Feeling anxious when you are alone can be isolating and scary, especially if it feels like there is nobody you can turn to for help. This can make being alone a difficult and stressful experience. Moreover, there are many reasons you might feel more anxious when you are alone.
Fortunately, regardless of what is causing your anxiety, highly effective self-help strategies and science-backed advice are available. These can ease your anxiety and help you feel more relaxed in situations when you are alone.
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Psychotherapy is often known as “talk therapy.” It involves a range of different methods that can lead to improvements in emotions and behaviors and bring positive physical and psychological changes to the brain and body.
A few types of psychotherapy include:
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a short-term, skills-focused process centered around the idea that our thoughts affect our feelings, which in turn affect our behaviors and actions. This means negative thoughts can lead to an intense cycle that may fuel your anxiety, especially in situations that make you worried, such as when you’re alone.
CBT aims to alter our emotional responses by changing our thoughts and behaviors.
The general process¹ of CBT is to:
Identify the negative thoughts or experiences that you have about the idea of being alone.
Question whether these thoughts are rational and true. Often, they are not. You could challenge the evidence behind them and experiences that have caused you to perceive them to be true.
Try to separate these irrational and negative thoughts from reality by replacing them with realistic ones.
Use problem-solving skills to cope with future situations that make you anxious.
CBT is often practiced under the guidance of a therapist. However, if you cannot access one, it is also possible to work through CBT on your own by using books or online services. After all, another aim² of this type of therapy is to assist individuals in learning how to be their therapists so that they can continue to change their thinking, emotions, and behavior in the long term.
Studies³ have shown that self-help treatments such as CBT can reduce anxiety. CBT has also been shown to reduce the loneliness that could also be associated with your anxiety.
It is important to understand that CBT is not an immediate fix for anxiety, but a process that you need to practice regularly. Nevertheless, if anxiety is something you often experience when you are alone, then over time, this can be an effective skill to help you relax in these situations.
Exposure therapy and desensitization
Exposure therapy is a particular type of CBT that involves exposing yourself to a situation that makes you feel anxious. In this case, it could be being alone. This is done in stages and in a controlled and safe setting that allows you to overcome your anxious thoughts. Early stages might involve visually imagining the situation instead of physically being in it.
Systematic desensitization is similar to exposure therapy in that you gradually expose yourself to the situation that makes you feel anxious. At the same time, relaxation techniques, such as diaphragmatic breathing, visualizing a relaxing scene, progressive muscle relaxation, or mindfulness meditation, are incorporated. The purpose of this is to create a link between feeling relaxed and an anxiety-provoking situation.
If you are alone, anxious, and feel like you have no one to talk to, you could try mindfulness meditation. Studies have shown⁴ that this practice effectively reduces anxiety and other psychological conditions, such as depression.
Mindfulness⁵ meditation is a process that allows you to become more aware, open, and accepting of your thoughts, feelings, sensations, and environment. It involves self-regulating your attention and orienting it towards the present moment. Doing this is believed to counteract the effect of stressors where we often feel anxious because we overanalyze the past or the future.
There is nothing shameful about needing to take medications for your mental health.
Medications are effective in treating the physical symptoms of anxiety on their own. However, they are less effective in treating the psychological side, so medications are usually used in conjunction with some kind of therapy to have the best outcome.
Some of the common types of medications used to treat anxiety are:
These anti-anxiety medications block the effect of a signaling molecule called adrenaline. By doing this, the physical symptoms of anxiety such as a fast heart rate, sweating, and shaking can be avoided or reduced.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors
These antidepressants work by increasing serotonin levels in our brain and preventing it from being recycled into nerve cells. Serotonin is an important chemical messenger needed for regulating our mood.
These sedatives slow down your central nervous system, which can help you to feel more relaxed. Care does need to be taken, as these can be addictive.
Since they are prescription medications, you will need to see your doctor first. Your doctor can give you advice on your situation, monitor any side effects, and make sure that you get the correct dosage.
Everyone feels lonely from time to time, but not everyone experiences anxiety related to the idea of being lonely.
However, studies have shown⁶ that loneliness can cause psychological stress and is associated with higher rates of anxiety. This could be due to the lack of good-quality social relationships among lonely people.
Some people describe the relationship between anxiety and loneliness as a cycle, as their anxiety makes them lonely, and in turn, being lonely further affects their mental health.
Although being lonely may not be the only source of your anxiety, science shows that⁷ interventions to reduce your loneliness can reduce and prevent feelings of anxiety.
One of the steps you can take includes taking a break from social media.
Social media and loneliness
Despite social media being a way to connect with people all over the world, it can cause people to experience the “fear of missing out” — commonly known as FOMO.
Studies have shown this can cause you to feel more anxious about being lonely and feeling left out. For example, people who spend more time on social media feel more lonely and socially isolated⁸ or have a greater perception of social isolation. People who spend more than three hours a day on social media⁹spend more time internalizing problems (keeping their problems to themselves), which is often linked to anxiety.
On the other hand, another study showed that limiting social media¹⁰ to 30 minutes a day reduces feelings of loneliness.
Feeling anxious from time to time is a normal part of life and is simply our body’s response to a stressful situation. If you do feel anxious sometimes when you are alone, self-help strategies can be effective. You will likely be able to overcome your anxious feelings by yourself and return to a calmer state of mind.
However, sometimes anxiety is overwhelming and may seem like it never goes away. It is important to reach out to a healthcare professional for some extra support in these cases. This could be your medical doctor, a therapist, or a psychiatrist. They can assess you and may diagnose you with a mental health condition, such as:
This is a “specific phobia disorder” where you have intense fear and irrational anxiety about the idea of being alone, even in a safe environment such as your home. The intense fear and anxiety must be present for at least six months.
Generalized anxiety disorder
Generalized anxiety disorder involves having severe ongoing anxiety about everyday life.
These mental health conditions can interfere with your daily functioning, reduce your quality of life and bring you overwhelming distress. Because of this, different approaches may need to be taken so that you can receive personalized care and the best support possible. This could include a shift from self-help strategies to more therapist-focused ones.
Even if you don’t think you have an anxiety disorder, therapy could still support you and make you feel more empowered when you are alone.
Feeling anxious when you are alone can negatively impact your health and quality of life.
Thankfully, there are many science-backed strategies, including self-help and professional approaches, that can help you feel less anxious when alone. No matter what you are experiencing, even though you may feel physically or socially isolated, remember that help is available.
What is cognitive behavioral therapy? | Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
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