Thursday, August 18, 2022
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How important is alone time for mental health?

Have you ever noticed how Google Maps never yells, condemns and castigates you if you take the wrong turn?

If it did that, chances are, a lot of us might stop using it. So instead Google simply re-routes and shows you the next best way to get to your destination!

There is a great lesson here— its tempting to unload our frustration and anger on those who have made a mistake, especially those who are close to us including your own self.

Are you going through a re-routing time in your life?

Take some alone time to Google Map yourself, recap the many wrong routes, be kind and forgiving to yourself — and evolve.

 

Its true that people need people, by nature people are social beings. Social interactions and relationships allow you to thrive and are vital for a full life. However, spending time with yourself and getting to know 

Who you are? 

What is your purpose on this planet?

What are your talents? 

What legacy are you leaving behind?  — is equally important. 

A certain amount of quality time alone is critical to well-being, it allows you to focus on what you want and need, you make choices without outside influences, distractions, opinions and you have no need to be self conscious

The only constant in your life is you, so why not have the best relationship with yourself? Just like you nurture and work on the various relationships in your life, it’s vital to do the same with yourself. 

 

Aloneness vs Loneliness —

There is a difference between being alone and being lonely. Loneliness is linked to being left out and surrounded with negativity and can have devasting health consequences, whereas being alone helps you become more comfortable in your own skin and truly get to know yourself.

The Covid-19 pandemic forced people to take a step back from their fast paced lives and take a beat, it really allowed everyone time to enjoy your own company. However, it did come with its own challenges of loneliness. Many people struggled with feelings of isolation and “cabin fever”. A lot of lives came to a stand still and cases of anxiety, depression and other mental health disorders saw an upward trend. Blurred work-life boundaries and a lack of time apart from your house mates meant that many people were either struggling with a lack of alone time or too much alone time. 

 

The upside of alone time —

‘The busier you are, the more likely you are to profit from alone time.’ Inserting a little solitude into your overfilled schedule isn’t a waste of time infact it is one of the best gifts you can give yourself. It is extremely beneficial for your mental health and comes with a multitude of benefits. 

 

– Personal Exploration: Being by yourself and enjoying your own companionship is a great way to explore and reinvent yourself. It gives you the opportunity to discover or rediscover your passions, your likes and dislikes, get out of mundane routines and even learn new things about yourself, without external forces or influences, biases or judgements. You give yourself time to grow and develop, it’s one of the best gifts you can give yourself. Alone time lets you have this gift. 

 

– Alone time sparks creativity and productivity: Studies have shown that lack of social stimulation leads the brain to ramp up its creative network to help fill the void. Most creatives tend to do their best thinking and work when they are left to themselves, it allows you the opportunity to let your mind roam wild and free because you never know when inspiration will strike. The mind can wander and reach places it’s never been before and pump itself with creativity and self expression, minus the opinion of others. Alone time is fuel for creativity.

 

– Alone time increases your ability to empathise: Spending time alone helps you develop compassion towards other people. Research studies suggest that a certain amount of alone time can actually help you have more empathy for the people around you and develop a compassionate trait, by improving your ability to interpret emotions, facial expressions all leading to better understanding of human beings. 

 

– Alone time is beneficial for concentration and mental strength: Being alone can help you focus and pay attention without getting easily distracted, you concentrate on what you’re doing in the moment, using your brainpower to its maximus, building your mental strength and concentration skills. It’s different when you work in a group, you tend to memorise less information, you rely on the group for retention of information and even slack is picked up by the group instead of self onus. This is a phenomenon called social loafing. Sometimes doing things alone is better than doing things in a group. 

 

– Being alone lets you work on your relationships: “Only a well nutured soul has the ability to nutur others.” If you cannot be satisfied and happy in your relationship with yourself how can you expect to be happy in any other relationship. Your relationships are often strongest when each person takes time to take care of themselves. Sometimes taking a break from doing things in a group and spending time solo may help you appreciate your other connections a lot more and re energise the social animal in you with a strong social network and support system.

 

– Social Energy: Social energy comes from spending time in a stimulating environment with other people. It is alone time that gears you up with energy for these social encounters and a misconception that people who live alone have low social energy au contraire being alone does recharge your mind and body to interact with the outside world. Extroverts tend to feel energised by social experiences, so solitude might be more challenging for them but just because you are an extrovert that doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy spending time by yourself. Introverts, on the other hand, gain energy from being alone and when they evolve to socialize they might even have more social energy than people who cohabitate. It’s important to keep your social energy up but at the same time enjoy your time alone. Your preference of wanting to spend time with yourself plays a role in determining whether being alone has a positive or negative effect on your mental health and well being. 

 

– Solitude gives you a chance to know yourself and make YOU a priority: Alone time is an important part of self development. Spending time with yourself gives you the ability to focus on your interests, what you like and don’t like, learn new things about yourself, make choices for yourself based on what you want, and a chance to ensure there’s a purpose to all of your hustling and bustling, it helps you develop comfort in your own skin and more insight into who you are as a person. It allows you to take a break from everything around you and just focus on one thing- YOU. We often are surrounded by others and set our own ideas and passions aside in order to appease the wants and needs of friends and family. Stop, look and listen to yourself —in solitude.

