To Calm Down: 15 Minutes of Solitude

Just 15 minutes of being alone is enough to calm most people down, and to reduce the strong emotions that can make us crazy. We know this because a University of Rochester news release reports that researchers at the school conducted four experiments. The first compared solitude (simply being alone without any stimuli) to people’s experiences in social interactions and found that being alone was more calming. Next, they compared solitude to being alone with a quiet activity, such as reading and found that that, too, was calming. Third, they compared solitude to the internal stimuli of thinking certain types of thoughts. They found that if participants had positive thoughts, their positive affect was not decreased. In a fourth experiment, the Rochester researchers used a switching-replications experiment to examine a person’s active motivation for being alone. In the three laboratory experiments, study participants sat alone for a quarter of an hour in a comfortable chair, assessing their emotions on rating scales before and afterward. The researchers asked about intense positive emotions (feeling enthusiastic or excited) and intense negative emotions (feeling angry or anxious), as well as low-intensity positive emotions (feeling calm, relaxed) and low-intensity negative emotions (feeling lonely or sad). In the third study, the team examined the effects of making choices about one’s solitary experience by allowing some of the participants to choose what to think about as they sat by themselves, while others were assigned what to think. Those who chose what to think about had higher positive emotions, such as excitement. Conversely, those study subjects who were told to think neutral thoughts exhibited lowered positive emotions. The bottom line: autonomy in solitude—being able to choose what to think about or actively choosing to spend time alone—not only buffered against the negative effects of solitude on emotions, but also improved the beneficial effect of solitude on a person’s relaxation and stress levels.

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