There’s a name for the feeling of sadness we get if we spend too much time alone: we are lonely. But what about the negative feelings that can come from not spending enough time alone?
A team of psychologists, led by Robert Coplan at Carleton University, has proposed a name for that: alonely. As in, the opposite of lonely. We need to balance our alone time with our social time, and the right balance is probably different for everybody. This may be a more helpful framework for understanding our needs than trying to shove ourselves into an introvert/extrovert binary.
So, what can you do about it? The first step is acknowledging the problem: you are alonely if you need more alone time than you manage to get. Coplan and colleagues’ main tool to discover aloneliness was a simple questionnaire asking people whether they agree with statements like ““I wish I could just be by myself more often.” So you can probably figure out with a little introspection whether you are, in fact, alonely.
If you’re alonely, you might feel “irritable, overwhelmed, or drained,” as Psychology Today puts it. With so many strains on our mental health these days, it may be helpful to try to disentangle what comes from aloneliness versus from anxiety, burnout, and the myriad other stressors in our work and life. If this task itself is overwhelming, consider that it may be time to find a therapist to help you sort through everything your brain is dealing with.
But in the meantime, you may get some benefit from asking yourself whether you feel better when you get more time alone, and then scheduling and protecting that alone time. You don’t have to agree to every social outing or zoom call, for example. You can decide that Friday nights are for staying in.
And even if you can’t get very much alone time, you can make sure that the alone time you get is quality time with yourself. Think about things that actually make you feel relaxed or happy or refreshed — maybe reading a book or going for a walk — and do one of those activities, instead of just scrolling on your phone, whenever you get a minute to yourself.