Has this isolation got you anxious as you find yourself having to spend more time with yourself and not sure how to handle it? Well, don’t worry, as isolation has benefits that you can reap in the long run. Unless you are a super introvert (who also don’t always like being alone for too long), its highly likely that you have difficulty being on your own. Being alone isn’t our most comfortable state. A 2011 study from Harvard University and the University of Virginia found that subjects were so averse to loneliness that they would rather receive a series of electrical shocks than be alone with their own thoughts for 15 minutes. How crazy does that sound? More research was done regarding this inability of human beings, who of course are social beings, to stay alone for too long and it was discovered that it was better for your mental and emotional health to train yourself to be happy with yourself and overcome the anxious feelings associated with loneliness.
You, of course, don’t have to be a hermit and forgo all social connections as that in itself is also not healthy. It is important to remember that being alone and loneliness are two very different things. Loneliness involves being isolated despite wanting social connections, whereas being alone means taking time for yourself between regular social interactions. Research suggests that social isolation and loneliness increase the risk of heart disease, obesity, anxiety, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, high blood pressure, and even early death. But research is also increasingly showing that there are real benefits to embracing “being alone” and finding things to do by yourself. So even though there is a wealth of research pointing to the psychological downsides of loneliness and social isolation, there is an increasing amount of evidence suggesting that a certain amount of quality time alone is critical to well-being. Some things, this research suggests, are just better off being done by yourself without the distractions, opinions, or influences of other people.
So there are numerous upsides to being alone and using that time to find yourself and love yourself. And here’s how to go about doing it.
Plan in advance
Being alone doesn’t come naturally to everyone. If you are used to surrounding yourself with friends and family or even prefer the company of strangers, learning to appreciate the joys of going solo may take some time. So make a plan. The best alone-time often happens when you set aside a specific period to be by yourself.
Practise productive solitude
According to Eric Klinenberg, a sociology professor at New York University, having smartphones and social media accounts at our fingertips heightens our aversion to being by ourselves. Our fears of missing out are stoked by endless photos of friends doing exciting things. We constantly need to be entertained, Klinenberg says, and as a result we’ve become alienated from what he calls “productive solitude.”
Eliminate the distractions. If you find yourself tempted to work, check out social media, or talk on the phone, start by turning off any potential distracting devices. Leave your laptop and phone aside and focus on doing something that you don’t normally get to do on your own.
Reflecting on our actions and thinking about future personal improvements are the cornerstones of productive solitude. Carving out time to do these things can help make us happier, stronger and more accountable. This process allow us to step back and then return to the world with more insight and energy.
“The only way we have a chance to make sense of our choices is through solo reflection,” Klinenberg says. “Unless you’re completely content with who you are and the way you live, productive solitude is necessary.”
Practise going out alone
Even though this isn’t a practise you can particularly implement at this time of lockdown, remember to do this later to learn how to enjoy your own company. Even though it can seem absurd to go for a movie or a concert on your own or have dinner by yourself at a restaurant, this is exactly what you need to do. Have you ever found yourself wanting to do some activities like go for a particular movie or watch your favorite band play but you would skip out on if you don’t have friends who are available at that time to go with. Professor Rebecca Ratner of University of Maryland believes this fear is causing us to forgo fun. So instead of doing that, pick yourself up, make that booking and go by yourself. This way you may tend to miss out on less as well. It also makes you feel more empowered and gives you a boost of self-confidence.
Her research has shown that doing an activity alone isn’t any less enjoyable than taking a friend. In a study published this year, Ratner’s team recruited participants from a student union and asked them to spend at least five minutes in a nearby art gallery. Some went solo, others in pairs. Participants were surveyed beforehand and asked how much they anticipated enjoying the activity. Unsurprisingly, those attending alone believed they’d have less fun. Upon leaving the gallery, however, the two groups reported enjoying themselves equally. So just take this chance to go out and enjoy things on your own.
Michael Harris, the Toronto-based author of The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We’ve Lost in a World of Constant Connection believes we should balance solitude and socializing the same way we go about maintaining a healthy diet. “Social connection is not an evil thing any more than sugars and fats are,” Harris says. “It’s not about abstinence. It’s about giving yourself multiple modes of being.” But if you particularly have a problem being on your own, then try to spend more time with yourself and learn to be comfortable with yourself. The more you find yourself being comfortable with yourself, the more you tend to love yourself too.
Practise sitting or trekking in nature alone
Go for a hike in nature all by yourself. Going alone can give you a chance to connect with nature, challenge your body, and enjoy some peaceful solitude. Meditating in nature, hugging trees, watching a sunrise or even observing flowers for a while can give you a different perspective on life itself. Spending time in nature is also great for your health.
Practise travelling alone
Solo tripping is a hype for a reason. Travellers who travel alone as compared to travelling with a group or a partner have always found themselves discovering new ways of being and it is found to have completely changed their views on life. Vacationing and traveling alone may seem intimidating at first, but it can also be an exciting and rewarding way to challenge yourself and learn new things. Traveling alone is a great way to build self-sufficiency and confidence. You come back stronger and more experienced and able to handle more things in life on your own. Try it if you don’t believe it.
Volunteer or take a class on your own
Sign up for a class where you can learn a new skill, whether it is something like cooking, dancing, painting, or some other hobby that has always interested you. Instead of being focused on doing what other people want you to do, you can pursue something that satisfies your own interests. Doing it on your own can give you a boost of self esteem and self satisfaction. You can also volunteer at any organisation that caters to your particular interest and this way you can contribute to the community and also have time to find yourself a little more. Research has shown that prosocial actions like volunteering can have a number of positive benefits.
Since now it might not be feasible to try the last three options right away, as most of us are in lockdown, you can practise creating alone time at home where you set aside some time for yourself and engage in activities that allow you to feel a sense of inner solitude. Some people can achieve this feeling while listening to music or reading a book, while others might require the quiet of a peaceful session of meditation. Find what works for you, then make sure that you have regular moments where you can retreat to this quiet mental space.
Learn to value solitude. In an ever-connected world that often devalues being alone, it is important to remember the importance of taking time out to spend with just your own thoughts. This may prove to be the gateway to your purpose and to your own salvation. Find yourself and learn to love yourself for who you are.
You need to know how to be alone and not be defined by another person.” –Oscar Wilde.