Have you ever caught yourself checking your phone for messages when you’re out for dinner, or having a quick glance at social media when you’re meant to be working? With the prevalence of instant communication, we’ve become accustomed to feeling connected to other people pretty much 24/7, seeking it out whenever possible.
We may feel connected when we see what other people are up to on social media, but seeing other people’s ‘highlight reels,’ full of friends, laughter, and ‘likes,’ often leaves us feeling downhearted about our own lives. It can actually make us feel quite lonely.
Humans are social animals — we thrive on the power of strong connections. It’s natural for us to want to share experiences with other people, and form bonds with people who will support, and love us. When we don’t have these things, or we think other people are enjoying them without us, it leads to feelings of loss, and rejection.
So it’s understandable that the idea of being alone is sometimes viewed as a bad thing. But aren’t there advantages to spending time alone?
The challenge of being alone
It’s important to remember that ‘alone’ and ‘lonely’ are not the same thing. Some days you might relish the opportunity to have time to yourself, while at other times you might feel lonely even if you’re with other people.
Loneliness stems from a perceived lack of social connection, where a gap emerges between our expectations of social relationships, and the reality of not feeling part of the group. Unfortunately, this sometimes lead to us seeking out relationships that might not fully serve us, purely to avoid the discomfort of being alone.
While we might choose to be alone at times, too much isolation can be bad for our sense of emotional wellbeing. Spending too much time alone can lead to feelings of anxiety, or depression, and make it harder for us to find the energy to seek happiness, and meaning in what we do.
Being alone can also be bad for our physical health, leading to poor nutrition, a lack of sleep and exercise, and even affect our immune system.
But the good news is that we can take positive action to remedy these feelings, simply by making the effort to get out, and connect with people where we can, and nourishing the relationships we have.
The benefits of solitude
While there are definitely downsides to being alone, for many people, solitude is actually a blessing. Introverts, whether shy or not, thrive on having time alone to recharge their batteries and restore their sense of self.
Whether you identify as an introvert or extrovert, alone time is an opportunity to get to know yourself better, and discover your inner purpose. You will find yourself better able to understand your own internal thoughts, and desires, and in turn, improve your emotional intelligence.
If you are comfortable in your own company, you can nurture your independence so you actually have more to offer your relationships. Having time away from others means you’ll appreciate the time you do spend with them, rather than feeling overwhelmed by too many social obligations.
And once external pressures, and influences are removed, you can focus on your own interests, and it becomes much easier to rediscover your creativity, and intuition.
Our brains need balance
So in order to thrive, we need both time alone, and time with other people. The perfect balance for you might be different than for others, so it’s your job to find that sweet spot.
By understanding the difference between solitude, and loneliness, and what each of these things means for you, you can care for the most important person in your life – yourself.