The Absolute Joy of Solitude
Being around others is amazing, but being alone can also be great. This week's blog post is about solitude, and why being alone for a while is a good way to recharge and refocus. Read on to find out how you can do just that.
As I write this post, I've got the house to myself for the weekend. This is fairly rare, and it's even more rare in that I don't have anyone coming to stay, or expecting me to do something with them. It's just me and my thoughts for 48hrs.
Some people find this difficult - they don't like being still, or being silent. I think most people I've met in my therapy practice who are like this are frightened of what might happen - they're not always in touch with their thoughts and emotions, usually because those things are overwhelming and scary, and they don't want empty space that might be filled with bad things. Things like how alone they feel, or how inadequate. So they fill their time with friends and family and running and cleaning and loud music and alcohol, and they're happy for the most part. But if anything comes along to make it difficult to fill all the space, like a chronic health condition (or even an acute one, like a broken leg), they quickly become anxious. The tough thing is that none of us are immune to having to slow down every now and then, and if you can't tolerate doing that then later life is going to be very difficult to manage. Better to learn to tolerate silence and stillness now than have to learn a hard lesson later on.
For those of us who are on the introverted side of the spectrum, being around people all the time can be exhausting. It's helpful to take a bit of time now and then to recharge your batteries and allow you to really be present when you are around friends and family. And for those people who are on the extroverted side, learning to enjoy your own company guarantees that you'll never be lonely when the party's over. It's win-win!
Something that is less helpful is unstructured alone time. I know from experience that if I'm on my own for a long time, after a few days I don't want to come back and rejoin society - and that's not good for anyone. If you're the kind of person who struggles to just be still, being alone can feel like an indulgence, or like you're being lazy. To prevent that, it's helpful to have a rough plan of what you're going to do with your alone time. I'm hoping that this is what my weekend is going to look like:
But I don't like being alone, what can I do?!
If you're the kind of person who breaks out in a cold sweat just thinking about unstructured alone time, there are a few things you can do:
Take it small and steady - start with a few minutes of silence and see what comes up in your head. Listen to what you can hear in the room around you, or outside the window. Build up to ten minutes of uninterrupted silence, and see what happens. Ultimately, being able to tolerate some silence can come in handy when you're unable to find anyone to talk to and your phone battery is running low.
Don't distract yourself too much - if you really don't like silence, it's better to get used to it without leaning on your phone or music too much. They're what psychologists call "safety behaviours" - ways of managing a situation without really paying attention to your anxiety or difficult thoughts. The less you can do that, the better off you'll be if you ever need to be alone for a period of time.
Figure out why - ultimately, if you're really struggling to spend time alone with your thoughts, there might be something wrong. It might be a good idea to speak to a therapist to find out if there are any other coping strategies you can use, or to silence any negative or critical thoughts you have for good.
And there you have it! Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to enjoy my weekend. Let me know how you're planning to spend yours in the comments section.
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Dr Sarah Blackshaw: Clinical Psychologist, blogger, tea drinker, interested in dinosaurs and shiny objects