Senior Living Q&A;: How to alleviate feelings of loneliness

Q. For various reasons, I have to spend more time at home alone lately and I am lonely. What's the difference between being lonely and just being alone?

Lonely is defined as: Affected with, characterized by, or causing a depressing feeling of being alone; lonesome. Alone is: Separate or apart.

Would you agree that “alone” generally is a more tolerable and pleasant state of being? If so, how do you move from feeling lonely to just being alone? An important first step is to accept being alone, rather than to resist it.

What's equally important is to understand that spending time alone at home is a skill that can be learned. And, along with acceptance, mastery of being alone can help to alleviate feelings of loneliness. It also offers freedom you may need to make better life decisions.

Sometimes being alone is a gift, opening up a deep well of time you didn't have before. Perhaps you have retired, lost a spouse or partner through death or divorce, or are by yourself because of a disability or the loss of the independence you once treasured. So, now what do you do?

Some people approach being alone just as they did in their pre-alone life. People who were highly structured and once super-busy with work, family and outside interests even to the point of frenzy tend to feel that they must be productive or doing something all the time. These folks are now often prone to feeling guilty, which is not at all productive.

People accustomed to more laid-back living find that their lives are piled high with “musts” and “shoulds,” fueled by regrets. In other words, now is the time to get busy and do the things they never did.

They may feel a compulsion to fill up their days with the old, buried “shoulds:” I “should” clean out all the closets, the garage and the basement. Or, I “should” catch up on reading all those books I intended to read, but never did.

Or, they may feel that they should give up the guilty pleasures of watching television, or of simply doing “nothing” at all while staring out the window or even into space. These “nothings” may actually be worthwhile. Contemplation and reflection can be time well spent, can be good for emotional and mental health.

In other words, being alone can be a time to learn something new about yourself, a space for introspection about what makes you who you are. A time to ask yourself what you believe in, and why. Are there things that don't seem right to you?

One way to begin to learn the skill of being alone is to explore new ways of thinking and behaving. More specifically, the highly structured person could adopt the behaviors associated with the laid-back approach to living. And vice versa.

Get in touch

NANCY TURNEY received a bachelor's degree in social work and a certificate in gerontology. If you have a specific question you would like answered in this column, email it to or call Turney at the Crescenta-Cañada YMCA, (818) 790-0123, ext. 225.

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