Why you should have some alone time
Human beings are naturally social. Civilisations have developed over time as people have grouped together for efficiency and to provide opportunities for interaction. Traditionally, communities gathered to hunt for food or grow it, build shelters and make clothing. Today, people need to be social or near others for similar basic human requirements. In addition, there’s a multitude of other services now available. It’s natural to want to spend time with other people and to avail ourselves of the services and experiences others provide.
However, the way most of us live today fills our lives. There never seems to be enough time to fit work, home tasks, social engagements, family commitments and so on into the time available. You may rarely spend time alone and if you do, you usually aren’t enjoying that time. For example, you might be alone when you are doing the Grocery shopping but, rather than enjoying this time, you are probably trying to remember everything you need to buy, negotiate aisles and trolleys, and get through the queue as fast as you can or pass the time by reading a magazine. It’s not time spent enjoying the feeling of being alone and, anyway, people are all around you.
There can be significant benefits to being alone. It provides an opportunity to completely relax without the worries of others to concern you. It’s a chance for you to be quiet and have no stimulation. It’s a time when you can think clearly or when you might practise meditation and try not thinking at all. Alone time is time out from the hectic life you live. Being alone for some of your time these days is essential for health and wellbeing.
Most of us spend some time alone, either for a short time during the day or for long periods during our lifetimes. Some will avoid being alone at all costs, while others rejoice in the chance to be introverted, quiet and still. Regardless of whether you choose it, loneliness may become a part of your life at some stage. Or there will be times when you need to spend time alone. What is the distinction between loneliness and being alone and what are some skills for dealing with the feelings that relate to each situation?
You would probably imagine loneliness to be something you don’t choose. If you are feeling lonely, usually you wish you weren’t. Loneliness is often accompanied by a longing to be with one particular person or at least to be with people who make you feel safe and secure. It will probably be accompanied by emotions such as sadness and emptiness.
Being alone can be lonely, but it may also be a choice. A decision to be alone may be just for a few hours in a day, for a weekend, or it may be a life choice you have made for personal reasons. You may spend a significant part of your life alone at your work or you may have made this choice as opposed to being in a relationship with a life partner.
But what if you don’t enjoy being alone? What if being alone is something you avoid? It’s important to make two distinctions here. Are you thinking of being alone as in living alone without a life partner or are you thinking about spending some part of your available time alone? The two are very different but relevant to this discussion.
Let’s discuss relationships first. You might be the kind of person, or you might know someone, who is rarely single. This could be just the way things have turned out or it may be that the main motivation is to be in a relationship with someone else. It’s having a partner that is important, not necessarily choosing an individual you want to spend time with.
You, or this person you know, are not doing something wrong, but it’s very useful, for the purposes of knowing and understanding the self, to look at why things might be this way. Are you scared of not having a partner? What does it mean about you if you have a partner? What does it mean to you if you don’t have one? Do your thoughts and opinions mean more to you when you share them with someone else?
Often, choosing to be in a relationship so you aren’t alone means the relationship won’t work. This is because the choice to be in a relationship is made out of fear of being alone. This can cause all sorts of tensions. You are more likely to suffer when your partner behaves in a way that threatens the relationship because you are scared of being left alone. You may not even be happy spending time with the person because all you wanted was to be in a relationship, not specifically to be in a relationship with this partner. This is not the basis for a long-lasting, happy and healthy relationship.
Whether or not you are in a relationship, you might not like to be alone. There could be all sorts of reasons for this. It may be that you feel unloved when you are alone. It may be that you like to make people laugh — entertaining others makes you feel good about yourself. Or perhaps when you are alone you experience feelings you don’t want to feel? There may be discomfort because, without others to distract you, there is time to focus on yourself. Perhaps this even seems selfish to you.
Regardless of your reasons, there is no way you can make sure you will never be alone. Living your life in such a way as to not be alone is not satisfying and is not something you can control. Why not practise getting used to it so that when it does happen, it’s not so difficult? What are some practices that might be helpful if you find it hard to spend time alone?
If you are someone who finds it hard to be still, yoga or Pilates may be helpful. Your distracted mind may be stopping you from being relaxed enough to enjoy being alone. Both yoga and Pilates help to calm the mind and take the jagged edges away from your thoughts. They are practices that encourage you to look inwards by connecting your mind and body and, particularly with yoga, emptying your mind of thoughts.
You may already attend yoga or Pilates classes, but that’s completely different from practising alone. When you are in a group class, it’s only human to compare yourself to others and wonder why you can’t bend as far as the person next to you or why you can’t stay balanced doing this exercise when everyone else can. This element of comparison is taken away when practising on your own. You can practise what you remember from your class or you can use a DVD to guide you. It’s very important to stay within your limits when practising any exercise by yourself. You should not attempt anything you find difficult without a teacher to observe you. This can change, of course, as you become more experienced and confident.
