How to cope with an empty house if you hate being alone
Following on from our post on Five reasons why time alone is good for you, we've asked two mental health specialists to explain why some adults struggle without company and what you can do to ease your worries if you experience this problem.
When we're really little, we rely on others to keep us safe. As we become more independent, we develop the skills and confidence needed to thrive on our own. However, for some adults, being left alone is a big deal. Health professionals recognise that it's not a sign of weakness or immaturity, but more likely a genuine fear (monophobia) or concern.
Understand your anxiety
We are pack animals and at our best in groups. Our earliest instincts are to form emotional attachments to others and how those are handled will determine how we subsequently strike a balance between being with others and being alone.
With this anxiety, the first step is to take the time to understand why you are anxious about being alone. Non-specific anxiety-reducing strategies such as mindfulness or active relaxation may not help if the cause is not addressed. For example,
- If someone has an anxiety disorder, they can go from being content with their own company to fearing it. Anxiety can be projected onto any potential threat, such as being alone
- Agoraphobia sufferers get panicked by leaving their safe place and that is often eased by going with someone. The anxiety can encroach into the home so that they fear being left
For some, loneliness is enforced by bereavement or separation, and if we have to make sudden adjustments we experience shock or grief which can cause anxiety
Anxiety is there to keep us alert through difficult times, but if it persists when the threat has receded you should get help in understanding why it is still there (such as talking treatments and CBT).
Drivers of this anxiety and how to handle them
Dr Georgia Henderson, clinical psychologist at Priory’s Hospital in north London:
When we struggle to manage our anxieties about being alone at night, we often have core beliefs that define and drive that anxiety. These can be worries about ourselves, other people or the world.
Sometimes we worry about ourselves
It may be about our competence to handle something stressful if it happens. It can be really helpful to focus on things that make us feel more secure in ourselves; a skill we enjoy, getting in contact with friends, focusing on what we have on for the day ahead.
In these situations, it is essential to regulate our own emotions, understanding the signals that we might be getting frightened (racing heart, sweaty palms, tension) and work to actively relieve these with breathing techniques, stretching or a hot shower.
Sometimes our worry is about other people
We either believe we need other people to be okay or we are frightened about being alone in a long term way. We all need other people and there is nothing wrong with allowing ourselves to be in touch with these feelings. But, we have to be careful that when we act on these feelings, it is in a proportionate way.
Relationships are never about the other person being there 24/7
Every time you teach yourself to trust the other person to come back into your life, you strengthen up the healthy part of this relationship. It can be helpful to reframe your time alone as space to appreciate the people in your life, and also complete things you may have been avoiding for yourself.
Mobile phones mean that people are much less vulnerable
They can access help when they need it. If you find yourself becoming overwhelmed sleeping at home by yourself, create meaningful protective factors. The most important of these is getting to know your neighbours.
When you are genuinely less isolated, it is much easier to feel part of a caring community, rather than as someone vulnerable on your own. Also, think about how you would reassure someone else who might be frightened, keep a small light on for example, and slowly dim this over time until you become more comfortable.
Do you have any other advice for coping with being alone?
What keeps you happy when you have time to yourself?
Let us know on Twitter or in the comments!