- Researchers tracked the social habits of 178 people over a three-week period
- They found the longer people spent in solitude, the lower their stress level was
Spending time alone could be good for you, and reduce stress.
Solitude is often seen as lonely, but it relieves the pressure of modern life and can help people feel more free, a study suggests.
Researchers asked 178 people to keep a three-week diary, tracking the amount of hours they spent each day alone without being in face-to-face contact with other people, or speaking to them digitally, such as through social media or email.
The more time people spent in solitude on a given day, the lower they ranked their feelings of stress.
The study volunteers were asked three questions, about how pressured they felt to behave in a certain way, how free they felt to be themselves, and how much they felt in control of what happened during their day.
Researchers asked 178 people to keep a three-week diary, tracking the amount of hours they spent each day alone without being in face-to-face contact with other people, or speaking to them digitally, such as through social media or email
They answered these questions much more positively the more time they spent alone.
Solitude is not all good, as people generally felt more lonely on days when they spent more time alone than usual.
But this was not the case for people who regularly spent a larger amount of time alone.
Researchers therefore conclude solitude only feels unpleasant if you are alone when you don’t particularly want to be.
It means many people can happily spend hours on their own without any effect on their wellbeing.
Professor Netta Weinstein, who led the study from the University of Reading, said: ‘Solitude can be extremely relaxing, because you are your own captain.
‘There is no boss wanting a task completed, and no conversations which come with pressure to be entertaining and likeable.
‘Of course being with other people is very rewarding, but it can take a toll too, so a certain amount of solitude may help to balance the time we spend socialising, and boost wellbeing.’
The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, set out to find if there is a ‘tipping point’ – a certain number of hours alone per day which may harm wellbeing.
But, to their surprise, researchers found no such thing.
People were asked each day how strongly they agreed with the sentence ‘today I feel stressed.’
Their stress level was generally lower the longer they spent alone.
People did rank their loneliness higher, and rated their day as less good, if they spent more time alone.
However, whether people chose to be alone was important, which researchers worked out based on how much they agreed with statements about enjoying and valuing solitude, and finding it important.
When people chose to be alone, the amount of solitude no longer affected their enjoyment of the day, and feelings of loneliness were much reduced.
People who spent the most time alone did not experience the same loneliness and reduced satisfaction with their day seen on average in the study.
The researchers state: ‘This finding lies in contrast with a common stereotype that people who are alone more frequently are “lonely people”.’
They conclude that being alone only appeared bad for wellbeing for a short while, and when ‘a person spent an unusual and greater amount of their time in solitude than was normal for them’.