Kelly Spencer - Happy Healthy YOU
(A wellness column by Kelly Spencer: writer, life coach, yoga & meditation teacher, holistic healer and a mindful life enthusiast!)
As a semi-former extrovert and social butterfly, for years I filled my days with visits with friend and families. I was always planning ahead of what I was going to do with who, on any given night. Big events often in the works and holidays being planned. I loved being with other people. Or, did I just not like being alone?
About 15 years ago with the end of a marriage I found myself in an unusual predicament. On most nights after 730pm, when my kids went to bed, I was alone. Sure I would occasionally spend time with friends but this was an era that was pre-constant communication on cell phones and computers and my nights were mostly spent with me, myself and I. At the time, it was very difficult.
“All men's miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.” - Blaise Pascal
A 2015 CNN report showed many benefits to spending “me-time” alone. When we are constantly engaged with others it leaves limited time for introspection and reflection. "‘Constantly being 'on' doesn't give your brain a chance to rest and replenish itself,’ Sherrie Bourg Carter, Psy.D. wrote in Psychology Today. “Being by yourself with no distractions gives you the chance to clear your mind, focus, and think more clearly. It's an opportunity to revitalize your mind and body at the same time."
And while brainstorming with others can promote creativity and a mass gathering of ideas, some research shows that people that spend time alone first working and then collaborate with others, come up with far more ideas and can enhance creativity of thought. Psychologists believe working alone separates us physically from the judgement and actions of others. Humans are inclined to want to imitate the other people around us. We even have mirror neurons in the brain devoted to helping us mimic other people and this can make us less inclined to push the envelope.
Being along for many is difficult especially if you have experienced challenges. It can be much like keeping busy all day, being so tired you can’t wait to hit the sheets, and then once the head lies on the pillow… the mind goes into overdrive, racing and is difficult to control. Perhaps even focusing on negative thoughts, or re-living past unpleasant experiences.
A study in 2014 by Science Magazine stated: “Research has shown that minds are difficult to control… and it may be particularly hard to steer our thoughts in pleasant directions and keep them there. This may be why many people seek to gain better control of their thoughts with meditation and other techniques, with clear benefits. Without such training, people prefer doing to thinking, even if what they are doing is so unpleasant that they would normally pay to avoid it. The untutored mind does not like to be alone with itself.”
My forced alone time a decade and half ago, slowly developed alone habits that I loved. Long hot uninterrupted bubble baths, readings books by a candle, pedicures and so on. And while the divorce and being a single mom had its intense challenges, I was finding some great gems in the situation. I actually learned to like spending time by myself.
I soon found myself venturing out of the house on “date-nights” alone. One time I rented a room at a bed and breakfast in St. Jacobs and spent a couple days doing things I loved: shopping, yoga, meditation, fine dining, movies and so on. I started to find that I craved “Kelly-time” to get clear on my thoughts and feelings as well set goals and intentions for myself.
It was in my alone time where I healed, as well as was inspired. It was in my alone time during meditation that I developed my dreams to open a holistic wellness centre.
I have also taught my children a powerful independence. I have heard both of my young adult kids say “I think I just need to have a Me-night”, as they stayed in without friends to do their favorite “me-time” activities.
Harvard University has been on the front lines of studying the possible psychological benefits of spending time alone, and one of its discoveries is amazing. It turns out that, if we believe we're experiencing something on our own, we form firmer and longer-lasting memories of the event than if we do it with other people. In neurological terms, this makes sense — if we can't rely on other people to corroborate details, it's sensible for us to cultivate a more complete memory of something, so that we can rely on ourselves.
Alone time also helps to strengthen relationships. As cliché as it sounds that absence makes the heart grow fonder, there is a significant body of research advancing the theory that solitude is the time when adult humans "center" themselves and become more able to form real attachments and genuine bonds. It is important for us to be comfortably separate and then reconnect, even on a daily basis knowing that relationships are not intertwined 24/7. It is one of the keys to a successful relationship where both people are allowed to flourish.
I am now a fan of road trips where you are in your car, maybe music is on but there is plenty of time for the contemplation. I find solitude helps me work through any issues more effectively. It's hard to think of effective solutions to problems when you're distracted by incoming information, regardless of whether that information is electronic or human.
Harvard also discovered that time alone in between social interactions actually strengthens our sense of empathy. Empathy is our ability to connect with and "feel" the emotions and problems of others, and it's apparently enhanced if we spend time away from others, purely in our own company. This not only is good for us, but empathy and compassion are good for the world.
For the last several summers, I have adventured alone into the world. I found there is a strength and freedom I have tapped into while traveling especially to countries of a different language. This week I have travelled to the beautiful scenery of Banff, Alberta. Here more than ever I appreciate
the time to sit alone, with no conversations and just observe everything that there is to observe in the moment.
We live in a social world, with social media penetrating our every moment. And while I still love chatting with a friend, when it comes to decisions on my life, I always seek solitude. It seems to me that alone time is a sacred gift that we perhaps should be receiving more.
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