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Solitude increased well-being during the pandemic

A new study has found that, contrary to popular belief, time spent alone during the pandemic increased well-being across most age categories. The qualitative study of over 2,000 U.K. teenagers and adults revealed that many people experienced benefits from solitude during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although some study participants talked about worsening moods and decreased well-being, a staggering majority described their experiences of solitude in terms of feelings of autonomy and competence. 

Autonomy, addressed in terms of self-reliance and self-connection, was a major positive outcome of isolation in adults, who mentioned it more frequently than teenagers. On the other hand, experiences of competence – time spent on skill-building activities – appeared to be consistent across all ages.

“Our paper shows that aspects of solitude, a positive way of describing being alone, is recognized across all ages as providing benefits for our well-being,” said study lead author Dr. Netta Weinstein, an associate professor of Psychology at the University of Reading.

“We know that many people reconnected with hobbies and interests or increasingly appreciating nature on walks and bike rides during [the first U.K. lockdown], and those elements of what we describe as ‘self-determined motivation,’ where we choose to spend time alone for ourselves are seemingly a critical aspect of positive well-being.”

However, working age adults recorded the most negative experiences, with 35.5 percent of the participants mentioning disrupted well-being, 44 percent negative moods, and 14.8 percent feelings of alienation. 

“Over those first few months of the pandemic here in the UK, we see that working adults were actually the most likely to mention aspects of worsening well-being and mood, but even those are not as commonly mentioned as more positive experiences of solitude,” said Dr. Weinstein. 

“Seeing working age adults experience disrupted well-being and negative mood may in fact be related to the pandemic reducing our ability to find peaceful solitude. As we all adjusted to a ‘new normal,’ many working adults found that usual moments of being alone, whether on their commute or during a work break were disrupted. Even for the most ardent of extroverts, these small windows of peace show the important role of time alone for our mental health,” she explained.

More research is needed to investigate the effects of different lockdowns in other parts of the world to determine whether the findings can be generalized.

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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