Thousands enjoyed 'enforced' alone time during lockdown, study reveals – here's how to make the most of it

·7 min read
Thousands enjoyed the enforced alone time the first lockdown brought. (Getty Images)
Thousands enjoyed the enforced alone time the first lockdown brought. (Getty Images)

It seems it's taken a pandemic for many of us to appreciate spending time on our own. 

New research has revealed that thousands of people actually enjoyed the enforced alone time during the first lockdown and felt better for it.

According to findings published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, time spent alone during the pandemic led to positive effects on wellbeing, regardless of age.

The study of more than 2,000 British adults and teenagers found that most people experienced benefits from solitude during the early days of the pandemic.

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Everyone experienced ups and downs from being alone, but researchers found that the descriptions of solitude included more positive effects than negative.

Although a handful of participants said that their mood had worsened, or their wellbeing had taken a hit, most described their alone time in terms of feeling competent or feeling independent.

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In fact, 43% of the respondents claimed that they had spent lockdown learning new skills and activities, which was a finding that was consistent across all age groups.

Meanwhile, the adult participants reported twice as many feelings of autonomy and more specifically, a stronger sense of self during the lockdown.

How to make the most of your alone time, now that lockdown is over. (Getty Images)
How to make the most of your alone time, now that lockdown is over. (Getty Images)

Commenting on the findings study lead author Dr Netta Weinstein, an associate professor of psychology at Reading University, said: “Our paper shows that aspects of solitude, a positive way of describing being alone, is recognised across all ages as providing benefits for our wellbeing.

“The conventional wisdom is that adolescents, on the whole, found that the pandemic was a negative experience, but we see in our study how components of solitude can be positive.

“We know that many people reconnected with hobbies and interests or increasingly appreciated nature on walks and bike rides during that time, and those elements of what we describe as ‘self-determined motivation’, where we choose to spend time alone for ourselves are seemingly a critical aspect of positive wellbeing."

According to Francesca Specter, author of Alonement: How To Be Alone & Absolutely Own It and course creator at Podcast to Platform, the enforced time in lockdown enabled many of us to rediscover some joy in being alone.

"In a Western society that praises busy-ness and sociability, alone time often falls to the bottom of our 'to do' list," she explains.  

"However, the pandemic rewrote the rulebook, as lockdown meant that our social calendars were cleared out at last minute, while work-from-home culture removed the pressure to be a social butterfly in the office. It truly was an unprecedented time where the hamster wheel of social pressures was removed."

Specter points out that while many of us might have never discovered the joys of alone time had it not been for the pandemic, its unexpected appeal will come as no surprise to social scientists. 

"A study published last year by Bar-Ilan University found that alone time contributes to personal growth and mental wellbeing, just as much as socialising does," she continues. "The scientists found both states – solitude, socialising – hold distinct benefits for our wellbeing, and so in an ideal world we'll value and make time for both."

And now that lockdown has lifted and we're able to reach more of an equilibrium, Specter says it makes for an exciting opportunity to recalibrate and get a balance between the social connection we've always known to value, and the solitude we might have only started to appreciate in the past couple of years.

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Use your alone time to find the right self-care for you. (Getty Images)
Use your alone time to find the right self-care for you. (Getty Images)

How to make the most of alone time

Carve out time in your calendar for solo time

We often make social plans, and then let solo time just happen in the gaps, but by thinking proactively about the time you want to spend alone, Specter says it can reaffirm that alone time is just as valuable, not just a plan B. "This allows you to make the best use of this time (for instance, a quiet Sunday to batch-cook for the week, or Monday evenings to exercise," she suggests. 

Make a solitude date with yourself

As much as it's lovely to make dates with other people in your life, knowing you can enjoy and celebrate your own company – and even do your favourite things alone – is empowering. "Especially because, just for once, it means you don't have to compromise," Specter explains. "Plan a special solitude date every now and again, for instance to see a film you're excited about, or to cook yourself a meal you love but don't get to have very often."

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Communicate about your alone time

There's a big difference between ambiguously telling your partner 'I need space', and respectfully explaining that you value alone time and it's not about them. "Advocating for your alone time should never come at the expense of others' feelings; done well, it may actually enhance your relationships, and encourage the people close to you to enjoy the occasional bit of alone time too," Specter explains. 

Use your alone time to carve out the right self-care

Within the headspace of solitude, Dr Audrey Tang, chartered psychologist, mental health expert and author of The Leader’s Guide to Resilience, says you can think about your personal needs without the influence of others, and this can be very effective when it comes to self care.

"Habitually you may hear 'self care' and think spa day or meditation. But whatever energises or relaxes you best (at the time you need it) is going to be the most effective for you," she says. 

"Remember that if we are anxious, then something relaxing may be most effective, and if we are feeling down, then an energiser may be best."

Dr Tang says being consciously aware of what you need, means you get there faster. "Work this out now, and as your commitments grow, you’ll know what will give you the energy – or the calm – in order to embrace them and even thrive."

Read more: Why older men are getting lonelier - and what to do about it

Carving out alone time can be beneficial for wellbeing. (Getty Images)
Carving out alone time can be beneficial for wellbeing. (Getty Images)

Begin to explore and set your personal goals.

While you may be tentative because our recent experience is “anything can change”, having a focus, with flexibility or alternatives, means you have something to work for, and look forward to. "Try writing down your aims, and then breaking down those goals into smaller steps – some of which you might be able to start right now," Dr Tang suggests. "Breaking down what you want, or need, to do can prevent those things from becoming overwhelming."

Another benefit of doing this, she says, is that by having something you know you are aiming for, you are less likely to feel compelled to “fill your alone time” busying yourself with other people’s psychodramas just because you “need to do something”.

Schedule in development time 

Dr Tang suggests timetabling yourself in every day – making that commitment to yourself as important as your commitments to others. "Whether you use that time to meditate, take a class, read, or simply have a cup of tea (while it’s still hot) – clearing some headspace will also help you be more effective when you release the pause button," she adds. 

Additional reporting SWNS.

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