Both of these forms of exercise will help you create a calmer mind. Yoga, in particular, has traditionally been used to prepare the mind and body for meditation. If some form of meditation appeals to you, this a great practice to try when alone. “Practice” is the vital distinction. Meditation is a practice. It is not something that you find out how to do and then your learning is finished. Every time any human being attempts to meditate, there will be distracting thoughts. But the more you practice, the easier it is to stop being sidetracked.
You can meditate using a CD, which is a good way to establish a meditation practice. Listen to the voice of another guide you to a calmer mind. Or listen to sounds that help you empty your mind of thoughts. All you need to do is be comfortable and be in a place where you will not be diverted or interrupted.
Your thoughts can be a disruption. Thoughts occur in your mind as voices loud or quiet, sad or happy, admonishing or praising. What often happens is you pursue them. You hear a voice in your mind saying “I shouldn’t have said that to my friend yesterday” and you listen to the story that comes next: “Now they won’t want to see me tomorrow” or “Now they won’t be my friend any more” or “If anyone else finds out I said that, then…”
You can choose whether to follow the path of these thoughts. Meditation is the practice of letting thoughts go rather than following them. Thoughts may feel like they are true or that they are who we are, but they are not. They are thoughts — separate from us and very rarely fact. You don’t have to believe thoughts.
However, you may have had a lot of practice at believing your thoughts. This is exactly why you may not like to be alone and hear your thoughts loud and clear. Could you instead entertain the belief that your thoughts are not necessarily the truth? They are simply ideas related to others (parents, workmates, family members or friends) that have been absorbed over time?
If you can see yourself as separate from your thoughts, it will be easier not to listen to them. It will be easier not to follow them and/or believe them. You can say: “I acknowledge that I have this thought and now I am going to let it go.” Thoughts become a lot less disturbing and distracting if you can view them with detachment. They then become less powerful, so when you are alone you won’t feel as if you have to escape from them by going out and finding some company.
The experience of feelings can be viewed in the same way. Feelings are not you: they’re something occurring within you. They can be viewed as separate from you. You might find that when feelings are intense (and they often are when you’re alone), you are totally engulfed by them. This is normal and is also a way you maintain your emotional health. When you experience intense emotions and feelings it’s an opportunity to process them.
Holding onto or suppressing feelings can be detrimental to your health. Although they feel very uncomfortable, feelings are there for a reason and you may as well feel them because they will keep happening. Deep feelings, such as grief and loss, can take over your life and sometimes you live with your feelings as who you are. These kinds of feelings may be most obvious when you are alone. Although they cause you discomfort, for emotional health they must be acknowledged. Once fully experienced, challenging feelings may be easier to accept.
Most of us tend to avoid feelings of emotional pain because they’re so uncomfortable. This is a normal human thing to do. But consider this question: what will happen if you allow yourself to fully experience your overwhelming emotion? If you feel safe enough when you are alone, try it. Allow yourself to completely experience your fear, grief or loss — a feeling that is relevant to you.
You may find that once you allow yourself to be with the feeling, it is less challenging. You may also find this too difficult or you may feel unable to manage an intense level of feeling. In this case, it would be useful to look into getting some professional help from a counsellor or other therapist. With some guidance you can find ways to be more comfortable with the feelings that come up when you are alone.
Appreciating alone time
What is useful about being alone, anyway? First, with the very busy, noisy, stimulating lives most of us lead these days, time alone will give you a break. It provides an opportunity for you to create some peace in your life. When so much of your time is spent rushing around, being alone provides an opportunity to be still. You do need balance to maintain health. Always being busy or continuously rushing from one thing to another is not healthy over long periods. Bring in some tranquillity to oppose the noise and activity.
Time alone gives you the chance to appreciate things you might not notice when in the company of others. You might immerse yourself in a movie or book. Or sit gazing out the window at raindrops falling on leaves or flowers basking in the sunlight. These types of experiences will bring joy to your heart. When you are not immersed in conversation or tending to a loved one, you have the chance to fully experience whatever is around you. Although uncomfortable thoughts and feelings may be present, it’s quite possible that something of beauty will also be there.
Take the opportunity provided by being alone somewhere to fully investigate your surroundings, even if it’s just your lounge room at home. Notice the paintings you have kept on the walls, the colours in the decor or the way the sunlight flickers through your blinds. Being alone provides the option of valuing everything you have, even the simplest of things.
Surprisingly, being comfortable with being alone enriches your relationships. You will be more able to appreciate the time spent with others if you allow yourself to be alone as well. If you feel comfortable with yourself, you will find it easier to relate to others. This is because relating to others can be hindered by worry about what they think of you rather than just being with them.
Feeling alone when you are with others, or out in society, is not what we are discussing here. If you feel alone or isolated when you are in company or with people you know care for you, you may need some help in dealing with this. Feelings of isolation, loneliness or lack of support when others are around are very common and will be present for a reason. There is nothing wrong with consulting a counsellor or other therapist if you experience this.
You will be alone some time in your life. Practice at being comfortable with being alone makes these times more bearable. It makes you more attentive to whatever is around you, be it good or bad. It will even free you up to be more comfortable spending time with others.
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