The term ‘alone’ and ‘lonely’ tend be confused quite often however, they do not mean the same. Although a person can experience both at the same time, they are not dependant on each other. Thus, a person can be alone and not feel lonely whereas a person can feel lonely whilst in the company of others.
Being alone is defined as not having anyone else present. This could mean that whilst driving to work you are alone because there is no one with you in the car. Another example is going to the gym alone. Although there are other people around, you are not accompanied by someone and are doing your own thing. The word ‘alone’ is neither negative nor positive, it is a word which describes a state of being. On the other hand, ‘loneliness’ means that a person feels unhappy because they lack having meaningful connections with other people. Thus, the difference between being alone and being lonely is that one might feel good to be in their own company (alone) whereas when a person feels lonely, this is associated with negative emotions.
Some people enjoy being alone because they feel comfortable with who they are and enjoy having time for themselves without being disturbed or distracted by others. People known as introverts crave having time away from people as it can feel too much for them to be in the presence of other people for a long time. Nonetheless, this does not mean that they are sad people, it is their choice and feel good that they can be on their own. In fact, being able to be in your own company and enjoy it is viewed as something positive. If you lead a busy life, it is also important to have some alone time where you can disconnect from the world and focus on taking care of yourself by doing activities which you enjoy and relax you.
Loneliness can have a significant negative impact on a person’s physical and mental well-being. Valtorta et al. (2016) found that people who have poor social relationships have a 32% increased incidence of stroke and a 29% increase in the incidence of coronary artery disease. Loneliness has also been found to lead to high blood pressure, difficulties in sleeping, increased levels of stress hormones, weaker immune system and more cardiovascular problems. Mental health difficulties such as anxiety, depression and suicide or suicidal ideation, have also been linked to loneliness (Beutel et al., 2017).
Some people really struggle to be on their own, feeling uncomfortable unless they are with another person all the time. This can be unhealthy since as a person you need to be comfortable with who you are and be able to survive on your own too. Both extremes can be unhealthy that is; frequently feeling lonely or needing company all the time. Finding the mid-way is a healthy way to balance out. This means being able to enjoy your own company e.g. going for a walk by yourself but also having a healthy and supportive network with whom you can meet up.
Beutel, M. E., Klein, E. M., Brähler, E., Reiner, I., Jünger, C., Michal, M., … & Tibubos, A. N. (2017). Loneliness in the general population: prevalence, determinants and relations to mental health. BMC psychiatry, 17(1), 97.
Valtorta, N. K., Kanaan, M., Gilbody, S., Ronzi, S., & Hanratty, B. (2016). Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors for coronary heart disease and stroke: systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal observational studies. Heart, 102(13), 1009-1016.
Dr Marilyn Muscat is registered as an Educational Psychologist with the Health and Care Professions Council in the United Kingdom where she trained. She works with children, adolescents and their families to understand more about educational, social and emotional well-being concerns that they have and to help them improve upon their difficulties. She can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 79291817.