For Some, Alone Time Is Hard to Come By During COVID-19

Woman working while sitting with daughter at table in house

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Key Takeaways

  • Isolation and loneliness are causing health concerns right now, but those who have no alone time are struggling, too.
  • Blurred work-life balance boundaries, increased child care, and more domestic duties can create stress within any family or relationship.
  • There are productive ways to start a conversation about getting more alone time.

Significant focus on mental health during COVID-19 has been centered around the impact of isolation and loneliness, and for good reason. Numerous studies have shown that lack of social interaction with others can not only lead to depression, but possibly even shorten your life.

On the other side of the spectrum are the families who aren't used to this much togetherness. Adult kids may have moved back in, younger kids who were doing their school work virtually are still at home instead of at summer camp, work-life boundaries have essentially been erased, and domestic duties are a battleground. It all adds up to tension, and no matter what your situation is, you're certainly not alone.

"Initially, many families and couples enjoyed the extra time together, but then it just dragged on," says psychotherapist Carrie Mead, LCPC. "Many have not been able to achieve a healthy balance of quiet, independent, self-directed time while still meeting the needs of their partners, children, and other family members."

Conscious (But Temporary) Un-Coupling

Part of the difficulty is the misguided idea that when you love someone, you'd choose to spend all your time with that person, says psychotherapist Dana Dorfman, PhD, MSW. There's a reason the old saying "absence makes the heart grow fonder" has endured.

"Physical and emotional separations or boundaries are essential to healthy adult relationships," she says. "While humans are social creatures who rely on relationships and connection for emotional survival, we also need time alone to think, nourish, and care for ourselves. That's what replenishes our individuality."

Sometimes, it may be more difficult to carve out alone time if you're part of a couple rather than in a family, because it might feel to the other person—and even to yourself—like rejection instead of self-care. But that can fuel more feelings of stress.

Alyza Berman, LCSW

From what I've seen with my clients, everyone is feeling smothered and overwhelmed with the lack of separation. This has been an adjustment for many couples, because the most time they spend together is usually on a vacation, not for this long.

— Alyza Berman, LCSW

Warning Signs

Sometimes, it's difficult to realize or admit that your main issue is wanting all the people around you to back off for a little while. Licensed clinical social worker Jessica Marie Ortiz, MSW, says these are common indications that you might need some solo time:

  • Irritability
  • Feeling stretched thin
  • Physical problems related to chronic stress, like insomnia, digestive issues, headaches
  • Short temper
  • Disinterest in activities, particularly with family or spouse
  • Feeling distracted or having trouble concentrating

If you find yourself lacking in humor, feeling down or anxious, or getting upset over incidents that wouldn't have bothered you in the past, those may be good indications you need alone time.

Have the Talk

The primary, and likely least comfortable, tactic for getting more alone time is to ask for it. Having this conversation can be challenging, especially if tensions in the household are already high. But consider this, suggests clinical psychologist Annie Varvaryan, PsyD: You might be the first to ask for alone time, but you're likely not the only one to need it.

"Acknowledge the current difficulties," she suggests. "Talk about what things were like before and how they've changed. That can shine a light on the reality of the situation and how you need to adapt as a couple, as a family, and individually." She also suggests:

  • Be concise in how you express your needs.
  • Be specific with what you need, like having a certain amount of time to read a book uninterrupted.
  • Be considerate of the needs of others and be willing to provide them with alone time as well.

More Strategies to Consider

In addition to having "the talk" with your co-habitants, consider other alone-time approaches.

  • Start small. Instead of aiming for 30 minutes or more from the beginning, set aside shorter, more manageable amounts of alone time, advises Ortiz. This can be just five minutes without helping or attending to anyone else, she says.
  • Go outside. There has been ample research that just sitting outdoors, even in an urban setting, can prompt feelings of wellness and lower levels of anxiety and stress. Mead suggests you leave devices inside and simply sit with nature if possible, thinking of it as a break in every way rather than just a change of scenery.
  • Mimic a workday environment. Working from home releases people from the commute, but it can also mean there's no endpoint besides bedtime. Creating better boundaries can help, says licensed clinical social worker Alyza Berman. She suggests getting dressed for work, kissing each other "goodbye," and having a workspace that you leave at a certain time.
  • Develop your own interests. Varvaryan says it's helpful to find an activity that's just yours, without your partner, kids, or other co-habitants. For example, you might work out, watch a virtual concert, take up a hobby, or meditate.
  • Get alone together. Carving out your own time doesn't necessarily mean you have to be alone, it just means you need a break from the people you're around every day. Varvaryan suggests scheduling an online "coffee talk" with a friend, or just chatting on the phone. But keep in mind that if this also makes you feel depleted, it may be better to go truly solo.

What This Means For You

Making time for yourself and communicating your need for alone time will have real lasting benefits for your mental health and your relationships. Give these strategies a try and see what works for you.

"Once you get a few of these approaches in place, you'll find it isn't as daunting to make it happen," says Ortiz. "It is a little easier to let go of the guilt or stress when we're recharged, and that makes it easier to ask for what we need, and give to others in turn."

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Elizabeth Millard
Elizabeth Millard is a freelance journalist specializing in health, wellness, fitness, and nutrition.