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How solitude impacts mental health

A new study reveals that spending more hours alone is linked to increased feelings of reduced stress

When people spent more time in solitude, they felt freer to choose and be themselves
When people spent more time in solitude, they felt freer to choose and be themselves (Pexels)

In a world where there is constant social interaction, solitude often gets a bad reputation. However, a new study emphasises the importance of solitude and reveals how it can reduce stress and boost mental health.

The study, led by researchers from the University of Reading, investigates the association between time spent alone and mental health. For this, the researchers investigated how time spent alone impacted stress, life satisfaction, autonomy, and loneliness.

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The results, published in the journal Scientific Reports, revealed that spending more hours alone was linked with increased feelings of reduced stress, indicating solitude's calming effects, the university’s press statement explained. When participants spent more time in solitude, they felt freer to choose and be themselves. Notably, they reported feeling less stressed.

Spending time alone can be a healthy, positive choice, and there is no universal level of socialisation or solitude to aim for, Netta Weinstein, lead author of the study said in the statement. "The enforced lockdowns of the pandemic highlighted many of the long-lasting impacts that can occur when we are starved of interaction with other people. Yet this study highlights some of the benefits that solitude can bring. Time alone can leave us feeling less stressed and free to be ourselves,” Weinstein added.

However, the study also showed that when people spent more hours alone, they also reported feeling lonely and less satisfied. This highlights the potential effects of social isolation. Overall, everyday solitude had both beneficial and harmful relationships with well-being.

If solitude is practised thoughtfully, it could promote wellness, but forced isolation can risk loneliness and dissatisfaction, the authors added in the statement. Choosing solitude and using it intentionally for its benefits may be key to balancing solitude amid the demands of modern life, they suggested.

Previous studies have also shown that solitude can be beneficial for mental health. For instance, a 2020 study published in Social Psychology showed that people often consider time alone as an opportunity to think about past experiences and future plans, take a break from social interactions and relax, and engage in self-selected leisure activities, according to Science Daily. 

A healthy balance of being alone and social interactions could be a good combination for promoting well-being.

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