Help me feel less lonely during solitary tasks
May 21, 2017 9:49 PM   Subscribe

Turning away from the Internet and doing a solitary task (like reading, journaling, or cleaning) makes me feel lonely. Help me feel more cozy and stimulated/supported during these times.

I spend more time online than I would like, and I think part of the reason is that I feel a companionable, social vibe when I'm watching people do stuff on Netflix, or talk about things on Metafilter, or do this and that on YouTube. Turning that off and reading a book or writing in a journal or cleaning makes me feel a bit lonely and self-conscious.

I can't always decamp to a coffee shop or public place, so I'm looking for ways I can feel cozy and supported and not-lonely at home when I'm doing something that is solitary and analog. There could also be an element of self-imposed pressure at play when I settle down to Serious Tasks, and I think that adds to the sense of discomfort.

Any suggestions you have for not feeling intimidated by non-Internet time would be great. Thanks!
posted by delight to Human Relations (24 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
I like to listen to chatty, friendly podcasts when I'm cleaning. I particularly like Answer Me This and No Such Thing As A Fish.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:12 PM on May 21, 2017 [7 favorites]

Sorry, forgot to add: I feel like I have people around me when I listen to them--like I'm in the middle of a conversation.

Others that are conversational that sometimes work: Slate Culture Gabfest and Pop Culture Happy Hour.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:13 PM on May 21, 2017

Podcasts or audiobooks are great for things like cleaning, but I can't listen to them while I write or read. Do you like baseball? Even if you don't really care about baseball - and I like baseball! - I find I can have the audio of a game as background while I read or write - it seems to trigger the "listening" part of my brain in a different way, and I can tune in and out while my forebrain is reading or writing.
posted by rtha at 11:09 PM on May 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

I get this a lot too. I got a Bluetooth speaker so I can have music playing which helps. Podcasts help. But that's for stuff like doing chores around the house. For stuff like reading a book or writing I think you just have to lean into it and accept it because there isn't really a way around it. What you're doing has to be worth it but it is possible to achieve.
posted by bleep at 11:09 PM on May 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

I used to listen to Coffitivity when I was working from home. It sounds like coffee shop chatter and it kept the house from sounding so quiet.
posted by mochapickle at 11:16 PM on May 21, 2017 [5 favorites]

Some things just aren't social and I think bleep is right here: the trick here is coming to terms with that. You are not supported or together or accompanied in any way when you are reading a book (except for the voice of the author, and/or the people in the book). You are doing something by yourself and I think it's important to learn to be able to do that, without discomfort. It's quite a valuable skill.

Unfortunately I don't know how to learn that, other than by doing it so you get used to it, while making things as pleasant for yourself as they can be (music, tea if you like that, comfortable location, good chair and so on). Ideally you would get so absorbed in what you are doing that you don't feel the need for companionship: I'm busy, leave me alone, I wanna do this.

If music does not work for you, how about natural sounds or soundscapes? I really like It even has a soundscape called 'Cafe Restaurant' which is like the drone of human voices but without discernable speech.

For cleaning, it seems fine to me to listen to podcasts.
posted by Too-Ticky at 11:29 PM on May 21, 2017 [10 favorites]

Please don't read this suggestion as flippant - adopt a cat. If you are the kind of person who thrives in environments always full of life and energy, living with a cat or two is just the right balance of company, chaos, and coziness, especially if you spend some time finding the right match for you.
posted by Mizu at 12:59 AM on May 22, 2017 [9 favorites]

I don't really have an answer for you, but I wanted to say thank you for putting into words something I have felt for ages.
Weirdly, I have no problem reading or playing games before bed, it's just during the day that I feel oddly disconnected. Most of that comes from my family being on another continent and email not having notifications on my phone, but most of them don't text.
posted by LoonyLovegood at 1:04 AM on May 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

Sometimes I'll have a small conversation with a dead relative. No joke, if I'm doing a solitary task and it's got an element that reminds me of someone, I'll say it out loud. Naturally, I hear nothing back but it's the act that makes me feel less alone.
posted by missh at 5:28 AM on May 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Podcasts, radio, audiobooks and Netflix help me with some of this. Sometimes I catch up on phone calls while I fold laundry.
posted by bunderful at 5:35 AM on May 22, 2017

Do you feel lonely in general? Do you feel lonely reading or writing after a whole day with friends? Maybe the real problem to solve here is the loneliness, which is hardest to ignore in silence.

