Home » Being Alone vs Being Lonely

In everyday conversation, the terms lonely and alone are often seen as interchangeable terms. But these two terms actually mean something different in regards to behavioral health. For good physical and mental health, it is important to understand the difference between these two terms.

Isolated & Unhappy?

For many people in the United States, the concept of being alone can carry a negative connotation. The idea of a loner has a social stigma that implies that one is isolated, an outsider or even dangerous. The existence is since as an involuntarily imposed state where people are not socially engaged. The quality of being alone can even imply that there is something actually wrong or defective with a person.

The term loneliness implies that people are unhappy with their current condition. People are searching for something that they need. For some individuals, the loneliness is like a chronic condition where their own company is not enough. In fact, spending time alone may produce feelings of anxiety, panic attacks and depression.

For many individuals, the perceived solution to this problem is to make sure they are always in the company of another person. Other solutions involve the use of alcohol or drugs to numb the feelings of loneliness.

Experiencing Pain or Being Alone:

Surprisingly, researchers have discovered that a significate percent of people would prefer to experience an electric shock than spend time alone with their thoughts. The study was conducted by psychologists from the University of Virginia and Harvard University.

In the study, the amount of time that participants were alone with their own thoughts ranged from six to 15 minutes. Many of the first studies involved college student participants, most of whom reported that the alone time was not very enjoyable and that it was hard to concentrate. Interestingly, additional studies conducted with participants from a broad selection of backgrounds, ranging in age from 18 to 77, and found very similar results.

Surprisingly, even older people did not show any particular fondness for being alone with only their thoughts and feelings. Overall, people did not enjoy spending time, even for brief periods, alone in a room with nothing to do but think, reflect or daydream.

Instead, participants in the experiments enjoyed engaging in external activities such as listening to music, using a smartphone or giving themselves mild electric shocks. In fact, 67 percent of men, and 25 percent of women chose to shock themselves as a way to pass the time and avoid being alone with their own thoughts. Out of a series of 11 studies, the results seem to suggest that people are uncomfortable with being alone with their thoughts. In other words, doing almost anything is better than doing nothing.

Researchers wonder whether people’s connection to and heavy use of modern technology may have some influence on the results of the study. Perhaps, technology like smartphones and social media has trained people to shy away from just using their own thoughts to occupy themselves.

This does not necessarily mean that the fast pace of modern society, or the prevalence of readily available electronic devices, is causing this condition. Instead, researchers are suggesting that the devices are a response to people’s desire to always have something to do.

Spending Quality Time with Yourself:

It is important to distinguish between being alone and being lonely. A person can be alone, but not be lonely. It is helpful in this context to assign the proper terms to really understand these physical and emotional states. The ability to be alone, and be content, is a sign of personal growth and self-awareness.

When people are alone with their thoughts and feelings, they can develop a more holistic and grounded outlook on life. A task like this usually requires a fair amount of introspection which usually only occurs when one is alone. When done willingly from a healthy mindset, this alone time helps people become more introspective and think for themselves.

Often, people are easily swayed by the feelings, attitudes, and behavior of those they are with. The act being alone can push individuals to reflect and make better choices and decisions about who they are and what they want from life. Learning to be comfortable with yourself means being comfortable with being alone.

This does not mean that people should strive to live like a hermit. Isolation is not the goal. It is important that people have a good social support network. However, individuals need to have the ability to be alone with their own thoughts and feelings. People cannot possibly have a healthy relationship with others if they have not learned how to have a healthy relationship with themselves.

Individuals should realize that it is okay to be bored. If people never learn how to be alone, then there is the possibility that they will feel lonely. An over-dependence on other people can reduce a person’s independence and self-confidence. When people learn to accept and know themselves, they develop more awareness of how to create more healthy and sustainable relationships in the future.

About Emerald Psychiatry:

Emerald Psychiatry & TMS Center has an experienced team that is dedicated to providing compassionate and professional care. They understand that they are here to serve the specific needs and concerns of their patients. By forming a trusting partnership with their patients, Emerald Psychiatry creates a comprehensive treatment plan, customized to the patient’s individual needs. The center’s core mission is to support their patients as they work to become the best version of themselves.

For additional information about this topic or other behavioral health questions, contact the staff at Emerald Psychiatry & TMS Center.

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Contributor:  ABCS RCM