Spending time with family and friends is important for your mental wellbeing, but sometimes you need time being alone by yourself. You may be surprised to learn that being alone helps you become more resilient. Here’s what scientists are saying about how solitude can make you stronger.
Recently, you’ve probably read how loneliness is at an all-time high due to the pandemic. It’s an understandable concern. Loneliness can have negative effects on people leading to psychiatric risks, suicide, and social anxiety. Other negatives of loneliness include:
- Cognitive decline
- Greater risk of cardiovascular disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
There is a great effort to fight loneliness, but researchers are finding that loneliness has little to do with social interaction and more to do with how people see themselves in their world. Just adding people to your life won’t necessarily take away your loneliness. So, it’s important to understand what loneliness is and what it isn’t.
Being Alone versus loneliness
Loneliness can hurt your mental health, but loneliness and being alone differ from each other. Just because you’re physically being alone, it doesn’t mean you are lonely. Researchers say that loneliness is a perception. If you perceive yourself as lonely without friends, then you will feel lonely. One study found that those who felt alone had an increased risk of dementia, but how much time people spent alone didn’t affect whether they got dementia. Other research found that lonely people were more prone to disease and immune problems.
But spending time alone or being alone doesn’t lead to loneliness. In fact, many religions practice solitude and disengaging from society to find inner peace and spiritual refreshment. Historically, some of the most creative individuals felt that time alone helped them to be more creative. In fact, the well-known painter, Pablo Picasso, said that “no serious work is possible without great solitude.”
Many people enjoy time alone. In one survey, 85% of those adults interviewed said time alone was important to them, and many people wish they had more time alone.
So what is the difference between solitude and loneliness? It could be your perception of the two. Loneliness is a negative emotion based upon your wish for more people contact compared to the reality of your actual lack of social contact. Solitude, on the other hand, is a choice you make to get away from people.
You basically decide whether solitude is negative or positive. If you assess being alone as loneliness, you will experience the pains of loneliness. But if you perceive being by yourself as a positive, you will receive the benefits of solitude.
What are the benefits of being alone?
You may not be so convinced that solitude is good for you. If you’re a people person, you may not look forward to spending time by yourself. But you may be surprised at the helpful benefits you experience from getting some solitude. Here are several benefits to consider.
1 – Being alone can help you become more compassionate
When you’re with your specific group of friends and family members, you become insulated from others. It’s not mean spirited necessarily, but you tend to exclude people who aren’t within your “circle.” Solitude allows you to feel part of the human race. You develop compassion for other people, and you can even be willing to include them in your life. It’s like your world gets bigger from your time spent by yourself.
2 -Being alone improves your creativity
There is a long list of musicians, authors, and artists who look to solitude to inspire their creativity. When you are alone in your living room, there are no distractions, so your mind can rest, allowing ideas to bubble to the top of your conscientiousness. This boost in creativity and productivity is widespread. Some people even suggest that an open floor plan in your home isn’t helpful for creativity because it’s noisier and less private.
3 – Being alone lowers your stress
Learning how to hang out with yourself reduces your stress. Let’s face it. People add stress to your life. Solitude allows you to take a breath and enjoy some peace. You can take a walk, read a book or clean out a closet… whatever you want to do that helps your mind and body destress.
Hanging with family and friends is great, but sometimes you need to be alone to plan your life. You may need time to figure out where you want to go on vacation next summer. You may need time to plan out your retirement. Getting a break from life’s busyness gives you a perspective on your future. Solitude allows you some time to evaluate your goals, dreams, and aspirations and make changes if necessary.
5 – Being alone helps your contentment
Whether you choose to read, clean the house or paint the bathroom, you find pleasure in solitude because you feel content with your life. You’re not looking to people to fill your time, but you feel at ease just being alone. Solitude allows you to reflect on all you have to be grateful for, which in turn leads to contentment and satisfaction with your life.
How do you change your negative view of being alone?
Researchers say that you can alter your negative view of your life events so that you actually reinterpret the meaning of a distressing situation. It’s called cognitive reappraisal. It’s beneficial when you can’t change your circumstance of feeling lonely with sudden social contact. It enables you to see your time by yourself in a more positive light so that you end up benefiting from the solitude. As your view of being alone changes, your negative mood decreases. You enjoy your solitude in a new way and find yourself happy without people as you are happy being around people.
Why does being alone get such a bad rap?
Solitude isn’t talked about very much, but you do hear many negative things about being alone. Social stigmas about being alone have fueled the wrong thinking about solitude. Everything from sitcoms to Instagram posts conveys the thought that you must be lonely if you are home on a Friday night. These social stigmas affect your own ideas about being by yourself, so you assume you are lonely because that’s what they tell you.
Being alone is also seen as a weakness–an enormous mistake. Others may assume there must be something wrong with you if you aren’t hanging out with people every weekend. One study found that people who like to spend time by themselves are seen as less attractive, less psychologically adjusted, and less desirable as friends. It’s easy to get pulled into these points of view, so much that you begin to see solitude as a negative.
How to start enjoying the solitude
You understand and agree there are benefits to being by yourself, but how do you find the time for solitude? You have work, school, kids, and a whole list of other things in your life that probably makes solitude feel impossible. Fortunately, you don’t need lots of free time to experience solitude. Small chunks of time alone are all you need to have solitude. Even if you only have 10 minutes in the evening after the kids have gone to bed, you can allow yourself to sit quietly.
Without your smartphone or the television, allow your mind to drift and daydream. You’ll be surprised at the creative ideas you’ll come up with. Take a deep breath, or write in your journal about your day or write a poem. Take a 15-minute walk before you go pick your kids up from school. Silence your electronics while in the car at the school’s kiss and ride, and be alone with your thoughts for a few minutes. Some people schedule a retreat by themselves once a year to read, study, plan, or relax.
Consider this the time you need to restore your inner-peace and recharge your batteries.
It may take time before you really enjoy solitude, but you’ll not only get used to it– you will start to love it.
Being alone gets a bad rap by the media and our society in general. If you enjoy being by yourself, you may be perceived as lacking social graces, weak or incompetent. It’s hard not to get pulled into this thinking about solitude, even though it’s not necessarily true. Of course, you may really like being with people all the time and hate the thought of being alone too long. If this is you, you may want to learn how much you can benefit from being by yourself once in a while.