Pandemic solitude

Kelly Spencer. (Contributed photo) jpg, TN

Share Adjust Comment Print

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?

During these times of social distancing, being alone with our thoughts, being alone with the same people, and not being able to be the social butterflies and the (dare I say) over-busy people that we have become accustomed to, is challenging many people.

“All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.” – Blaise Pascal.

A 2015 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 collaborating with others, come up with far more ideas and it 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 alone is difficult for many 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.”

Could this be a time of opportunity to develop alone habits that you are good for our health and happiness? Perhaps a re-evaluation of what was not working or even a greater appreciation of what was?

Going inward into our minds and hearts as we are forced to stay in our homes more, can help us build on what fills our cup, and what perhaps we need access as a benefit. For those that are not used to this, it may present challenges. But might I even suggest that those challenges are an opportunity to get to know ourselves even more.

Alone time for me has allowed me to calm my busy schedule and my busy mind, as well as be inspired. It is in my alone time during meditation that I am able to develop my dreams further, just as it was in alone time that I was able to develop my current business and book writing adventures.

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 ‘centre’ 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 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 years, I have adventured alone into the world by travelling solo. I found there is a strength and freedom I have tapped into while traveling especially to countries of a different language. And while I have no plans for that any time soon, I am given more opportunity for meditation or time in nature more. I am learning to appreciate the time to sit alone, with no conversations and just observe everything that there is to observe in the moment. I am using this time to understand myself more fully, as we are never done growing and learning. These strange days of new normal, have given freedom and space to truly observe what I want and desire in my life and where I am going to make changes.

We live in a social world, with social media penetrating our every moment. And while I still love chatting with a friend or family member and I am dearly missing social gatherings, 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 could appreciate more right now.

(Happy Healthy YOU is a wellness column by Kelly Spencer: writer, life coach, yoga & meditation teacher, holistic healer and a mindful life enthusiast! If you would like to see an article on a specific topic, please email