“Do not confuse solitude with loneliness. One builds and the other destroys.”
If you live alone, you’ve probably gotten your share of unsolicited, well-meaning comments about your life situation: “I just don’t know how you live alone. Don’t you get lonely?”
Our society has long stigmatized living alone by equating solitude with loneliness. As social beings, we forget that some people actually do prefer—and choose—to live alone. Or sometimes life circumstances, such as a death of a loved one, create solitary lives.
Ironically during the pandemic, however, many of us have been confronted with alone time in one way or another. Whether you’re quarantining, staying home because you are high-risk or helping slow the spread of COVID-19, we’re all grappling with this newfound solitude. Our usually packed calendars have given way to more time at home, which means more time to confront head-on our relationship with “me, myself and I.” For some, it’s been liberating and empowering. For others, it’s been tough and lonely.
While many of us interchange solitude and loneliness, both are actually distinctly different. Here’s how.
“One is a choice; the other is a feeling,” said Adeola Adelayo, MD, a practicing psychiatrist with Banner Behavioral Health Hospital. “Solitude is an active practice or a conscious choice that you have control over. Whereas, loneliness feels passive, almost as if it’s happening to you.”
Solitude is about being comfortable with yourself, and loneliness is being alone and not liking it. While there is a wealth of research pointing to the physical, psychological and mental downsides of loneliness, there is an increasing amount of evidence that solitude can be beneficial.
Those who embrace solitude, are able to get into a “state of engagement with themselves, to self-reflect, regenerate and discover,” Dr. Adelayo said. “They have mental resiliency and fortitude, which can bode them well in times like these. It’s in solitude, where they can discover, create and grow as a person, as a friend and loved one.”
How do you embrace solitude or alone time?
For many, the words “solitude” and “alone time” are scary, but they don’t have to be. There is a lot of value in spending time with yourself and your own thoughts. But maybe the issue is that you just don’t know how to do it. If you’re looking to build your solitude muscle, here are three small ways to get started.
- Get up early. A key way to make sure you get quality alone time is to start your day earlier than the rest of your household. If you’re already an early bird, this should be easier to put into practice. Take this time for yourself: grab a coffee or tea, journal or read a good book. Avoid reaching for your phone or social media and focus on uninterrupted time doing something you enjoy that’s just for you.
- Go for a walk alone. If the weather outside isn’t frightful, then take advantage of the fresh air. Walking has been proven to help lift your mood and reduces stress and anxiety. Even if it’s just around the block, focus on the music you may be listening to, the scenery around you and take slow, mindful breaths.
- Disconnect from technology. We may be more connected with others, but are we connected with ourselves? Take time in your day to turn off the TV, put away your phone and disconnect. Whether it’s first thing in the morning or after dinner at night, leverage the “silence” to think, create and truly be with your thoughts alone. Powering down can also help combat FOMO (fear of missing out) and loneliness and help boost creativity.
How do you manage loneliness?
Just because you are embracing solitude, doesn’t mean you might not feel lonely from time to time, especially during a pandemic. If you’re experiencing loneliness, here are some things you can do about it:
- Keep a daily schedule or checklist of things to accomplish
- Talk to a trusted friend or family member about how you feel
- People-watching at the park or local green space is a great and safe way to stay connected to the outside world from afar
- Take care of yourself: Get plenty of rest, eat healthy and limit alcohol consumption
- Take a socially distanced walk with a friend
- Volunteer your time, either in-person or virtually
If you need help right now
Is loneliness making you feel overwhelmed, depressed or anxious and you need help or support? Don’t suffer in silence. While it’s normal to feel afraid and lonely at a time like this, worsening mental health could indicate the need for outside help. Talk to your doctor or reach out to a mental health professional.