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Alone vs Lonely: Understanding the Difference Makes All The Difference

July 14, 2020

If there is one thing that COVID-19 has shown us, it is that human beings have an immense need for connection. Isolation has brought us closer to understanding that the feeling of loneliness and the fact of being alone are two very different things.

It is undeniable that humans are social creatures and we need to interact with others for our mental health. [2] However, one thing that research also shows us is the importance of spending time alone, in order to connect more deeply with ourselves.

meditation, mindfulness

The later of these two is often challenging for people because it is not a part of their usual habits. Instead of taking time alone to reflect, people often distract themselves by engaging in activities with others, such as going on social media or going out to an event, etc.

Over the past few months, however, the world has been forced into isolation, with our ability to interact with others suddenly limited only to technological connections.

Even though zoom dates, events and birthdays, Instagram scrolls, and house party games are awesome, as the days, and weeks and months go by many are finding that these distractions are not enough to keep them from spending time alone, with themselves.

This has caused a lot of people to realize that in their aloneness they feel very lonely.

meditation, mindfulness

If you identify with this, you are REALLY not alone and this blog post is for you!

So, let’s begin by first exploring the difference between loneliness and aloneness.

  • Being alone is an observable fact. It describes a state of solitude or isolation when one is physically outside the company of others. [3]
  • Loneliness, on the other hand, is an emotion, it is subjective and describes a feeling of sadness or abandonment. [3]

It is important to note that “loneliness is often, but not always, a result of being alone,” [3] for example you might feel very lonely in a crowd of people or at a party, with acquaintances. Though we often think about loneliness as specifically related to being alone, according to Gretchen Reuben of the Happiness Project, there are actually at least 7 types of loneliness: [1]

  1. New-situation loneliness – you’re new to a job, school, event, city, and you don’t know anyone.
  2. I’m-different loneliness – you have a belief or an interest that differs from the people around you.
  3. No-sweetheart loneliness – you might have friends and even a partner but you don’t feel a deep connection to that person/those people. 
  4. No-animal loneliness – you are someone that has a deep connection to animals and you feel something is very much missing when you don’t have them in your life.
  5. No-time-for-me loneliness you feel as though the people in your life are not making time for you like they used too or you’ve met someone new and you’d like to make the leap from friendly to friends but they don’t seem to have the time.
  6. Untrustworthy-friends loneliness – you have friends that you have fun with but you doubt whether your friends actually care deeply about you are well-intended and trustworthy.
  7. Quiet-presence loneliness – you might have a big social circle but you miss having someone to just hang out with quietly at home. Whether that’s a roommate, a partner, or a family member you want to experience the non-exciting moments with someone. [1]

meditation, mindfulness

So as you can see, loneliness manifests in many ways, so you really are not alone in feeling lonely! Right now, however, your feeling of loneliness might be exacerbated because they are also more deeply tied to physical aloneness. 

Being lonely and being alone, however, do not need to go hand in hand. It is absolutely possible to be alone without feeling lonely.

You are, after all, the only person that you will definitely be with for your entire lifetime so the question you should really be asking is not how to seek out connection externally but rather, “what would it be like to befriend yourself?”

This question might feel scary, just like building any new relationship usually does, because it requires you to be vulnerable, but fostering a meaningful connection with yourself will not only positively impact your feelings of loneliness while you ARE physically alone in isolation but it will also immensely enhance your relationship with your family, friends, partner and colleagues both on zoom and IRL.  

meditation, mindfulness

So, how do you build a relationship with yourself? Or, in other words, how can you not feel lonely while you’re alone at home?

1. Create self-love habits

We often search for connection outside of ourselves and when we don’t feel it from others, we feel lonely. One way to shift this is to “court” ourselves by building habits into our daily lives that deepen our relationship with ourself [4]

This could include:

  • Taking yourself on a “date” by going for a walk or a bike ride
  • Looking at yourself in the mirror while you brush your teeth with compassion and love. If you are bold enough you might even say “I love you” out loud to yourself
  • Thanking yourself for making your bed in the morning 
  • Getting dressed up even though you’re by yourself at home and complimenting yourself for how great you look! 
  • Think about someone you love and how that feels in your body. Now try to feel that same feeling, but for yourself

2. Use question prompts 

Try using prompts that can help foster more intimate conversations (like these cards) to ask yourself, your partner or your friends on zoom deeper questions. This will help to create a more meaningful connection to yourself and to the people in your life because they will invite you to get curious about more personal topics like your thoughts and feelings. [5]

3. Meditate!

One of the best ways to cultivate a deeper relationship with yourself through an improved sense of self-awareness is through meditation.  Meditation helps us consciously learn to be alone with our thoughts and feelings while practicing the art of non-judgement and compassion – ie. being a loving and impartial witness to our own subconscious and conscious mind.

Sounds nice, doesn’t it? It definitely takes practice, but with time and consistent practice, you’ll be able to learn more about yourself and increase your overall capacity for self-love, a key component in your mission to befriend yourself! You can use Muse’s Guided meditations to help you learn how to sit in silence with yourself. Learning to meditate will support you in moving from a place of distraction and loneliness into a place of compassion and connection.

4. Shift your perspective by journaling

Use the Muse journaling feature to reflect on the positive aspects of being alone. For example, if you live alone in your apartment, you can look at the positives like how you don’t have to argue with someone because they ate your food, left a mess in the kitchen, or how you don’t have to wait to use the bathroom. Or, can simply help you remember to be thankful that you can afford to have a roof over your head. 

Journalling can help us more consistently practice gratitude, which, more than any other positive emotion, has been scientifically proven to over-time enhance overall well-being. 

5. Increase solo activities

Alone time creates amazing opportunities to do the things you love! If for example, you had Saturday night plans on zoom with a friend and they cancelled try to use that time to engage in an activity that you normally wouldn’t have time to do but that you love doing!

If you feel upset that your friend cancelled try to reflect on what is triggering your sadness. Maybe you are bored and that is why you actually feel sad. Acknowledging what is triggering you will help you to understand what activities you can do to feel better.

In the case of boredom, for example, try reading, taking a late-night class on a topic of interest, or go take a relaxing bath!

Meditate with Muse

The Compassion collection brings together a number of heartfelt-guided meditations that focus on loving-kindness, self-love, and turning compassion inward.

Whether you are alone right now, or in a room full of people, if you feel lonely know that it’s okay. Have compassion for yourself and give some of the above techniques a try!

By going inward through meditation and reflection you will come to understand the root cause of your loneliness. In understanding this you will be able to move through it, make necessary changes in your life, and before you know it spending time alone will actually become a chosen pastime! 

 

References:

  1. 7 Types of Loneliness, and Why It Matters. (2017, February 27). Retrieved June 26, 2020, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/the-happiness-project/201702/7-types-loneliness-and-why-it-matters
  2. Young, S. (2008, September). The neurobiology of human social behaviour: An important but neglected topic. Retrieved June 26, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2527715/
  3. Lonely vs. Alone: What’s the Difference? (2016, October 25). Retrieved June 26, 2020, from https://writingexplained.org/lonely-vs-alone-difference
  4. Pandey, K. (2017, June 04). 11 Ways to Improve Your Relationship With Yourself. Retrieved June 26, 2020, from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/11-ways-to-improve-your-r_b_10269696
  5. (n.d.). Retrieved June 26, 2020, from https://play.cardstotheheart.ca/?fbclid=IwAR2LXwqVrE-cuQ_NaIOX8-lucCddcqFmoDTzM8ip03aB1Je85wSJGDAX0M4

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