As someone who has always gained her energy from being around other people, the idea of
living alone has always made me incredibly anxious. Although I value my independence, and often love spending hours of the day claiming time as my own, I loathe coming home after a long day to an empty apartment, and sitting alone with my thoughts. Recently, I've been seriously considering moving into a studio apartment, in order to cut costs and make living in New York City slightly more affordable. But the one thought that keeps holding me back, is a truth that I've been avoiding admitting my entire life: above all else I hate feeling lonely.
I know I'm not alone. The fear and melancholy that can arise from living alone is extremely common. According to a 2012 study published in
BMC Public Health, adults are 80 percent more likely to suffer from depression if they live alone, versus those who live with other people. That doesn't necessarily mean, however, you're doomed to have anxiety or depression if you live alone. Of course, many factors play role.
"While living alone is 'adulting' — it is both a cause and a symptom of anxiety," Behavioral Scientist
Clarissa Silva tells Bustle. "Spending time alone with your own thoughts can be nice once in a while, but often those thoughts become negative and anxiety-provoking. The best way to prevent exacerbated symptoms are to develop actionable strategies for coping with it."
You have the ability to make the most of your living situation — you might even come to enjoy
owning your own space. But here are some pro tips for coping with anxiety when living alone, for the nights when you swear you can hear a monster under your bed.
Make Evening Plans With Friends
If you get anxious thinking about going home to an empty living space, make plans to grab dinner or see a late movie with your friends. You'll exert yourself for hours and all of the social interaction will leave you absolutely exhausted. "In this way, you will have your night occupied and your focus when you return home will be sleep." Silva says. "Not pre-occupation or negative thinking about being alone."
By the time you get home, you'll be ready to pass out immediately. In fact, you'll enjoy being able to crash with no distractions!
Invite People Over To Your Place
It's all about reciprocation. If someone invites you over to their house for a cocktail party or book club meeting, invite them right back. Hosting anxiety is super real, don't get me wrong (I for sure fall victim to it), but you don't need to throw an extravagant gathering to do the trick.
"Physical order often helps us feel a sense of mental order," Silva says. "Organizing and planning an event helps structure order in your physical and mental place." Host a dinner party for a few of your closest friends, and make it a potluck or BYOB. You'll be laughing so hard for hours, that you'll belly will hurt. And by the time you leave, you'll practically be begging for them to get out the door so that you can finally clean up.
Maintain Relationships With Family
Keeping close contact with you family is a great way to maintain anxiety when you go out on your own. If you have a healthy relationship with your immediate family, talking to them regularly can provide a sense of security. "Your family can help you identify effective coping from the past," Silva says. "When you’re going through a tough time, they can remind you of how you overcame past difficult times." Maintaining that connection will remind that you are loved and
not alone, even if you're physically living by yourself.
Reconnect With Someone From Your Past
Pro tip: take out your phone and scroll through your contact list. When is the last time you reached out to your friend from sixth grade performing arts camp? Or that one co-worker from your first job that you always ate lunch with? Take the plunge and send a quick text to someone you care about but haven't connected with in a long time. "Maintaining and utilizing supportive relationships are essential to keeping you in a positive mental state," Silva says. It's never too late to rekindle and true friendship, and reconnecting with someone from your past, who used to make you feel safe, is a wonderful way to re-establish confidence and combat anxiety.
Give Back To Your Community
A great way to fill your evenings if you're uncomfortable with the idea of returning home to an empty house, is by volunteering in your neighborhood. Consider utilizing your time at a local soup kitchen or homeless shelter, or organize on behalf of a cause that you care deeply about.
"Sharing your skills with others help you maintain a positive mood and provides a social support system," Silva says. By giving back you will not only be benefiting those around you, but the ability to physically contribute to others' people's happiness has its own reverse affect: it's incredibly self-gratifying. By filling your free time with someone meaningful and optimistic, your time alone will become infected with positive energy.
Join A New Organized Activity
There is no better time to try that one thing that's always been in the back of your mind or the bottom of your to-do list, than when you first move out on your own. Activities not only fill up your spare time and harness your energy towards something positive, they also are a great way to meet new people and make more friends!
"Participating in an organized activity helps the body release natural chemicals in your brain that improves mood," Silva tells Bustle. Sign up for an painting or dance class, join a community soccer league, or start that amateur chess club you've dreamed about. Having more order and organization in your day will give you more of a sense of control, and help you to get a handle on those living alone nerves.
Take Advantage of Technology
Technology and social media have completely changed the landscape of the world we live in: now, you're never alone! If you get home from work and you're feeling particularly anxious or lonely, pull up Skype and video chat friends or family. By taking full advantage of FaceTime, Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram, you have the power to make it feel like you live with all of your loved ones, at the touch of your finger tips. Online networks can be a great way to secure your connections: just make sure you using them in place of IRL relationships.
Possibly everyone's favorite means of combatting anxiety or loneliness, adopting a rescue animal or buying a pet is a wonderful way to make home a warm and welcoming place. "Pets offer therapeutic value and can be helpful in alleviating stress, anxiety, depression, and feelings of loneliness and social isolation," Silva says.
There are a few things to consider: if you work full-time, long hours, or live in a very tiny space, take that into consideration when deciding what kind of pet to get, or whether you can provide a pet with a good living environment. There are even service animals that you can get specifically tailored to help you relieve anxiety.
Tackle your anxiety of being alone at home head on, by taking on a new hobby that you can do specifically when you're alone at home that will provide both comfort and ease. "Research has shown that involving yourself in a hobby can be an effective supplement to your treatment," Silva says.
Learning to play an instrument is a great way to destress, as music therapy is a proven method for relieving anxiety. Other ideas include knitting or weaving, which keeps your hands, eyes, and brain fully occupied, and keeps you working towards a common goal (perhaps even a blanket to cuddle up in as you try out your next hobby)! Busywork might start off as therapeutic, but can quickly become cathartic, and enjoyable task you look forward to completely when you get home from work.
Keep Your Mind Occupied
In the same vein, don't underestimate the power of the mind to play tricks on you when it's given license to roam free. "The best method to prevent all anxiety triggers is to learn coping strategies that eliminate reduce anxiety symptoms," Silva says. Start a new book series that you've seen every year on the
New York Times bestseller list, but could never admit to purchasing on Amazon. Or watch that one Netflix show that won a bunch of Emmys and everyone swears will change your life.
By keeping your brain occupied, your attention less likely to wander, which will keep inner doubts from arising. And once again, if you get hooked on something, it'll make coming home to read the next chapter or watch the next episode something you look forward to — it establishes a positive association with living alone.
Finally, if you are have trouble sleeping at night or notice anything else out of the ordinary with your mood or behavior, don't be afraid to reach out to medical professional.
So next time you're sitting on the couch, alone at home, and that inner monologue won't stop playing in your head, remember that you are not alone and that it will and does get better. Sometimes living alone is exactly what you need to give you that tiny extra push towards complete independence. And if that's not the case for you, it's absolutely nothing be ashamed of. There's a clear blue sky behind every passing cloud.