This shows a woman sitting alone.
People who spent more time alone reported less stress. Credit: Neuroscience News

Balancing Act: The Mixed Blessings of Solitude on Mental Health

Summary: A new study examines the nuanced impact of solitude on mental health among adults aged 35 and older in the UK and US. Tracking 178 participants over 21 days, the research found no definitive optimal balance between solitude and social interaction.

While increased hours alone correlated with reduced stress and a sense of autonomy, it also led to feelings of loneliness and reduced life satisfaction, indicating the complex effects of solitude.

Crucially, the study reveals that the negative aspects are diminished when solitude is a personal choice rather than imposed, underscoring the importance of intentional solitude for well-being.

Key Facts:

  1. More time spent in solitude is linked to decreased stress and heightened feelings of freedom, but also to increased loneliness and reduced satisfaction.
  2. The study emphasizes there’s no universal ‘right’ amount of solitude for optimal mental health.
  3. The negative impacts of solitude are lessened when it’s chosen voluntarily, highlighting the significance of intentional solitude.

Source: University of Reading

New research from the University of Reading sheds light on the complex relationship between time spent alone and mental health.

The study, published in Scientific Reports, reveals that solitude has both benefits and costs for well-being.

Researchers tracked 178 adults aged 35 and older in the UK and US for up to 21 days. Using daily diaries, the team recorded time spent alone versus interacting with others. Participants also reported daily measures of stress, life satisfaction, autonomy, and loneliness.

The results showed there was no clear optimal balance between solitude and social time; there was no such thing as spending the ‘right’ number of hours in solitude. Spending more hours alone was linked with increased feelings of reduced stress, suggesting solitude’s calming effects.

A day with more time in solitude also related to feeling freedom to choose and be oneself. However, greater solitude was not all good. On days with more hours spent alone, people also reported feeling lonely and less satisfied, highlighting potential effects of social isolation. In all, everyday solitude had both beneficial and harmful relationships with well-being.

Less stress

Importantly, the negative impacts were reduced or nullified when solitude was motivated by personal choice rather than enforced by external factors. Individuals who spent more time alone overall did not report feeling overall lonely or less satisfied, but the benefits remained. People who spent more time alone reported less stress.

Professor Netta Weinstein, from the University of Reading’s School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences, was the lead author of the study.

She said, “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 stress and free to be ourselves.”

“This study highlights that spending time alone can be a healthy, positive choice, and that there is no universal level of socialization or solitude to aim for.”

The authors suggests that with thoughtful use, solitude may promote wellness, but forced isolation can risk loneliness and dissatisfaction. Choosing solitude and using it intentionally for its benefits may be key to balancing solitude amid the demands of modern life, they say.

About this loneliness and mental health research news

Author: Netta Weinstein
Source: University of Reading
Contact: Netta Weinstein – University of Reading
Image: The image is credited to Neuroscience News

Original Research: Open access.
Balance between solitude and socializing: everyday solitude time both benefits and harms well-being” by Netta Weinstein et al. Scientific Reports


Balance between solitude and socializing: everyday solitude time both benefits and harms well-being

Two literatures argue that time alone is harmful (i.e., isolation) and valuable (i.e., positive solitude). We explored whether people benefit from a balance between their daily solitude and social time, such that having ‘right’ quantities of both maximizes well-being. Participants (n = 178) completed a 21-day diary study, which quantified solitude time in hours through reconstructing daily events.

This procedure minimized retrospective bias and tested natural variations across time. There was no evidence for a one-size-fits-all ‘optimal balance’ between solitude and social time.

Linear effects suggested that people were lonelier and less satisfied on days in which they spent more hours in solitude. These detrimental relations were nullified or reduced when daily solitude was autonomous (choiceful) and did not accumulate across days; those who were generally alone more were not, on the whole, lonelier.

On days in which people spent more time alone they felt less stress and greater autonomy satisfaction (volitional, authentic, and free from pressure).

These benefits were cumulative; those who spent more time alone across the span of the study were less stressed and more autonomy satisfied overall. Solitude time risks lowering well-being on some metrics but may hold key advantages to other aspects of well-being.

Join our Newsletter
I agree to have my personal information transferred to AWeber for Neuroscience Newsletter ( more information )
Sign up to receive our recent neuroscience headlines and summaries sent to your email once a day, totally free.
We hate spam and only use your email to contact you about newsletters. You can cancel your subscription any time.