A few weeks ago, I read an article in Lena Denham and Jenni Konner’s online magazine Lenny. The article was titled ‘Women Are Supposed to Give Until They Die’ (read here) and discussed how important alone time is for women as well as men.
This got me thinking…
I have gone through phases in my life being entirely unable to be alone. For example, when I lived in a house of eight people at university, I spent pretty much all of my waking hours with others and began to realise that it was really strange when I found myself on my own. In contrast, there were periods later when I spent my entire day in the library studying and then would go home to a quiet house and spend the evening in my room, and actually, this was a time when I was very lonely.
These were periods of extremes and I think life can be like that at university. Now, being back home and working, I find that I have really started to value the time I get to spend alone. I mentioned a few weeks ago going home to an empty house and cooking myself dinner. I did the same this week and I find that I experience a real feeling of peace when I can have that little bit of time to myself.
Indeed it turns out that psychology supports me in valuing my alone time…
Anthony Storr, a psychologist who studied solitude, wrote that:
‘The mind must make its own happiness…any troubles can be endured if the sufferer has resources of his own to sustain him.’
However, it is in our nature to avoid solitude. As humans we’re evolving, a solitary individual would not survive for long. This means that natural selection has programmed us to avoid being alone. As well as this, Arnie Kozak, a psychotherapist and clinical assistant professor in psychiatry at the University of Vermont College of Medicine, explains that we are averse to spending time alone for two reasons:
- Solitude is misconstrued as loneliness.
- People are ill-equipped to know what to do with themselves. Valuing aloneness, solitude and quiet is not what most people see as a priority.
Bust despite this aversion, spending time alone has real benefits for our state of mind. Firstly, it increases creativity. Psychologist Ester Buchholz explained that being alone gives us the opportunity to figure things out, emerge with new discoveries and work out the solutions to problems…
’The natural creativity in all of us—the sudden and slow insights, bursts and gentle bubbles of imagination—is found as a result of alonetime.’
Secondly, alone time can lower stress and depression. Kozak says that being alone is a crucial time in which we can replenish our energy and without this, we are bound to experience a higher level of stress since we are constantly experiencing the unrelenting busyness of life and the energetic demand of being around other people…
’To enjoy time alone is to know ourselves better and feel less pushed around by the expectations of others and the culture we live in.’
Lastly, solitude actually improves your relationships. Sherry Turkles writes in her book Alone Together, that if we develop the ability to be alone, we can appreciate the other people in our lives on a more genuine level.
But the question is, if we are so averse and unused to spending time alone, how can we create that time and make the most of it? So here are some top tips that may help you as the New Year approaches:
- Digital Detox – once a day, make sure you switch off your phone, laptop, tablet and any other digital means you use to communicate with people and allow yourself to be alone with yourself without distractions.
- Wake up a little earlier (don’t worry, I’m only talking half an hour or so!), and use that quiet time, before you check your emails and texts, to create, problem solve or meditate.
- Use your lunch-time. Leave your desk and spend that time in the middle of the day with yourself. Go for a walk, sit outside, have lunch with yourself, process and relax.
- Put alone time in the diary. Incorporate it into your schedule like you would anything else.
- Do something you enjoy. Read, sing, write, play the piano, go for a run. Alone time to do things for yourself!
So, amidst all the Christmas and New Year madness, when you are constantly surrounded by people, make sure you leave a little time for yourself.
Have a wonderful New Year Hubbers!
By Ilana Mann