my battles.”

Takeaway

You'll find that as you get to know yourself better and become more comfortable being alone, your need for external validation will decrease. That means you won't need to look to others to feel good about yourself. You will have the internal strength to validate your existence, feel happy about yourself and your life, and feel less loneliness — even when you are alone.  The counselors at BetterHelp are here to help. 

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