If you think about it, philosophers, artists, and spiritual leaders have historically been depicted as using their solitude to create some of their best work. However, many still consider the act of being alone as a negative experience.
Yet, it’s important to note that there is a difference between loneliness and being alone. The former can be difficult, depressing and it can negatively affect your mental health. However, spending time with yourself when nobody else is around can actually benefit your relationships, improve your creativity and boost your confidence. In fact, experts advocate that being comfortable with being alone can better help you manage your emotions so that you’re better equipped to deal with adverse situations.
When individuals consciously remove themselves from the social context of their lives, they are better able to see how they’re defined by a particular context. In his book, Thoughts in Solitude, Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk who spent years isolating himself from the outside world, reaffirms this. “We cannot see things in perspective until we cease to hug them to our bosom,” he writes.
Solitude in contrast to loneliness should be seen as a positive state – and one that should be sought after rather than avoided. But, thanks to modern stigmas and the fear of being lonely, most of us seem hell-bent on avoiding being by ourselves.
Why It’s Hard Being Alone
The majority of participants in a recent study conducted at the University of Virginia chose to rather subject themselves to electric shock instead of being alone with their own thoughts. And many of us aren’t that different. Whether it’s shoving our earphones in when we’re on our daily commute to drown out the noise around us with music or our favorite podcast, or taking our phones into the bathrooms with us to keep our thoughts occupied – we’re all guilty of avoiding the reality of our present state.
The problem with this, according to experts, is that many of us consider solitude as punishment. If you think about prisoners being jailed against their will, many of us forget that solitude can also be a choice. It doesn’t need to be full time.
Humans are social beings, and there is a mountain of research advocating how interacting with others is beneficial. So much so that we usually immediately dismiss the idea of spending time alone. We don’t realize we can be both social at times and also by ourselves at others – we can have both.
Another reason many of us fear solitude is the fear of being bored. Research has revealed that the majority of people become uncomfortable by a lack of stimuli when they’re by themselves. A lot of us feel overwhelmed when we can’t rely on others to shape our experiences in a certain way.
The Benefits of Being Alone
Despite there being a social stigma tied to spending time alone, experts advocate that it’s something our bodies crave. Even though many of us don’t know how to identify the feeling of “aloneliness” – the desire to sometimes be by ourselves – it doesn’t make it less apparent. When we don’t meet this need, feelings of agitation and frustration may arise – although we may not understand where they’re stemming from.
When we have the freedom to not worry about taking the lead of others and have no pressure to do anything or be social, we can easily decompress. Embracing the sense of being alone and making a choice to be on our own can also help us develop a stronger sense of self and allow us to figure out what our true interests are.
Time with our thoughts that are free from social distractions can also aid us in building confidence and make it easier for us to maintain boundaries. Additionally, it’s been proven that solitude can boost productivity, engagement with others and creativity – according to a recent study that found that brainstorming was enhanced in participants who were alone compared to those in a group.
How To Embrace Solitude
Luckily, being alone is simple – you only need to involve yourself. However, to truly bask in its benefits, you need to be open to exploring new interests and commit to solitude for at least 30 minutes a week.
If you’re just starting out, take baby steps. Whether it’s spending time reading in your favorite coffee shop alone or going to a movie by yourself, try and stay within your comfort zone. If you’re at a loss at what to do, try something that you know makes you relaxed – like taking a warm bath.
If you’re having a particularly hard time navigating the thoughts in your head, jotting them down is a proven way to work through them. And, even though it’s tempting and easy to do when we’re by ourselves, try and stay off your phone. Falling down the social media rabbit hole would be counterproductive when you’re trying to isolate yourself from others. Instead, pick up a good book, bake, make crafts or take up meditating. The latter can help you tap into your higher self through the art of mindfulness.
However you plan to spend more time with yourself, the most important thing is that you commit to seeking moments of solitude like it’s a ritual. Different people will have a different notion of how much alone time they need – it’s also important you don’t isolate yourself too much. If you’re taking the step to spend some of your waking life by yourself, in your own thoughts, you’ll soon reap the benefits.
It’s time to make yourself your first choice. It’s time to invest in you.