I live alone and often feel similarly, and lately I've been making an effort to schedule one or two things with friends each week.
posted by bunderful at 5:37 AM on May 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Sports on radio or TV is good background for household chores even if you do not follow the sport in question.
posted by jgirl at 6:23 AM on May 22, 2017

Hi, I recently had my first week of being at home alone in literally years, and spent the first few days unable to tear myself away from my laptop because of that lonely feeling. I did some experimenting to figure out how to overcome the feeling and be more productive, here's what worked for me:
- Scheduling social stuff with friends is key. Sending a quick message to say hi to someone you haven't heard from in a while by text/email/Facebook also helps.
- Music and podcasts made me feel lonelier somehow, YMMV
- Really stupid television in the background helped to keep me from feeling lonely when cleaning, cooking, etc. The best were nature and travel documentaries, followed by the various salvage/auction hunter type programs. I probably only watched/listened about 1/6th of the time, so the key was having a program I could dip in and out of at any point (movies and dramas were less effective for this reason).
- For tasks requiring mental focus, I've been trying the following method: I start the task with stupid TV on in background, and mute it once I start to find the sound too distracting (this usually takes about 45 seconds). I then continue until I'm in enough of a "flow" state that I find the flickering too distracting - usually about 3-5 minutes in.
- I felt less lonely during daylight hours when I've got the curtains open and could see outside. Even if no one was walking by, seeing the trees blowing in the wind, rain, etc, was relaxing. If you haven't got a nice view, maybe some windchimes or other kinetic-type window decorations could help? (I think fishtanks are also great for this, but obviously they entail serious committment).
posted by aerobic at 6:28 AM on May 22, 2017 [3 favorites]

If you are the type, try a short prayer -- or something like five minutes of meditation. Or even a shower, a nap, a walk, or a few stretches/pull-ups. There's a specific waking-up feeling, like starting fresh, that you might be able to trigger this way. This might help transition you into the solo activity.

Speaking of which, I find that the best time to do this sort of thing is in the morning, right after I wake up. Your mind has just spent eight or so hours with itself, so it's become used to being alone. I'm the "best" at reading during my morning coffee, compared with other times of the day.

For background sound, you can also try foreign-language radio.

To keep anxiety down, have some analog way of offloading your random thoughts during the solo activity. When something comes to mind (e.g., order that thing from Amazon, listen to that one song your friend recommended, look up that cultural reference, email that person you've been meaning to check up on), don't go back to the computer -- just write it down and go back to reading or whatever. You will subconsciously look for excuses to plug back in -- let yourself acknowledge that, and have some way of reassuring yourself that you will be able to take care of the excuse later.

There's also a trick some people use to do tasks they otherwise dread: commit yourself to only two minutes. Pick up a book and start reading, and if after two minutes you can't get into it, then you can stop without guilt. This might make it easier to "sink in" to your solitary task.

Get into letter-writing! Very intensely social and solitary at the same time.

Finally, can you get a friend to do alone-things with you? I know it sounds strange. But it works for me, in the same way that going to a coffee shop helps me focus. I used to get together with a friend for two hours a few times a week, and we would both just read. Not talk, not anything else, just read. In a weird way, it brings you closer together.

Good luck!
posted by miniraptor at 6:46 AM on May 22, 2017 [3 favorites]

For cleaning, I used to be part of a chat group and we'd clean for 15 and then come back and chat for 15 minutes. I've lost that group but I did end up chatting on another platform. So again, chat for a bit, then clean while you wait for their response. It's like doing chores with friends around.

I'm looking for another cleaning chat group now without much luck.
posted by Coffeetyme at 7:05 AM on May 22, 2017

I came here to say "adopt a cat" and am glad to see someone's already mentioned this! My cat is my companion for all of these types of solitary, at-home activities. And if you are at home several evenings a week, you definitely have the time for cat care. The other thing I focus on is making my environment really pleasant and cozy. I decided to start caring a lot more about having a clean, well-decorated apartment. Then when I'm home alone, I light candles and put on music, make myself a cup of tea, and sit by the window (with my cat!), maybe under a soft blanket, and I don't feel lonely at all.
posted by capricorn at 7:11 AM on May 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

I like cafe music playlists for this, music-wise. Might be low-key enough to read along to.
posted by danceswithlight at 7:13 AM on May 22, 2017

