Do you dread being by yourself? Does just reading the title about the benefits of being alone cause you anxiety?
Don’t worry, you’re not alone (ha!).
In a recent survey by the site, Everyday Health, one-third of women said they were more scared of being alone than getting a cancer diagnosis. Let that one sink in.
It’s shocking, literally. Science Mag posted a study in 2014 with over half of the men and a quarter of the women surveyed preferring to give themselves electric shocks over being left alone without any stimuli.
Wow. That’s pretty dark.
What is wrong with us? Why does our society have such a stigma against being alone?
Did you know that psychologists and cognitive scientists are starting to study the fact that some people actually benefit from having solitary time?
Solitude is becoming a huge factor in mental health when discussing things like practicing mindfulness and meditation, two things that have been shown to positively change brain chemistry.
Those are also two things that require you to go within and be with yourself. Something a lot of people seem to fear.
The reason is starting to become very clear. People are mistaking solitude with loneliness.
The Difference Between Being Alone and Being Lonely
I have no problems saying that I enjoy being by myself. I always have.
I loved creating worlds when I was a child. I started writing a book at seven-years-old. My goal was to be the youngest published author in the world. Spoiler alert: it didn’t end up happening.
But the point is that I tried and I enjoyed trying because it helped me travel into my imagination. I did the same thing when I pretended to have a radio talk show and when I would play with my dolls and create lives for them.
Is it any wonder I ended up being creative for a living?
My imagination is one of the reasons why I have always looked forward to alone time. It occurs to me that there is something to the fact that I’ve never resisted being alone and I am noticing more psychologists seeing the correlation between savoring solitude and fearing it.
So, in essence, loneliness comes down to resisting and fighting the solitude.
If you don’t know how to be with yourself, if you don’t know how to be in solitude, you will put up a fight. You will be miserable. The discomfort that you cause yourself from this resistance will spiral inside of you and make you feel sorry for yourself.
The only time I have ever felt lonely is when I’m around people who don’t get me or don’t want to get me. Being around people who don’t connect with you is one of the loneliest things in the world to me. I know many of you have felt this same feeling.
So tell me, if being around people can make you feel that lonely, how can being alone and loneliness be the same thing?
Don’t just take my word for it.
Dr. Bella DePaulo, a project scientist at The University of California at Santa Barbara talks about this very phenomenon on a podcast called “Considering Loneliness.”
Introspection: Find Yourself and Increase Creativity
So, taking that idea that embracing solitude is the mindset when you’re alone, there are many health benefits both physically and mentally—if it’s approached in the right way.
This means that those nights watching Netflix with a tube of cookie dough are great and everything, but should be practiced sparingly.
You can find the right mindset through introspection. No time is better for that than solitary time. Does that word scare you? It might, our society has placed a lot of heavy meaning on the word solitary.
But this is the opposite of how we should see it. Solitude without introspection is just emptiness. What is the point? How do you find relaxation and peace if you don’t go within?
Depending on other people or things like possessions and technology to make you feel “worthy” in society will never be fulfilling because it will never stop. Introspection teaches you that ‘now’ and who you are is enough.
This leads to more independence because you are free. You become free from the societal chains causing you to believe that your worth is determined by the things you own.. If you find true introspection, it doesn’t matter what you have or where you live. You are free.
Speaking of free…
In the October 10, 2006, Vanity Fair interview with a freshly divorced Jennifer Aniston, the interviewer asked what she enjoyed about being alone. “‘I can have a comfortable couch,’ she says with a wry smile.”
This was said after the interviewer told Aniston about Kidman’s reply when asked the same thing about her divorce with Tom Cruise. “‘Wearing high heels again,’ Kidman retorted.”
As much as these quotes are juicy bits of gossip, they also speak to one of the best things about being alone, freedom.
Nobody gets to decide what you are going to do but you. This applies whether you are single and deciding on shoes and decor, as well as when you have a night to yourself.
Being able to make decisions for yourself and entertain yourself is an important part of enjoying solitude.
It builds a strong sense of self and independence. It strengthens that feeling of being able to depend on yourself and not feeling the need to have others around.
This brings us to how it benefits relationships.
Up Your Intimacy Factor
Finding your needs and wants through positive solitude can help you find better relationships.
Knowing what you actually want out of a relationship instead of just focusing on having one goes a long way.
When you’re in touch with who you are and know what you want, you tend to see the people in your life more clearly and those who are making you feel lonely will stand out more. This gives you a chance to move away from those people and find ones you connect with more.
This might sound scary and it might even sound like you’re committing to some sort of monk life of solitude.
But here’s the thing. I have found that I connect with more people the more I connect with myself.
It’s mainly because I don’t feel so needy to have their company. When you don’t need the other person, it’s a much more enjoyable relationship. The person feels more wanted and needy behaviors go out the window.
Can you believe it? Having more time being alone actually makes you more able to be sociable and make meaningful connections!
This applies to every relationship but most importantly to romantic relationships.
Wanting the person around because there is a deep connection, but being okay if they aren’t there too is the balance every relationship should strive for. Both parties keeping their sense of independence is vital.
This all requires knowing how to connect with yourself on a deeper level.
How to Overcome the Fear of Being Alone
“All of humanity’s miseries derive from not being able to sit quietly in a room alone.” – Blaise Pascal
I know, I know. I can hear you as I type this. This all sounds great and everything, but what about the fact that you don’t like being alone? What if you fear being left alone with your thoughts? How do you just switch that off, just like that?
Well, you can’t. It takes practice.
The first step is to change your mindset. Don’t see it as a lonely landscape that needs to be filled with people, see it as an opportunity to connect with yourself and grow.
What do you like to do? What feeds your soul?
Being alone gives you the opportunity to do anything you have the resources to do. You can increase your feeling of fulfillment, find a better relationship with yourself, reduce stress, etc.
There are so many positive things you can do for yourself! As long as it doesn’t hurt you or anybody else, what are you waiting for?
Here is a list to start but the possibilities are limitless:
- Self-care practices like taking a bath can reduce stress and really, it just feels good. Now is your chance!
- Writing is a powerful practice. There is no better way to process your internal struggles and find out what is actually bouncing around up in that noggin of yours. The health benefits of writing know no bounds. Case in point, it has even been shown to help injuries heal faster.
- Exercise. That alone time gives you a great opportunity to find time to do any kind of exercise you want. Take a walk, dance like nobody’s watching (because they aren’t!), go for a run, do some restorative yoga. Any way you like to get moving, get moving. Studies have shown that exercise not only increases your physical health but also increases your memory and cognitive intelligence as well.
- Listen to music. This is one of my favorite ones. I mean, really listen. Take it all in, every note. Music lowers stress and actually makes you smarter.
- Reading is one of the easiest, cheapest, and best things you can do for yourself. It builds empathy by putting us in the protagonist’s shoes and increases creativity. You can transport yourself far away from your reality and be whoever you want to be.
It’s pretty clear that knowing how to be alone is one of the most important skills you can have for a balanced life. Your health, relationships, and quality of life all improve exponentially.
It can’t hurt, right?
All it takes is facing fear and you now have the tools to help you do that.
Are you ready to start carving little bits of time to learn how to enjoy being alone, being with yourself? Start with just an hour a week and increase it as your lifestyle allows. You won’t look back once you feel those sweet benefits.
Keep in mind, it’s never “the right time” to face a fear. None of us are every ready. Only now is the time to face yourself and find the benefits of being alone.