 

 

We have spoken about the upside of alone time, but in all fairness, there is an other side to the coin, alone time can be challenging for some, for different reasons — not being comfortable with being alone or the social stigma of loneliness attached to the concept of alone time rate high. Other reasons — 

 

Lack of experience being alone: Some people are not used to being by themselves and because they are constantly around other people the sudden absence of social interactions can be overwhelming and leave you feeling detached or disconnected. Taking time out for yourself, if you’ve never done so before, should be a gradual process, start with a few minutes everyday and build it up over time to get comfortable in your own company. 

Social stigma: The social stigma about being alone and the way people view solitude can have a huge impact on a person who enjoys solitude. People who spend time alone are often referred to as “loners” and looked down upon or pitied, their alone time is often viewed negatively as antisocial behaviour. For example, going for a movie or to a restaurant for dinner on your own is frowned upon by society, hence people who want to do it often shy away from it as well. I say, forget about what society has to say and do what makes you happy. People often overestimate the benefits of being with someone else. You are as good if not better company for yourself, so don’t sell yourself short. 

If the thought of being alone makes you fear that you’ll end up feeling lonely, reframe your thought process and dont view alone time negatively. Sometimes being alone may not boost your mood but it definitely helps you understand your thoughts and emotions.

 

Ways to Spend Time Alone

Being alone is most beneficial when it is voluntary. Spending time alone should be done in ways that can benefit your mental health. Each person has different needs when it comes to spending time alone so try striking a balance between your social interactions and being by yourself. Some people need just a few minutes to reset while others need more time. Listen to yourself and do what makes you feel good. Here are some ways to spend your alone time —

 

  • Take a walk: Instead of being cooped up in your house, go for a walk and spend a little time outdoors, breathe in the fresh air and be one with nature. Enjoying a change of scenery can have a restorative effect on your mental health and a beneficial impact on your well-being.
  • Pick a time and plan something: Not everyone is comfortable spending time alone, so you might find it helpful to plan out what you want to do. You can relax and have a nice long bubble bath, read a book with a steaming cup of chai, go shopping, paint something, cook or clean. Sometimes planning out alone time can help you get that breather you so need. 
  • Watch a movie or play: Most people do not talk while watching a movie or a play so why not go for it alone? Enjoy focusing on the film and play without having to worry about being constantly disturbed by your buddies sitting next to you.
  • Listen to music or have a dance party for one: Listening to music is an instant mood lifter. Not only will you get to listen to your favourite songs but also without the worry of having to listen to what other people like. Dancing on your own is a great stressbuster, one that I highly recommend – Billy Idol said it best, “When there’s nothing to lose and there’s nothing to prove, well i’m dancing with myself” 
  • Travel on your own: The thought of travelling alone might seem a little overwhelming but it can be one of the most fulfilling experiences as well. Facing new challenges, experiencing new cultures and learning new things in a foriegn land is incomparable. If you need that added push to take the leap of faith “Eat, Pray, Love” is a must read-must watch book and movie duo. It will give you all the courage you need. 
  • Meditation or journaling: Meditation is a great way to manage stress and improve your health. You can include yoga in your meditation session for some physical activity, get those endorphins pumping, its a great way to reconnect with yourself and stay grounded. Journaling your thoughts and ideas is very helpful when it comes to stress management and being in tune with yourself. 
  • Skill yourself or take up a hobby: Learn a new skill like cooking, pottery, painting, dance classes, learning to play an instrument or even reconnect with an old hobby like writing or knitting. Do what you love and forget about the rest. Satisfy your soul.

 

How do you develop the right mindset when it comes to spending time alone —

Reassessing how you look at spending time alone is very important to swat away the negative effects of loneliness. Your mindset is key when it comes to alone time. 

  • Creating space to be alone: Finding time to be alone isn’t always as easy as it seems. With all the hustle and bustle around you, not to mention your social responsibilities it can be hard to explain your need for alone time. Create this all important space.  
  • Be clear and specific: Tell the people around you, whoever they are, that you need some time alone and to please respect that. Explain to them what alone time means to you and most people will be very understanding and accommodating of your needs.  
  • Return the favour: If people are willing to give you the time and space you need with yourself to re energise be willing to return the favour to them.
  • Be flexible: If you are trying to find time for yourself when you don’t live alone or you’re living with other people, you need to be flexible when it comes to finding time for yourself. For example, try waking up early before others in the house wake up to enjoy some peaceful time to yourself, watch the sunrise and birds chirp with your morning cup of joe to electrify the rest of your day. 

 

Watch out for these signs- you might be in need for some alone time

– feeling short-tempered, getting annoyed and snappy very easily, even by minor things. 

– Losing interest in doing things with other people or getting anxious about spending time with other people. 

– Feeling overwhelmed or overstimulated by everything and even having trouble concentrating. 

If you feel like you are struggling with any of the above signs, a little alone time can do wonders for you. Make alone time a habit — 

Set aside ten minutes a day to be alone with your thoughts — it helps. 

“Out of all the relationships that shape us, the most significant is the one we have with ourselves” – Nansia Movidi

Vinita Alvares Fernandes
Vinita Alvares Fernandes is an Economics graduate, a writer and a Trinity College certified public speaker and communicator

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