I play the opposite type of music, loud electronic noise. Dubstep in non-vocal mixes. Trent Reznor soundtracks on Spotify play lists often link to good examples. That helps me concentrate on deep thought work much better than classical or anything with lyrics. Having specific playlists for certain tasks helps my brain quickly cue for the job.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 7:38 AM on May 22, 2017

I listen to podcasts or play 90's R&B, light a few candles, put a bowl of non-messy snacks (almonds, crackers) to munch on, or have a youtube cooking video playing in the background.
posted by allthingsconsidered at 7:46 AM on May 22, 2017

Maybe think about how you can make your environment at home feel inviting and like a treat during those times. Maybe there is a special scent that is especially relaxing and soothing to you, so you could light a candle or spray the scent around the house. Mint is revitalizing or lavender for relaxing. Even lighting a few non-scented candles around can be nice, just to create some atmosphere for yourself. Is there a food treat you could save for these times, too? Something pavlovian might help (if I get the laundry folded, I get a square of that nice chocolate!). I always like music on when I'm alone and doing these kind of analog tasks, and podcasts are nice too if you want something more stimulating.
posted by LKWorking at 8:32 AM on May 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

I have a television station here that basically only shows Law and Order and NCIS. When I have to do work alone, I just have it on all the time. It's familiar enough that I don't have to focus on the plot lines and lose focus on my work, but I know the characters so well, that it's almost like having someone I know in the room with me. I probably keep 20% of my attention on it. It works well.
posted by Vaike at 6:26 PM on May 22, 2017 [4 favorites]

What happens if you just let yourself feel lonely rather than trying to distract yourself? What comes up for you? Are there changes in your life that you might want to make to feel less lonely in general?
posted by lazuli at 9:54 PM on May 22, 2017

Hang with a friend and read/do stuff quietly together. You can do this in person or set up a chat thing online, e.g. on Hangouts. You don't even have to engage with said friend directly. Some of the best times I've had have been when I was just hanging with a friend and we're doing stuff on our computer independently.
posted by divabat at 1:47 AM on May 23, 2017

I've definitely experienced something eerily similar to this before. In my case, I have also found that the feeling is most intense immediately after I turn off Netflix/close out Facebook/ otherwise turn off the "general stimulation" of the Internet, and that it gradually fades the further into a reading/writing/journal-writing/ work task I get (and that the task I just got into expands it's "real estate in my brain" proportionally). Based on this, I think it has some relationship to general "stimulation withdrawal" (i.e., if it's true that a human brain is constantly "next-ing" - that is, expecting a given level of stimulation to continue indefinitely - then it's quite reasonable (as well as likely) that suddenly turning OFF the stimulation might make your brain go into "withdrawal" mode (as part of which your brain might send you messages to the effect of "Hey! Listen to how quiet it is! Where IS everyone? Can you hear a pin drop? Can you hear yourself breathing? Isn't it WEIRD?"). So I would say the good news is that it *does* eventually go away (for me personally, staying aware of the fact that the feeling likely WILL go away with sufficient time is already a great deal of comfort).

I think one of the main reasons most of us (including me) don't experience this on a consistent basis is just that the majority of us also live our lives and do most of our work in semi-public environments (i.e., despite the fact that I technically have a private office at work, it's also right across the hallway from the copy machine - which means I can can fairly consistently hear coworkers chatting/ someone slamming the drawers of the copier machine in frustration/ muttering to themselves) - preventing me from ever becoming so aware of the quiet that it's distracting.

In your case, (in addition to the excellent suggestions above), I would also consider either a regular "weather noise"- generating website (i.e.,, or quietly playing music in a foreign language (unless you are distracted by the rhythm in that sort of situation, which is totally understandable).

Another approach (which has actually worked surprisingly well for me personally) is to realize that MANY people experience something similar to this, (which makes it feel somewhat more normal). Somehow imagining my fellow humans as "All the Lonely People" working away in their offices/cubicles/from home makes the experience feel quite a bit less lonely (which leads to either other, more humorous thoughts, or leads me to cycle back into the task I was originally working on).

Also, I second the above idea of getting a cat! In my case, my companion of choice is a dog, but the effect is similar. I think just seeing an animal relaxing comfortably next to you as you work is both profoundly comforting (in a "look, there is still beauty in the world!" kind of way) AND not distracting at all (animal companions, unlike human ones, will not respond to your looking over at them with distracting questions/ expressions of their needs/ silly noises or faces).
posted by soaringpineapple at 11:10 PM on May 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

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