Through most of my twenties, I lived with others.
It started when I shared a minuscule cinder block dorm room and continued with a series of post-collegiate roommates procured through the help of Craigslist and friends of friends.
I didn’t even consider the option of getting my own place until my older sister suggested that I give it a try.
As soon as I struck out on my own, however, I realized that I never wanted to go back to sharing an apartment again!
Living on my own meant that I never again had to deal with crazy roommates (and I’d had a few doozies!).
It meant I could keep my space as clean or dirty as I pleased; I didn’t have to compromise with anyone else; and I could embrace my nocturnal nature without having to tiptoe around the living room.
And in many ways, living alone finally made me feel like a real, legit “adult.”
But I soon realized that there was a flipside to all of this freedom — and that was loneliness.
Over time, loneliness became an ever-present companion.
Sometimes, it would creep up when I was watching a funny movie and had nobody else to share my laughter or commentary with. It would nag me incessantly on lazy Sundays when I’d go all day without having a single conversation.
Sometimes it kept me up at night, ringing in my head, and sometimes I thought I could drink loneliness away, although this only made things worse.
By the time my early thirties hit, I often found myself wondering how many others in my building were feeling the same way I was — liberated by living alone, yet feeling incredibly lonely living alone.
More Of Us Are Living Alone Than Ever
Here’s an interesting stat: The share of adults who live alone in the U.S. has nearly doubled in the past fifty years.
In fact, the trend towards people living alone has increased worldwide although much more so for wealthy Western nations that value individualism.
For example, in recent decades, there has been over a 40% increase in people living alone in northern European countries as compared to just a 1% increase in low-income Asian countries.
But is the trend towards living alone connected to the current epidemic of loneliness? Not exactly.
First, it’s important not to confuse solitude with loneliness.
Living alone is not necessarily an indicator of loneliness. After all, a person can feel lonely when surrounded by others, or perfectly content while all alone — It all comes down to perspective.
On the other hand, it’s also worth noting that researchers have found a link between living alone and a person’s increased risk of developing mental disorders such as depression, anxiety and substance abuse.
When researchers dug deeper into the relationship between common mental disorders and living alone, they discovered that loneliness explained 84% of the association.
There are also some groups who suffer more from living alone than others.
For example, loneliness is particularly problematic for elderly people who live alone and face damaging health effects and increased risk for premature mortality.
But again, it’s not just the act of living alone, it’s other factors that contribute to loneliness — factors such as being unmarried (single, divorced, or widowed), lack of participation in social groups, few friends, and strained family relationships.
Retirement and physical impairments also play a role in social isolation and loneliness.
…So at the end of the day, having friends and maintaining social connections while living alone can be a literal lifesaver!
7 Tips For Overcoming Loneliness While Living Alone
As for my personal struggle with loneliness, I eventually realized that I’d need some tools to help change my perspective on living solo.
I never got rid of my loneliness completely, but I did learn some ways to start embracing studio living.
Here are a few tips that helped me deal with being lonely while living alone:
- Recognize your loneliness triggers: For me, my loneliness was worse during certain days and times, and it was most acute on Sunday afternoons. Once I was able to identify this pattern, I took steps to reach out to others and schedule my weekends so that I was never left to wallow in my solitude.
- Work on self-motivation: I realized that living with roommates in the past had served as a strange form of positive social pressure. In other words, I was too embarrassed to lounge around all day and do nothing.
When living alone, that motivation has to come from within, but it is so very important to get up, get active, and get out!
Do what you can to self-motivate, whether this means committing yourself to an early morning workout group, signing up for classes, or even just holding yourself accountable to a “to-do” list.
- Focus on the positives of living alone: As I mentioned, it all comes down to perspective. You can view your solitude through the lens of loneliness, or you can use it as an opportunity for self-awareness and growth.
(And on a lighter note, don’t ever forget that there are so many little pleasures in living alone. Turn that stereo up and dance around in your underwear…It’s awesome!)
- Use the internet cautiously: This was a big one for me. For a while, I went through a phase where I would look up old friends on social media and compare my life with theirs.
It felt like they were all married with kids, living fabulous lives wherein they were never lonely. And my life just didn’t look as good “on paper.”
Of course, this was wrong (and now that I have a kid, it seems like all my old friends on social media are living adventurous, carefree lives without kids…the grass is always greener!)
- Consider getting a pet: Studies show that pet owners are less likely to suffer from depression and loneliness, and enjoy a plethora of mental and physical health benefits.
I had to sneak my cat, Pinkerton past my landlord but honestly, I’m glad I did. Her companionship had a huge positive impact on me when I lived alone.
- Consider volunteering: I say this all the time, but one of the best ways to combat loneliness is by focusing on others. This is especially a win-win scenario when volunteering with others who may be experiencing loneliness, such as elderly folks or shut-ins.
Little Brothers – Friends of the Elderly and Meals on Wheels are a couple of reputable programs that help relieve isolation and brighten the lives of countless senior citizens. You may also want to consider volunteering with homeless people, who quite often suffer from loneliness and a feeling of being invisible to the general population.
- Maintain healthy habits: Eat well, exercise, limit your alcohol intake and avoid drinking alone, especially if you’re lonely or depressed. I can tell you from personal experience that alcohol may seem like a quick fix but will only worsen your loneliness and drinking alone can lead to long-term dependency issues.
Bottom Line: You’re bound to experience loneliness from time to time — It’s something that we all go through when living alone.
However, living alone doesn’t have to translate to social isolation.
Instead, by attacking your loneliness head-on, you can turn your situation around and find an incredible opportunity for personal growth. (And like me, you may find you never want to go back to the roommate lifestyle again!)
Let’s hear from you now! Living alone and loving it…or feeling the sting of loneliness? What do you do to cope? Any great tips for the rest of us that I left off the list?
Tell us about your experience by clicking the “Discuss” link/button that appears at the end of this article to connect meaningfully with others in similar situations.