I work with many clients who are very uncomfortable, anxious, depressed, and stressed when it comes to an upcoming weekend knowing they will be alone due to their friends and/or significant other being out of town or unavailable. As their clinical therapist, my job is to better understand possible reasons why the client struggles with being alone and also possible coping skills to help them better cope with the weekends or days that they will likely be alone due to their social support system being unavailable.
I recently read an article from The New York Times that touched on a similar topic onto why being alone actually can be helpful for individuals, “Why you should find time to be alone with yourself” by author Micaela Marini Higgs.
Below describes Higgs’s key points from her article.
- Being alone is different than being lonely. It can be easy to confuse spending time alone with being lonely; however, they are incredibly different. Being lonely can have a very harmful impact on your health and mental health. Being lonely can raise stress levels and inflammation which in result can increase the risk of Type 2 Diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, dementia and even suicide attempts. People who are lonely also have a decline in the ability to perform daily hygiene habits, grooming, and preparing meals. However, the act of simply being alone with specific healthy intentions is actually good for your mental health. Being lonely is the feeling you experience when you did not choose to be alone and spending alone time is when you have the intentions and choice to spend time with yourself with meaningful and healthy activities.
- Intentions. When people choose to spend time with themselves, it actually helps them regulate their emotions, enhances their relationships with their friends, and increases their confidence and their creativity. Thuy-vy Nguyen, an assistant professor in the department of psychology at Durham University, who specializes in studying solitude, discusses the concept how the West tends to reject the idea that being alone can be good for us. Dr. Nguyen goes on to explain that with enough solitude in our week, we can provide a more calming sense with our social support systems because we are better able to manage our emotions. As mentioned earlier, it is the intentions that separate being lonely and spending time alone, as in if we are choosing to be alone, it can have positive impacts on our mental, physical, social, and emotional domains in our life. The psychotherapist, Emily Roberts, describes that spending time alone can also help us reflect, recharge, and re-center ourselves in our busy lives. In addition, having alone time allows us to better manage stress, our emotions, and helps prevent burn out and/or compassion fatigue.
- So, why do people struggle with spending time alone? People struggle with spending time with themselves due to the fact that they forget it can be a choice. People tend to feeling lonely when they feel forced into spending time by themselves; however, when given the choice to spend time alone it can have wonderful impacts. While there is a ton of research indicating people are creatures who benefit from having connections with others, people often forget about the idea of ‘this, and’ versus ‘this or that’. As in, we can benefit from spending time with others and also very much benefit from spending time alone with ourselves. Being alone with our thoughts can be very uncomfortable for some people; one reason is simply due to a lack of stimuli that is created when we are with others. Maybe this means reflecting on which activities that provides you a healthy stimuli.
Part 2 of this blog post will talk about the benefits of spending time alone and how to implement spending time alone in your day to day.