Loneliness: A negative state characterised by a sense of isolation.
Solitude: The state or situation of being alone without feeling lonely.
Very often, the terms solitude and loneliness are used interchangeably, though there is a world of difference between the two as you can see from the definitions given above. Under normal circumstances, most of us are constantly running from one task to the next and juggling multiple responsibilities at the same time; we may not have a chance to be by ourselves or spend time in solitude.
However, all this has changed in the past few months as social distancing norms have necessitated that we minimise our interaction with the outside world. For some, there is an opportunity to spend more time with their loved ones. For many others, this option may not exist, and instead, they may be faced with large amounts of alone time.
All over the world, people are reporting higher levels of loneliness than before. Loneliness is not so much the result of being alone — it is more the result of how we feel about that time spent alone. If we are unhappy with the quality of time spent alone, we are likely to feel unloved, unimportant or unlikeable. This in turn may impact how we view the quality of our social relationships as well. Feeling lonely can have a number of adverse effects on us — some studies, for instance, have linked social isolation and loneliness to greater mortality rates.
The good news is that spending time alone does not necessarily lead to these negative outcomes. In fact, there are several potential upsides to solitude:
Solitude gives a chance to reboot: All through the day, your mind is constantly occupied and busy making decisions, planning and fulfilling responsibilities. When you spend some time alone, you are also giving yourself a chance to unwind and clear your mind. This is because spending some time in solitude allows your overstimulated body and mind a chance to slow down and recharge without any distractions.
Solitude can boost concentration and productivity: Constantly being around others means constantly being exposed to incoming information as well as distractions. Removing these distractions and spending time with yourself can help you concentrate better, work through problems more effectively and ultimately boost your productivity.
Solitude can improve your relationship with yourself and others: When you spend time with yourself, you gain a better understanding of yourself and your needs. This in turn is likely to help you make better choices about the kinds of people and things you want in your life. When you get in touch with yourself, you will also be better able to communicate your needs to others.
So how can you make good use of alone time?
We’ve talked not only about the pitfalls of loneliness but also about the benefits that one can experience with solitude. The key is to ensure that you are making the most effective use of the extra alone time. Here are a few tips you can follow:
Create a schedule
The lockdown has brought in a new normal for all of us to adjust to. For most of us, life is not the same anymore — the routines that we were used to following no longer exist. Without a structure, our days might just pass us by, making us feel lethargic and low. Create a new routine for yourself and plan for different things to do in the day. Incorporate time for work, chores, leisure and social interactions. Having a structure can help you get things done and feel good about your day.
Check in with yourself
Your day may be full of tasks to do, chores to complete and errands to run. With all that you have to do in a day, you might find yourself running on autopilot. Allot some time in the day to only focus on yourself. You can get back to your other responsibilities at the end of your “me time.” For those moments however, it’s just about you. Ask yourself, “How am I doing right now?” You can also use this time to journal your thoughts as another way to check in with yourself.
Accept the discomfort
Most of us are not used to being alone — especially not for extended periods of time. The lockdown is a novel experience and there is likely to be some discomfort. That’s OK! The important thing to remember here is that this discomfort is not permanent — it will end. Ask yourself what you can do to make the situation better and put a smile on your face. This can be instrumental in helping you create an environment and a lifestyle that supports your “me time.” If you’re unable to manage on your own, you can even reach out to someone to talk to.
Avoid the electronics
In order to be able enjoy some time alone, it is important to keep all electronics aside. This will ensure that you are not constantly distracted by incoming notifications, calls, messages or news. Constant exposure to news via T.V. may result in negativity or low mood which may further breed negative thoughts of self and others – thus making it harder to feel positive while alone.
Cut down on social media
Keeping away from your phone and other electronics also means staying away from social media, even if for a little while. When you are surfing through social media, it is very likely that you are comparing yourself to others in an unfavourable way. Pictures and narratives on social media also often lead to a fear that you’re missing out on something crucial which makes spending time alone quite difficult. You can use alone time to connect with yourself, recognise that it’s not possible for anyone to have all kinds of experiences, and reflect on the various things you have to be grateful for in your life.
Allow your mind to wander sometimes
Walk around your house or curl up on the sofa and just allow your mind to wander. It’s not often that you get a chance to simply let your mind free. Spend some of your alone time to daydream about your dream project, your career, hopes for your kids or anything else you want. Take advantage of this opportunity and see just where your thoughts take you. You just might discover something interesting about the way your mind works.
Don’t forget self-care
There are likely to be multiple self-care practices that you’ve wanted to try but have never had the time for. Use this alone time to really indulge yourself by doing something just for you. This could be trying out a new recipe, making your comfort food, painting, having a home spa day, or even doing some exercise. Remember to make your self-care personal — it has to be an activity that you find enjoyable and rejuvenating.
Make time for your hobbies
In the hustle and bustle of daily life, it is possible that your hobbies and leisure activities have taken a backseat. Including ‘me time’ in your day allows you the opportunity to engage with your hobbies, interests and other leisure activities in a guilt-free manner.
Most importantly, rethink the way you look at alone time. By looking at your current situation as an opportunity for you to try new things and capitalise on the time you get with yourself, you can make this experience much more enjoyable for you.
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