Emily Roberts, MA, LMHC was featured in the following article originally posted on The New York Times, written by Micaela Marini Higgs.
Being lonely hurts — it can even negatively impact your health. But the mere act of being alone with oneself doesn’t have to be bad, and experts say it can even benefit your social relationships, improve your creativity and confidence, and help you regulate your emotions so that you can better deal with adverse situations.
Choosing to spend time doing things by yourself can have mental, emotional and social benefits, but the key to reaping those positive rewards comes from choosing to spend time alone. In a culture where we often confuse being alone for loneliness, the ability to appreciate time by ourselves prevents us from processing the experience as a negative thing. In fact, getting better at identifying moments when we need solitude to recharge and reflect can help us better handle negative emotions and experiences, like stress and burnout, said Emily Roberts, a psychotherapist.
Why it’s good to spend time alone
The freedom of not having to follow the lead of others, with “no pressure to do anything, no pressure to talk to anyone, no obligation to make plans with people,” is a great way to process and decompress, even for highly social individuals, Ms. Roberts said. It also helps us discover new interests and ideas without having to worry about the opinions of others — one study even showed that teens are less self-conscious when they’re alone.
Time with your thoughts sans social distractions can also be restorative, build your confidence and make it easier for you to maintain boundaries, Ms. Roberts said. In addition, it can boost productivity, engagement with others and creativity, and a study published in Current Directions in Psychological Science found that brainstorming was enhanced when participants alternated between brainstorming alone and with a group.
How to do it
If you’re having an especially hard time listening to the thoughts inside your head, journaling can be a great way of working through and evaluating those emotions, Ms. Roberts said. And though it’s tempting, “try not to be on your phone, because it’s too big of a distraction.” Instead, Dr. Coplan suggests reading, making crafts, going to a movie, grabbing a meal, visiting a park, trying to learn a new skill or any one of the infinite options available besides making your alone time about other people and obsessively checking social media.