Self

11 Ways To Deal With Anxiety Over Living Alone

#10: Keep your mind occupied.

A woman in athleisure looks out the window of her studio apartment. Experts share tips for anxiety over living alone.
Ashley Batz for Bustle
By Iman Hariri-Kia and Kaitlyn Wylde
Updated: 
Originally Published: 

Opening the door to an empty, silent apartment isn’t everyone’s idea of luxury or comfort. Some people fear living alone, aka autophobia, and the idea of having their own space is a source of great anxiety. While exorbitant rent prices make living alone an impossibility for many, it can also be the safest or healthiest option. So what do you do if solo living is the best idea, but also the scariest?

According to a 2019 poll by YouGov, millennials are the loneliest generation: 30% report feeling often or always alone. And 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 said, it doesn't necessarily mean you're doomed to have anxiety or depression if you live alone.

"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."

But according to psychotherapist Kelly Keck, L.M.H.C., choosing to live with roommates doesn’t signify a lack of maturity or success, and it’s OK to hate living alone. “It’s perfectly normal to want to live with people. I have a vast majority of female clients that can afford to live alone, express an interest in doing so, and still choose to live with a roommate for safety and a sense of community.”

Regardless of how you feel about living alone, you have the ability to make the most of your living situation — and you might even come to enjoy making your space your own. Here are some pro tips for coping with anxiety when living alone, for the nights when you consider renting out your couch just to have someone nearby.

1

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 — with no distractions.

2

Host A Get-Together

If hosting doesn’t give you anxiety, invite some friends over to your place to bring in some fresh energy.

"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, or sign up to be a regular book club host to keep people coming back.

What’s more, inviting people to your home can give you something to look forward to. “It is a very good reminder of the importance of social interaction and it allows people into a space you might not share often,” Keck says, adding that the social engagement can “feed the soul and leave you feeling motivated and cared for.”

3

Maintain Relationships With Family

If you have a healthy relationship with your immediate family, talking to them regularly can provide a sense of security even if you’re always home alone. "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."

4

Reconnect With Someone From Your Past

Pro tip: take out your phone and scroll through your message list to find a text thread that could use some dusting off. "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.

5

Give Back To Your Community

If you're uncomfortable with the idea of returning home to an empty house, volunteering in your neighborhood is a great way to fill your evenings. 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.

6

Join An 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.

"Participating in an organized activity helps the body release natural chemicals in your brain that improves mood," Silva tells Bustle. Sign up for a 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.

7

Foster Digital Connections

Technology has created an opportunity to connect with people you wouldn’t normally have access to. “In a time like this, when connection is so important, it can open up the ability to stay in contact with friends and family that are far away,” Keck says.

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, Zoom, Instagram, Twitter, or TikTok, 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.

8

Adopt A Pet

If you’re up for the responsibility of owning a pet, adopting a rescue animal 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.

9

Find A Hobby

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. Busywork, like cleaning or organizing, might not start off as therapeutic, but can quickly become cathartic and enjoyable task you look forward to completely when you get home from work.

10

Keep Your Mind Occupied

Don't underestimate the power of the mind to play tricks on you when it is 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. Buy yourself a new book you’re excited to read, or start watching a new series from start to finish. Give yourself something to do alone, that keeps your mind busy. 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, establishing a positive association with living alone.

11

Reach Out For Help

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.

“It’s easy to fall into patterns and it’s easy to get very comfortable being alone,” Keck says, adding that there is “a fine line between being confident in your solo time and being isolated.” To counteract the time spent alone, Keck encourages people to “build in time for social supports or engagement outside of that solo time.”

Sometimes living alone is exactly what you need to give you that extra push towards complete independence. Needing a little support or company along the way can help you reach that goal.

Experts:

Clarissa Silva, behavioral scientist

Kelly Keck, L.M.H.C., psychotherapist

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