'Me time' has an impact on our social lives, too - study

Spending time alone followed by immediate social interaction has the potential to be more than overwhelming.

Person spending time alone (photo credit: WIKIMEDIA)
Person spending time alone
(photo credit: WIKIMEDIA)

Spending extended periods of time alone may lead to a refreshing feeling after interacting with another person. For others, spending time alone acts as an escape. According to researchers from the University of Buffalo, people who rely on "me time" to decompress may see increased levels of stress when put into social situations. 

In a new study on solitude and its effect during adulthood, researchers found a difference in behavior and mental state after spending a day alone. Unlike previous studies, this one focused on those same-day interactions; meeting with others after spending a day alone is not the same kind of recharge that one may crave. 

Previous research has led experts to see the correlation between extensive alone time and negative effects, like loneliness and emotional distress. Other studies have linked spending time alone with positive outcomes, such as reduced anger, anxiety and sadness - but that doesn't mean that's always the case. 

We found that people who seek solitude out of fear of, or a dislike for, social interactions experienced increased anxiety when interacting with others on days when they got more time alone than usual,” Hope White, a graduate student in UB’s psychology department and a co-author of the study, said. “We think it is because such individuals do not use their solitary time in ways that are restorative."

Is there a thing such as too much 'me time'?

 Woman sitting alone in solitude (credit: WIKIMEDIA) Woman sitting alone in solitude (credit: WIKIMEDIA)

Taking frequent time to yourself does not always imply the worst, but it does hint toward how those people may be spending their time. 

“They might spend their alone time ruminating,” White said as an example.

Solitude, as adulthood progresses, has negative implications if taken to new levels. Since this is such a critical life stage, much of adult development is dependent on how people choose to spend their time, in addition to who they spend that time with... or without.

Based on a sample size of 411 adults between the ages of 18-26, researchers had subjects complete daily reports on smartphones to reflect on how they felt after periods of solitude followed by social interaction. The goal was to see if alone time would lead participants to either choose to spend more time with people or if they wanted to spend more time alone.

“We found that people who seek solitude out of fear of, or a dislike for, social interactions experienced increased anxiety when interacting with others on days when they got more time alone than usual.”

Hope White, University of Buffalo Psychology department

While spending time alone is quite common, scientists are still unclear about the true risks compared to benefits. However, new solitude-based research continues to evolve and may provide answers someday.

“People might benefit from direction on how to best use extra ‘me-time’ in ways that help them both individually and in their interactions with others,” said White. “There is also the possibility for instruction on how to better manage negative feelings during social interactions after an extended period of solitude, especially for people who have anxiety about interacting with others.”

White and her partners raised key questions in the study for further exploration: “Is it because they find solitude unpleasant and social interactions feel especially welcome after time alone? Does solitude affect how we interact with our relationship partners?”

The moral of the story: keeping track of how you are feeling after spending time with others following time alone could help you better balance your social calendar based on personal needs.