Solitude and loneliness both mean being alone, but they are not the same thing. Loneliness is where you feel isolated without having chosen to feel that way. But solitude is a choice. It means being alone without feeling lonely, so it’s a positive frame of mind.
Many of life’s greatest pleasures come from our relationships. We are social creatures. But too much time constant interaction can cause problems especially when it’s time spent online.
Handy though it is, especially at the moment, virtual people-time has its downside. After the initial buzz of contact, it can turn into aimless and energy-sapping scrolling. This can cause moodiness and even depression.
Over time we lose the habit of ever being alone. Over time, this can make us more vulnerable to stress, low mood, and a general sense of things not being right.
The irony here is that in staying connected and up to date we actually can start to feel isolated and lonely the moment we are not online. Quite literally, too much connecting can leave us feeling disconnected.
And then there are demands, work, family, and the daily pressures of our current lifestyles… Over time we lose the habit of ever being alone. Perhaps that’s why being alone wrong so many of us work hard to void it. But filling your life just to keep an unfamiliar feeling simply adds to the problem and does nothing to relieve tension and stress.
Rare moments of peace with solitude
We overlook those rare moments we could have time for ourselves, or, because it feels weird to be alone and quiet, we rush to fill the silence with noise and activity.
But being alone doesn’t mean being lonely, they are two different things. Just as we crave social contact, we also need moments of peace and quiet. There is a powerful drive in the human mind to withdraw, reflect, and recharge our energies.
These quiet moments of downtime are when we think things through and make sense of the world. Because this happens at both conscious and unconscious levels we are not aware of all the internal rearrangement that happens.
Time to tidy up
One way to think about this is that time to reflect and do nothing allows our inner self to do the housework, to tidy up loose ends and come to terms with things. This is essential for physical health as well and mental wellbeing.
One of the reasons that stress interferes with our daily lives so much is that we are deprived of the vital moments of peace and quiet. We are complicit in this because silence feels odd we do all we can to avoid it.
Solitude is the antidote to all this. If voluntarily choosing to be alone makes you shudder, consider that:
Solitude can make you more connected with yourself
When you can embrace a solitary mindset you can become more aware of your needs and what drives you.
You can begin to feel more connected with your environment both locally (where you live) and globally.
Solitude gives you time to relate to your values and ideals
Few of us think of these on a daily basis, but when we choose to step away from our demands and routines you have a chance to reflect on what matters to us, and how our lifestyle reflects our hopes and ideals. Our busy lives are not conducive to this sort of reflection.
Solitude makes you slow down and rest
When there’s nothing to do you do nothing. It’s not easy and may not seem natural, but that’s just the point. Get used to it, the benefits can be awesome (quite literally).
Solitude can improve mental health and wellbeing
Understanding the difference between being alone and being lonely is the first step in accepting that it’s OK to be alone and you are actually doing yourself some good.
Solitude recharges your energies
One of the reasons that solitude counters the effects of stress is that it allows the autonomic nervous system the opportunity to do its work maintaining both mental and physical health by helping the body to calm down. This benefits you physically, and it also helps lift your mood.
Solitude can boost your confidence
When you are on your own there is no one else to consider or please. Freed from outside influences and able to make your own choices helps to develop insight and self-confidence.
We can’t always choose when we can be alone but we can choose to see ‘alone-time’ for its benefits, rather than as a burden. If you find it hard to switch off, or you think you are simply too busy to hit the pause button and take time for yourself, these are sure indicators that you could usefully develop solitude as a habit.
You don’t have to travel to exotic locations nor invest a lot of time. 15 to 30 minutes a day is a good start. Choosing solitude is a frame of mind, so it really doesn’t matter where you are. Outside is great because inspiration from Nature., but it can just as easily be in the next room. The key thing is that you elect to take some time for yourself with no other aim in mind. The only purpose in taking time for yourself is, well, taking time for yourself.
Don’t let anybody tell you differently!