As a woman today, it seems that to be alone in public—whether getting coffee solo, going to the movies on your own, or enjoying your own company at dinner—is something to be avoided. So much so, that the simple thought of spending time by yourself is met with fear and anxiety. Or, conversely, it has to be a statement. It says that I’m independent enough, successful enough, and self-assured enough to not need anyone else. There’s vulnerability and judgment at both ends of the spectrum. And admittedly, a few years ago when I found myself living alone for the first time, these truths about the world made me feel not only alone, but isolated in the experience.
I was fresh off a break-up with my long-term partner, selling my car and all my belongings (minus a few treasured books and clothing items), and even had to say goodbye to my beloved cat. I moved back across the country—after having moved out to the west coast four years prior—without a clear path forward. But part of me knew that I craved the experience of living on my own.
I craved the challenge and the opportunity to learn more about myself. Living alone for the first time, while scary and terrifying, would give me a context to experience healing at my own pace. And while I wasn’t out to prove anything to anyone else, I knew I wanted to reconnect with the inner confidence I’d let lay dormant for the past few years.
Living Alone for the First Time? What a Therapist Wants You to Know
Truthfully, I know that living alone is a financial privilege. Rent in America is unaffordable for many and home ownership is a far-off dream for people across every generation. But just because something is a privilege, doesn’t mean that having that experience is easy. If you’re living alone for the first time, know this: others are dealing with many of the same complex emotions, thoughts, and feelings that you are. And was true for me, it’s likely that living alone is the result of a significant transition in your life.
To help us navigate the complexities of living alone for the first time, I spoke with Kathryn Lee, a therapist based in New York City. Below, she shares the many ways we can learn to find joy in living alone. It can open you up to experiencing more self-love, compassion, and confidence in how you move throughout the world. Keep reading for everything you need to know about living alone for the first time.
Kathryn Lee is a New York City-based mental health counselor whose work aims to support all people by creating an empathetic, compassionate, and nonjudgmental environment. Her client-centered approach aims to tailor the therapeutic process to each individual, working collaboratively with clients to ensure their perspectives are supported and all their needs are met.
Many people are living alone for the first time if they’ve just moved out of their parent’s home or are leaving a relationship. These can be challenging contexts to move out of. What can make the transition easier?
Create safety and comfort in your home. Cultivating safety and comfort can create a form of stability and foster a sense of agency during a period of transition that can seem unstable, uncertain, and inconsistent. Whether it’s rearranging furniture, adding artwork and pictures, creating a cozier ambience with lighting, take the time to make your space yours. Your living space is sacred!
Create a routine. Humans are creatures of habit. Routines create a sense of safety because it is something that is known and familiar, mitigating and taming our “fight-flight” response. Create a routine that feels appropriate and reasonable for you.
Stay connected with your support system. Living alone does not mean you have to go through the experience alone. Living alone can feel lonely and isolating; it can be easy to stay in your inner world and not engage with others, especially if you are more introverted. Schedule in video chats, phone calls, coffee conversations to stay connected on a regular basis.
Stay active. Participate in activities you enjoy or try out new things to give yourself something to look forward to during this transition. Join clubs, volunteer, take classes, create opportunities to meet new people and expand your social circle.
Be proactive in addressing mental health concerns. Living alone can come with its own set of challenges. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed persistently or experiencing mental health symptoms regularly, reach out for help. Find a therapist in your area or join a support group for people who are in a similar situation.
What are strategies to help you cope with the feelings of loneliness that can come with living alone?
Connect with others. Living alone may mean being physically by yourself more often. Connect with those that you love: call and text your loved ones, share a meme, etc.! Join clubs or groups who share your interests, enroll in a gym, join a book club, or volunteer.
Find things to look forward to. Create excitement and opportunities to have fun! Whether it’s exploring and discovering restaurants, cafes, parks, and museums or redecorating your space, having a night in, and doing an activity you enjoy. Schedule activities and create things to look forward to.
Adopt a pet. Research has shown that interactions with animals can help combat feelings of loneliness. If you are able to, getting a pet can be extremely helpful in coping with feelings of loneliness.
Get out and explore. Living alone can also be a great opportunity to explore your surroundings and discover new things in your community. Take time to visit museums, parks, and other local landmarks, try new restaurants and coffee shops, or even just take walks around your neighborhood.
Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is about becoming more present and aware of your emotions, thoughts, physical sensations. This can include journaling, coloring, yoga, or practicing mindful eating, walking, etc. When you mindfully acknowledge your feelings of loneliness, you can let go of stories that are unhelpful and critical. Mindfulness can transform your present feelings of loneliness into opportunities of connection with yourself and others.
When you mindfully acknowledge your feelings of loneliness, you can let go of stories that are unhelpful and critical.
What are ways we can thrive when we’re living alone?
Prioritize self-care. Living alone can be an opportunity to focus on yourself and take care of your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Taking care of your basic needs—eating nutritious meals on a regular basis, getting 7-8 hours of sleep, moving your body, hydrating, and taking care of your living space—are the fundamental building blocks of self-care.
Build a sense of community. While living alone means physically being by yourself more often, it doesn’t mean you have to be alone emotionally. Build a sense of community by reaching out to friends and family members, joining clubs or groups with people who share your interests, or volunteering.
Be intentional with your relationship with yourself. Living alone can be an opportunity to work on your relationship with yourself. Use this time to focus on yourself and your own needs, explore your own interests and passions, and even address unhealthy tendencies and patterns. Learn to appreciate the time you spend by yourself! Your relationship with yourself is a mirror to your relationship with others. Fostering a relationship with yourself will naturally create a ripple effect in other relationships.
Get out of your comfort zone. Think about what you have always wanted to do, but felt held back by fear. Begin by taking a reasonable step toward confronting this fear. Sometimes, just beginning to acknowledge the fear and/or our wants is the first step. As Nelson Mandela said, courage is not the absence of fear but the triumph over it.
Remember, living alone doesn’t have to be a negative experience; it can be a valuable opportunity for personal growth.
How can we grow from the experience of living alone for the first time?
Become more self-reliant. Living alone can teach you how to be self-reliant and independent. When you live alone, you are solely responsible for your well-being and the maintenance of your home. While this might feel scary in the beginning, it can transform into a source of empowerment and a heightened sense of agency.
Become more self-aware and learn to embrace your authentic self. Living alone can give you the time and space to reflect on your internal world. The more that you are put in situations where you must take care of yourself, the more you learn what that actually looks like. As you spend more time with yourself, you may gain a deeper understanding of your thoughts, feelings, motivations, and needs. The more that you understand who you are, how you operate, and where you operate from the more you will live a life that is authentically aligned.
Reframe this season as a period of growth and becoming.
Developing the capacity to practice self-acceptance and self-compassion. Living alone is often a transition for many, and with any transition there are often things that are unfamiliar and new. I find that people are often critical of themselves for not knowing how to do certain things, i.e., understanding your utility bill, taxes, knowing what kind of cleaning supplies to use for certain situations. It can be really easy to become self-critical. But rather than being critical, you can practice self compassion and acceptance with yourself. Reframe this season as a period of growth and becoming. Embrace the bumps that come along the way. Be curious, ask questions! The more that you embrace this season and everything it brings into your life, the more you welcome compassion and acceptance into your life.
Become more self-confident. You are your best advocate and caretaker! When you know what you need and can only rely on yourself, you begin to learn how to access your voice.