The benefit of time alone
I have only been awake for an hour and already I have seen two references to being alone. Yesterday, the topic on Surrey Hills Radio’s Well-being Hour was nature. The interviewer mentions her preference for walking alone.
Whilst listening, I took a quick scroll through Facebook and noticed a post in a self-love community I follow:
"Do you find it hard to be alone? Are you always trying to keep busy to avoid being left alone with yourself or your thoughts? This is something I used to struggle with, and I didn't even realise until the pandemic hit and I was forced to be alone. I found the adjustment very difficult. However, I learned that to be alone does not mean to be lonely. Being alone can actually be fun, energising and peaceful. When I started to look inwards instead of outwards, that's when true transformation happened!"
We all have different experiences of being alone. From birth, we should have carers that meet our needs.
Unfortunately, some people do not and, if you have an experience of neglect and/or trauma, please reach out for support - that could be through reading and learning, a therapist, a friend, a charity, etc. I am always open to offer guidance on what support is out there for you should you find it difficult to know where to turn.
Your family dynamic affected the amount of time you spent alone as a child, as did your personality but only when there was the opportunity to choose your own activity.
As tribal animals, we need a network of support around us.
When forced to isolate, we do not function efficiently, however, some time alone is beneficial. Spending time with just yourself gives you the chance to get to know yourself better. Rather than depending on others to fulfil you, you learn to feel fulfilled alone. When you come together with friends there is less dependence and more depth.
It is important that time alone is truly alone. A research study put 51 preteens into a nature camp for five days without any access to screens. The result was a significant improvement in the recognition of nonverbal emotion cues.
A 2014 study published in Science magazine found that, typically, people struggle to spend even 15 minutes alone. Why is spending time alone difficult for many? So difficult that, in the study, some participants chose to give themselves an electric shock during their 15 minutes alone time as a distraction from being alone. As per the above quote, being alone does not need to cause loneliness.
A conversation with a recent client reminded me of the importance of creating a plan. She told me about the first walk that she enjoyed and the overwhelming feeling of wanting to be outside in nature. She knew that the next evening she wanted to go for a walk again. However, when the next evening came around it was too difficult to get out.
There was not a plan, it felt like the required thinking was too much. Together we concluded that next time she should create a plan earlier in the day to prevent any difficulty when the alone time begins. The plan should include the time, location, duration and, of course, any necessary 'how to', such as transport.
On the contrary, you might fear that you spend too much time alone. A 2016 study found that the frequency of socialisation with friends has a signiﬁcantly positive association with life satisfaction. More regular socialising with friends results in greater satisfaction with life.
This association, however, appears less significant amongst more intelligent individuals. Possibly due to the greater ability to comprehend and manage the evolutionary aspect of socialisation.
If you feel dissatisfied with life and recognise that you spend a lot of time alone, increasing your socialising might bring you greater life satisfaction. If you feel content in life, too much time alone need not be a concern.
Li, N. P., & Kanazawa, S. (2016). Country roads, take me home… to my friends: How intelligence, population density, and friendship affect modern happiness. British Journal of Psychology, 107(4), 675-697.
Uhls, Y. T., Michikyan, M., Morris, J., Garcia, D., Small, G. W., Zgourou, E., & Greenfield, P. M. (2014). Five days at outdoor education camp without screens improves preteen skills with nonverbal emotion cues. Computers in Human Behavior, 39, 387-392.
Wilson, T. D., Reinhard, D. A., Westgate, E. C., Gilbert, D. T., Ellerbeck, N., Hahn, C., ... & Shaked, A. (2014). Just think: The challenges of the disengaged mind. Science, 345(6192), 75-77.