Living Alone Can Feel Lonely, Especially In a Small Space — Here’s How Experts Recommend Beating the Blahs
For as much freedom as living by yourself can provide, it can also make you feel lonely at times.
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“One can experience a range of feelings while living alone, depending on your perspective,” says clinical psychologist Alice Shepard, Ph.D, of Mirielle Therapy Practice. “It is OK to know that sometimes it will feel like the best decision ever, and other times it will feel like the room(s) echo with stillness.”
Whether you love living solo in your cozy apartment or often find yourself feeling isolated, there are lots of things you can do to combat those feelings if they start to creep in. From decorating ideas to tips for staying connected with loved ones, here’s how therapists say you can live alone without letting loneliness get the best of you.
Celebrate (and honor) your decision to live solo.
Shepard suggests focusing on the positive aspects of your humble home. “There might be excellent reasons for choosing to live in a smaller space,” she explains. “These can include wanting to live on your own for the first time, or in a major city, or a more expensive area, or because you purchased a starter home, or that you are finally free from a bad roommate or romantic relationship.”
To keep your personal upsides top of mind, Shepard recommends making a list of all the reasons you enjoy living alone, and referring or adding to it whenever you start to feel lonely. “Whatever your reasons may be, reminding yourself of why you made this choice can instantly boost your mood,” she says.
You can also work to fill your small space with decor accents that help you remember that you are loved, suggests Caroline Ahlstrom, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist and the Clinical Director at the Newport Institute. “Try decorating with things that remind you that you are not alone, such as photos with friends and loved ones, and gifts from friends,” she advises.
Along with meaningful mementos, Cicely Horsham-Brathwaite, Ph.D., a psychologist and mindset coach in New York City, recommends decorating with items that will naturally lift your spirits. “Design your space to include elements that bring you joy, such as a soothing wall color or comforting textures and furniture pieces,” she says. “Savoring the view of the colors in your home or gently rubbing pleasant textures can be a source of grounding in challenging emotional times.”
Whether it’s a quick check-in text with mom or a nightly FaceTime call with your bestie, Horsham-Brathwaite says it’s crucial to stay in touch with loved ones when you live alone in a small space. “In our modern digital world, you are never out of range of someone to communicate with, and you have multiple ways of connecting with people, which can help address your needs for intimate connection,” she explains.
Additionally, Shepard suggests making plans to do something fun with a friend or family member at a future date. “If your days are filled with interesting people and activities, you will be thrilled to finally make it home and have some downtime in your own space,” she says.
Go outside, every day if possible.
Even if it means enjoying your morning coffee on your front porch or stoop, Ahlstrom says that stepping outdoors to get some fresh air at least once a day can make you feel better about living alone in a small space. “This is especially critical if you are working from home or still isolating during the pandemic,” she adds. “Get outside every day, even if it’s just for a quick walk around the neighborhood, so that you don’t feel so confined.”
Along with helping you feel less cramped, Horsham-Brathwaite says that spending time outdoors can provide an array of mental and physical perks. “Studies suggest that there are many wellness benefits to spending time outside, such as lowered anxiety, increased creativity levels, and boosted mood,” she notes.
Look for alternate forms of companionship.
Horsham-Brathwaite also suggests bringing something that you can nurture into your space. “This can include a plant, fish, or other pets as you are allowed,” she says. “Bringing your attention to nurturance brings about many other wellness benefits, such as an enhanced sense of meaning.”
Not a fan of pets or plants? No worries. Shepard says listening to music, podcasts, cooking shows, audio books, and so on can help you feel like you have on-demand companionship at home. “Not only are these activities fun and engaging, these ‘guests’ don’t require any extra space in your home.”
A little self-care can go a long way when you start to feel lonely, which is why Horsham-Brathwaite recommends integrating a practice into your daily routine. “Engage in regular self-care rituals that remind you that your home is a sanctuary,” she says. “This can include everything from lighting candles, playing soothing music, or taking a nightly bubble bath to unwind.”
Whether you practice playing an instrument or try your hand at knitting, Ahlstrom says that pursuing a creative pastime can also help bring you peace of mind about living solo. “You can take advantage of living alone as an opportunity to grow, reflect, and connect with yourself,” she explains. “Picking up a new hobby like painting, journaling, or practicing yoga helps keep you engaged while giving you something to look forward to.”