Many of us don’t like being by ourselves. Instead of savoring our alone time, we just feel lonely.
One of the reasons might stem from how our society views solitude. For instance, there’s the underlying pressure to be paired up, said Alison Thayer, LCPC, CEAP, a psychotherapist at Urban Balance. How often have you seen a restaurant table set for one?
Solitude even gets stigmatized in our society, said Mara Glatzel, MSW, a coach who helps women live the lives they deserve and learn to love the person they already are. “We see images of only the ‘uncool kids’ sitting alone at lunch or the ‘undesirable adults’ being those who spend their time alone, without meaningful relationships.”
This implies that “if we are alone we have done something wrong, or we haven’t been included by others — as if no one would choose to be alone,” Glatzel said. Thayer agreed, noting that “Being alone may make a person feel less desirable to others, or essentially not good enough of a person.”
Others might simply get bored or get tired of spending too much time alone, according to Laura Simms, a career coach who helps women discover and thrive at purpose-driven work.
Sometimes the problem isn’t in being alone, but in being alone with your thoughts, said John Duffy, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist and author of the book The Available Parent: Radical Optimism for Raising Teens and Tweens. He’s seen this happen to people when they’ve experienced a tough situation like losing a loved one or their job or breaking up.
But solitude is essential. “Being alone is when you can consciously be in relationship with yourself,” Simms said. And just like any relationship, your relationship with yourself needs nurturing, she said.
Thayer equated solitude to a good night’s sleep. “It can recharge you and make time with others more valuable,” she said. “We feel no need to be ‘on,’ and can drop any need for self-conscious expression,” Duffy said.
Solitude also is important for self-reflection. “Many of us process things better when we spend some time alone,” Duffy said. Glatzel agreed: “It is not until I provide myself the space and sanctity of roaming out on my own that I am able to really listen to those little voices in my heart guiding me to the choices that would be the best fit for me.”
“Many of us find that we make better decisions, and experience more of those magical a-ha! moments, when in thoughtful solitude,” Duffy added.
3 Ideas for Enjoying Your Alone Time
Start small. For instance, if you’re going to the gym, carve out some time to grab a cup of tea and read a book, Glatzel said. Take a bath or take the long way to work and sing along to your favorite tunes, she said. Then eventually you can try lengthier activities, such as seeing a movie or spending a solitary Saturday at home, Thayer said.
Identify enjoyable activities. The great thing about being alone is that you can do whatever you like. That means experimenting with and practicing your individual preferences.
“What makes me feel relaxed and cared for may be drastically different than what works for someone else, so paying attention to and honoring our own unique process is crucial to learning how to enjoy time spend alone,” Glatzel said. She suggested keeping track of “those things that light you up, feel good, or strike you as fun activities.”
For instance, Glatzel loves to listen to audiobooks while tidying up her house, practice yoga and take naps. Simms loves to walk, read and cook. Thayer also loves to cook along with exercising and watching a movie at home. Duffy’s all-time favorite alone activity is playing the guitar. “It puts me in an entirely different state of mind than most any other activity. I feel calm, peaceful, energized and inspired, all at once,” he said.
Find a guided meditation program. “This can be a non-threatening way to sit calmly and patiently with yourself, without unnecessary expectation other than peace of mind,” Duffy said.
Simms suggested savoring solitude like you would learn to savor cheese or wine: “Take recommendations, try a bunch of options, develop some favorites, and keep sampling!”
Making Time for Alone Time
Another reason people have for not spending time alone is lack of time. All the experts suggested building solitude into your routine. For instance, create a ritual around the 10 minutes in the morning when you’re brushing your teeth or at night when you’re washing your face, Glatzel said.
You also can carve out 10 minutes by leaving the office earlier or waking up earlier, Duffy said. Or you can read before bed, visit the park on your way home from work, ask your family to stay out of the kitchen as you’re cooking or stop by the coffee shop weekly, Simms said.
Some of Glatzel’s clients say that they don’t have 20 minutes a day for themselves. She gives this powerful response: “There are 168 hours in the week, aren’t you worth at least 2.5 of them?”