Spending Time Alone
In a noise-filled world that is constantly in motion, it can be a big challenge to find time for a little peace and quiet. Add to that the responsibilities we have to face in our day to day lives. We humans tend to think of slowing down as a waste of time. Especially when our responsibilities seem to come to no end. And when we do find time to be alone and spend time with ourselves, it’s not always a pretty picture.
There’s always been a stigma attached around solitude. It seems that a significant part of the human race have been raised to think that spending time alone (and in public) is discouraged and that every task necessitates a companion. For most people, solitude equates to loneliness. Eating alone, going to the movies, and doing anything in public without company would easily generate looks of pity.
The thing is, loneliness and solitude are two very different things. Being alone doesn’t always mean being lonely, and being lonely doesn’t always imply being alone. People can still feel lonely even when surrounded by other people. Loneliness is a negative state of mind that causes people to feel empty, isolated, and unwanted, and can be a symptom of a psychological disorder. On the other hand, solitude is a positive state of being alone and is a time for reflection, relaxation, and an opportunity for growth. Simply put, “Solitude is something you choose. Loneliness is imposed on you by others,” writes Hara Estroff Marano for Psychology Today.
Yes, humans are social creatures, “no man is an island,” and we were born to “naturally care, cooperate, and compete,” but it doesn’t mean our lives should continuously be filled with social events and interactions. We all need and deserve a little time to reflect, focus, and take care of ourselves. Here are six benefits of solitude and five ways you can fit alone time in your busy schedule.
How Solitude Can Make Your Life Better
Solitude allows you to revitalize your mind and give birth to new ideas
After hours of non-stop working, you’d most likely run out of energy and ideas to continue. When we don’t give our brain the chance to rest and replenish, it becomes overwhelmed with previous information, hindering us from coming up with new ideas. That’s why it’s vital that we take time off from our work to gain more clarity and allow new ideas to grow–and it doesn’t just mean turning off your computer, sitting in front of your workspace, and scrolling through your social media accounts.
Walk outside and get some fresh air or merely take a bathroom break. And when you do get back to work, remove all potential sources of distractions and interruptions. This will help you get more done in a short amount of time. If you have your own office, put a “do not disturb” sign outside so you can focus on your work without interruptions. People can be distractions too. When you can focus on your work without disturbances, you are better able to hear your thoughts, connect information, and enter a continuous flow. “Focusing on just one thing-without allowing distractions to intrude can become your own form of sacred solitude,” Thomas Oppong writes.
Solitude provides clarity
“Alone time is when I distance myself from the voices of the world so I can hear my own.” –Oprah Winfrey
As we grow up, the world around us seems to become noisier and chaotic, and our lives become busier. Having time to reflect profoundly seems like a rarity nowadays. We don’t even have time to think anymore. There are just so many things to do and people to talk to that we don’t have time to hear ourselves think anymore. These people and things tend to take away our original thoughts and influence our view of the world significantly.
In these moments, a time for solitude is much needed. We need time to be alone and distance ourselves from the chaos; the overwhelm, the people, and other distractions keeping us from engaging in deep thought. We need to be able to have a quiet space to relax, calm down, and think for ourselves. All this without external influences tainting our own opinions and decisions. If we allow ourselves always to be surrounded by noise and chaos, we will never be able to think about the essential things in life such as our goals and our future.
Solitude provides an opportunity for self-discovery
Indeed, no man is an island. We need each other for love, guidance, and support. Aside from our family, our group of friends is a perfect source for all of that. It’s not bad to have a group of friends to rely on for those things. But it can get harmful if you lose your individuality and allow yourself to just go along with what that group is thinking and doing all the time, which is most likely the case if you don’t let yourself have time away from them. You need to be able to define yourself apart from the groups you belong to. Spending time alone every once in a while will help you do that.
When you’re by yourself and away from the influences of others, you are better able to discover who you are, formulate your thoughts, and make your own decisions. Accomplishing things by yourself will boost your confidence better than relying on other people to do it with you as well. It’s not selfish because you’re doing it for yourself and the benefit of the people around you. It’s only when you fully understand who you are and you know what you really want out of life that you will be able to become a better colleague, friend, and family member for them.
Spending time alone makes you better at solving problems.
When it comes to solving problems, you need to be able to focus and think clearly to connect information and come up with something, and it’s hard to think of solutions to problems when you surround yourself with distractions. When in solitude, we have more time to reflect and examine the potential outcomes of our actions, enabling us to weigh our plans better and make better decisions. Being away from external influence, we will also be able to think more rationally and objectively.
When we’re alone, and there’s no one around to help us or do things for us, we also learn to rely on ourselves and no one else to solve our problems. It can be hard if you’re used to relying on others for help, but with time, experience, and practice, you can learn to make decisions and come up with solutions by yourself.
Solitude allows you to empathize better with others.
A common occurrence in most groups is that when one member has an enemy, all members of the team see that member’s enemy as their enemy as well. According to Steven Handel, this is because “Group thinking causes us to act irrationally and uncooperative because we are more concerned about conforming to our group instead of thinking intelligently for ourselves, or recognizing other people’s interests and values outside of our social circle.”
When you spend a lot of time with a particular group of people such as your circle of friends or coworkers, there’s a chance that you’d develop an “us vs. them” mentality. This is where you see people outside of your group as not worthy of the same respect, equality, and kindness that you give to those inside your circle. Spending time alone is crucial for you to avoid this mentality and develop more compassion for those who don’t belong to your inner circle.
