For many of us, alone time is sacred. Between work, school, and other obligations, a lot of us have minimal time to take a breather and have some space to ourselves. Personally, I know when I'm feeling stressed or overwhelmed, my instinct is to search for solitude so I can organize my thoughts and reflect. However, research shows that there is such a thing as spending too much time alone. In fact, spending too much time alone can have negative impacts on your mental and physical health. But how do you know if you're spending too much time alone?
This scale is going to be relative for everyone, especially depending on your personality type, work and life balance, and interests. However, if you're spending more time alone than not, it might be time to step back and reevaluate why. While alone time can be entirely necessary for some people to heal and process, there's a definitely a point where too much time spent in solitude can mess with your head and your health — and that's some pretty serious stuff. While it's certainly not exhaustive, I've compiled the list below of some starting points to evaluate if you're spending a little too much time with just me, myself, and I.
1. You're Anxious Spending Time With Other People
Social anxiety is real; it impacts roughly 15 million Americans. In fact, social anxiety can be crippling to your happiness, personal relationships, and even affect your performance at your job. If the thought of talking to people or socializing gives you intense anxiety, it might be time to talk to a trusted friend or mental health professional about what you're experiencing. In a similar vein, it might be a sign you've been spending too much time alone.
Even for introverts who thrive in one-on-one or small group settings, it's a concerning sign when those interactions become too stressful and there's a desire to avoid them entirely. If you find yourself losing friends, that's a major sign, too. When was the last time someone texted you to make plans and you didn't respond? Even if you love spending the day alone in your apartment, there becomes a point where people need face to face interaction with others.
2. You're Starting to Avoid Public Places and Crowds
To be fair, I think there are very few people who actually enjoy meandering through a crowd. However, if you find yourself talking yourself out of going to events or spending time with loved ones because you're worried about the crowd, you might be spending too much time alone. Many people who suffer from social anxiety or related mental illness avoid public interactions because they feel they're being judged. For instance, if you loathe ordering a drink at your local coffee shop or want to avoid going into a movie theater because you don't want to talk to the ticket booth person, it's likely a sign you need to push yourself to get out more. These interactions are actually minor and relatively inconsequential, but have the potential to feel "bigger" when you're not used to being out and about on a regular basis — so the antidote might be, well, being out and about on a regular basis.
3. You're Letting Your Personal Hygiene Go
If you aren't prone to leaving your home, you're likely tempted to spend a lot of time in your pajamas. And hey, that's OK! But if you're letting your personal hygiene go, that's actually a pretty concerning sign. No, you don't need to put on makeup or dress up to practice good hygiene (though if you want to do those things, you certainly should) but you do need to take care of your body's needs. If you can't remember the last time you showered or you realize you've fallen into a habit of not brushing your teeth, that's definitely a sign something needs to change. Even if you work from home, you should still prioritize your hygiene and the cleanliness of your living space. Poor hygiene habits are a symptom of depression and should be taken seriously.
4. You Blow Things Out of Proportion
It's totally normal and healthy to vent, or to want to reflect on things that went wrong in your day and how to improve for next time. However, if you feel like there are countless sources of stress, anxiety, and unhappiness occurring in your life, it might be a sign you're spending too much time alone. Research published in the Current Direction of Psychological Science shows that people who spend too much time alone tend to report more stress and more childhood adversity. This research implies that people who find themselves spending too much time alone may do so out of an association of other people with stress, and a desire to remove potential stressors from their lives. If you're spending too much time alone, it's also likely you're going to harbor and obsess over the little things, because you lack other people to give you perspective or provide distractions.
5. Your Self Esteem Is Abysmal
If you have a hard time remembering the last time you felt good about yourself, that's definitely not a good sign. If you're spending too much time alone, you have a lot of time to think, and sometimes that can do more harm than good. Studies show that there's a correlation between spending too much time alone and suffering from low self-esteem. If you find yourself longing for long, deep conversations with others, you're probably spending too much time isolated and in your own head.
New studies also show that spending too much time on the computer may be linked with anxiety, depression, and lower levels of self-esteem. Now, if you're spending tons of time alone, it's possible you're not using the Internet, but given that 85 percent of Americans use the Internet on a daily basis, you probably do, too. Speaking of which, there's also evidence that using social media can lower self-esteem and feelings of self worth, which is definitely not a good thing if you're already feeling lonely and isolated.
So, what's the solution? If you feel like you're struggling with depression, anxiety, or just need someone to talk to, I always suggest reaching out to a mental health professional for guidance and support. If you think you have a handle on the situation yourself, it might be a good time to reach out to friends and loved ones and suggest making plans to get yourself out and spending time with others. It's also OK to go out into the world and spend time alone but in crowds: Get dinner by yourself at a local restaurant you've always noticed is bubbling with people, or take a few hours to explore new storefronts in your city. Spending time alone is normal and healthy, but remember, people need one another, and we crave human interaction naturally.
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