Thanks to social media, we're always connected to our friends (as well as former coworkers, people we vaguely knew back in high school, and randos we met half-tipsy at a party that one time). This constant access to other people's digital personas can make it seem like we're always interacting with other people—and makes disconnecting harder.
It can be difficult to feel comfortable doing things on our own. In fact, research shows that people are concerned about how others will perceive them when they're doing an activity solo and overestimate how much they'll enjoy activities based on the presence of others. But it doesn't really matter whether you're someone who loves their alone time or gets energy from being surrounded by people—even diehard extroverts need a break once in a while. Here are eight activities to try on your own this year:
1. Take a trip.
If you've ever traveled in a group and felt that tug of desire to go off and see things the group isn't into, it's time to plan a solo trip. Experts say that exploring a new place surrounded by new people—and possibly a new language—helps your brain create connections and builds resilience, strength, and mental flexibility.
"Traveling alone can build a sense of independence and self-reliance, and a feeling of confidence that you may not have had before," says Gail Saltz, M.D., psychiatrist and author of The Power of Different: The Link Between Disorder and Genius. Problem-solving when we're out of our comfort zone, whether or not things go as planned, also helps us feel accomplished and empowered, she says.
2. Cook for yourself...
"When you can have home-cooked meals, you are in the driver's seat of what you're consuming," says Grace Derocha, a registered dietitian and certified health coach. "If you're doing it by yourself, the sky is the limit."
Cooking for yourself means you don't have to worry about anyone else's food allergies or preferences, and it also helps you build a repertoire of recipes and encourages learning and creativity, Derocha says. If you're new to the kitchen, she recommends starting with simple recipes that incorporate foods and flavors you already like, and developing some solid cooking basics. Save the sous vide for later!
3. ... and take yourself out for a night on the town too.
Dining solo has a stigma attached to it that restaurants continue to promote by consistently setting tables for two or more, Derocha says. But she adds that the act of eating alone helps us connect with our thoughts and can help us savor and enjoy our food without being influenced by our companions' habits—studies show that we mimic the speed, amount, and choices of the people we dine with.
4. Have sex.
Nope, you don't need a partner to get frisky. Masturbation has many benefits for physical and mental health, whether we're single, hooking up, or in a committed relationship. It can even make sex with a partner more enjoyable.
"Masturbation not only feels great, it's good for you too," says Emily Morse, sexologist and host of the Sex With Emily podcast. "It relieves stress, and it teaches you about your body and what feels good to you, which builds sexual confidence in the bedroom."
5. Adopt a pet.
Research suggests that interacting with animals can reduce stress and anxiety—and possibly even improve heart health. Pets provide day-to-day structure and a sense of purpose for their humans too, Saltz says. (And they're, you know, adorable.) Physical contact with pets may even cause the same physiological change in our brains as the touch of other humans.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimates that 6.5 million animals enter the shelter system every year, so there are plenty of pets looking for loving homes. If you aren't ready for a permanent furry friend in your life, you can still experience the health benefits of animal companionship through fostering or volunteering at a shelter or adoption event.
6. Dance, dance, dance.
Dancing provides tons of health benefits, including increasing cardiovascular capacity, keeping the brain sharp, and improving balance. And dancing in the privacy of your bedroom offers these benefits and more—the music you dance to can be therapeutic for you too, Derocha says.
"Being able to dance alone without judgment allows your creative mind to really expand and feel like anything is possible," she says.
7. Work out.
Most health experts agree that exercise tops the list of activities that are good for our bodies and brains.
"Vigorous exercise several times a week can help mild to moderate depression and anxiety—and it definitely boosts your mood," Saltz says. "Exercise can help you organize thoughts, be able to concentrate more clearly, and alleviate stress." And while exercising with other people doesn't negate any of these physical and mental benefits, going solo can allow you to go at your own pace, rather than feeling pressure to keep up with a group, she adds.
8. Explore the outdoors.
The health benefits of nature are no secret: Studies continue to show that being outside makes us happier, more creative, less stressed, and even physically well. Daniel Amen, M.D., psychiatrist and founder of Amen Clinics, notes that many Americans have low vitamin D as a result of getting too little sunshine. And while it's great to spend time outside with other people, a solo walk in the woods can make you feel more centered.
According to Derocha, there are also perks to taking our solo workouts outside, where we tend to exercise longer than indoors, feel more eager to return for future workouts, and experience higher self-esteem.
Ultimately, whether you end up enjoying more solo activities will depend on your mindset: If you get hung up on the idea that others will perceive you as lonely, you probably won't have as positive an experience. But if you can change your attitude and get into the idea of a little quality you-time, more time alone can be great for you.
"You are always with yourself, so it's really best to get to know yourself and build a long-lasting relationship," Derocha says. The goal is to find your personal balance, recharge, and take care of your own needs.