An article published by Sherry Turkle on The New York Times discussed how empathy goes hand in hand with solitude. She narrated a story about a group of 14-year-old boys who went on a device-free summer camp and how the campers enjoyed the experience. They had nothing to do except to think quietly and talk to their friends and because they had a taste for life away from the online feed. She concluded that their embrace of the virtue of disconnection suggests a crucial connection between the capacity for empathic conversation and the ability for solitude.
Turkle argues that it is only in solitude that we can find ourselves and enter a conversation with something authentic to say, and it is just in solitude that we learn to concentrate, imagine and listen to ourselves. She says we need these skills to be fully present in conversation and hear what other people have to say.
Solitude protects our health
When we don’t allow ourselves to relax and spend time alone, we are putting our mind and bodies up for stress, and stress will impact our body and behavior negatively. Not only will it makes us more irritable, anxious and prone to depression, it can also trigger or lead to serious health problems such as heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.
Solitude allows us to release anxiety and any feelings that can trigger stress, so we don’t have to suffer from its harmful effects. Research shows that there are numerous outcomes to spending time alone such having the freedom to engage in activities we want to do and increasing intimacy by becoming more self-sufficient, pursuing our passion, and maintaining an awareness of our healthy relationships with others, both of which are involved in improving our mental and physical wellbeing.
According to the Michigan State University Extension, the social-emotional health and wellbeing of an individual are the social, mental, psychological, and spiritual aspects of his life across his lifespan. “By spending time in solitude, we get the chance to reconnect with our thoughts, desires, and emotions. The strength of our relationship with ourselves determines in large part our ability to connect with others in healthy ways.”
How You Can Fit Solitude in Your Busy Schedule
Technology has both been a blessing and curse to humanity. It allows us to communicate with someone from the other side of the world, but it also creates a distance with someone sitting right in front of us. We rely too much and spend too much time on our phones for entertainment and communication that we tend to disconnect from the real world. While these devices provide us the entertainment we need when we want to have fun and relax, they’re still potential sources of distraction. By having that phone in your hand, you are still allowing emails and work-related messages to come, keeping you from having time to really relax.
On weekends, vacations, and on days where you don’t need to work, unplug all your digital connections and potential sources of distractions–that includes the TV, internet, and your phone. Allow yourself to get a little peace and quiet and get away from the outside noise and notifications. It will give you more time to reflect and engage in deep thought and unwind from all the stress of the always connected world.
Get up early
If you have a hectic schedule and you can’t fit solitude into your plan in the middle of the day, you live with your large family under one roof, or you have kids that just won’t give you a break, you will benefit from this advice. Early in the morning, when the family, neighborhood, and the rest of the world Is still asleep, is the perfect time to spend time with yourself and do what you’ve always wanted to do but you never had the chance to do because of all the noise and responsibilities. It’s during these moments that you can focus and enjoy your hobby without anyone bothering you. It will also allow you to start your day productively and with a more positive attitude.
Take a walk or jog around your neighborhood. Finish that painting you’ve been itching to get your hands on for weeks. Savor that moment of feeling like you’re the only person on the planet where no one is texting you, and you’ve yet to worry about the problems of the coming day.
Schedule alone time
Stop making excuses when it comes to spending time with yourself. It seems like there’s never time for solitude because we don’t allow ourselves to make time. To ensure that you always have time for yourself, schedule it. Set a date for it–whether it be ten minutes during the day, once a week, or once a month. Never let your busy life be a hindrance to your much needed alone time. You might think it’s a waste of time to slow down especially when you have a hundred other things you need to finish, but a little bit of downtime is precisely what you need to accomplish those. Your mind needs a break to process what’s going on around you, and you can’t expect your body to function flawlessly in the long run if you don’t take care of it and rest.
Take a few minutes during the day to be alone with your thoughts. Go to a museum and fall in love with art. Sit on a park bench and jot down your ideas. This will help revitalize your mind so you can face your responsibilities and solve your problems with a clear mind. Schedule entire days for solitude as well. Mark it on your calendar and take it seriously. Don’t treat it as something that you can easily remove because you have other important things to do. Spending time with yourself is just as important as those responsibilities. Learn to say no to invites. You’re not obligated to let go of your personal needs for the sake of other people’s happiness. Make them understand that it’s not them, it’s just that you need to take care of yourself, keep your sanity in check, and take control of your life.
Compromise with friends and loved ones
Finally deciding that you need time for yourself doesn’t mean you have to let go of time spent with others. Prioritize your alone time, but make sure you don’t ruin your relationships just because you’ve decided to take care of yourself. When you say no when a friend invites you to hang out, reschedule at another time. That way, your friends won’t feel that you’re rejecting them or pushing them away. Don’t shut them out with no explanation. Be honest and tell them the truth–that you just need time to collect your thoughts and reflect, and it’s only possible if you can spend time with yourself.
Use a valid medical excuse
It’s no secret that stress triggers adverse changes in behaviors and severe medical conditions. Especially if you have a fragile body and your friends and loved ones know you’re suffering from a medical condition, you can use it as a reason for downtime. If they care about you and your wellbeing, they will understand. They will know that you need to do what you have to do to take care of yourself.
Solitude is an easily rewarding and relaxing experience for introverts who need some time alone for themselves now and then. But it can be a challenge for those who are regularly being in the company of others. However, spending time with yourself offers plenty of opportunities for self-growth and improving your overall wellbeing. Many experts encourage doing it often.
If you’re part of the latter who aren’t used to spending time alone, it might be hard for you to get used to solitude. But try to spend time with yourself every once in a while and witness how it does wonders for your mind, body, and your relationship with others. Have you been spending time with yourself lately? How has it benefited your life so far?