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Spending Time Alone Makes You a Better Friend, Partner or Boss, Research Shows

If being by yourself makes you uncomfortable, there are some small steps you can try

Source | | Minda Zetlin

When was the last time you deliberately chose to spend time by yourself, doing something that you enjoyed, or else enjoying the luxury of doing nothing? If it was a long time ago or–worse–you can’t remember ever doing that, you should consider changing your habits and making some time to be by yourself. It will help you stay calmer and better handle the emotional ups and downs we all encounter.

There’s plenty of evidence that choosing to spend time in solitude has benefits for your mental health. And most people seem to find solitude necessary for real relaxation. In the BBC’s “Rest Test,” participants chose from a long list of activities to identify those they found most restful. Some 18,000 people in 134 countries took the test, and reading, an activity usually performed alone, was their number-one choice by a healthy margin. Spending time in nature was number two. And number three actually was spending time alone. What about spending time with friends or family? That was number 12 on the list, just ahead of drinking tea or coffee.

So you probably need to be alone in order to feel really rested. But perhaps more important, research shows that spending time on your own is one of the most effective ways to moderate the ups and downs of your emotions. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by feelings of anger, sadness, frustration, or confusion, spending time by yourself is a powerful tool to help you calm down and start feeling like yourself again.

In a series of experiments, researchers at the University of Rochester had hundreds of college students either spend 15 minutes alone or with another person, asking and answering a set of questions that have been shown not to affect mood one way or the other. Before and after the 15-minute session either alone or with a companion, participants filled out a short survey that identified their current emotional state. It turned out that for subjects who had either strongly positive or strongly negative feelings, those feelings partially dissipated during their 15 minutes of alone time. In fact, in an experiment where subjects were asked to spend 15 minutes by themselves and away from such things as smartphones each day for a week, those calmer feelings extended somewhat into the following week when they were no longer assigned to spend time alone. That suggests that regularly spending a little time by yourself can have a lasting effect on your mood.

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