It’s true that nobody wants to be lonely, though I’ve never met a person who hasn’t wanted to enjoy being alone. One of the biggest misconceptions is that being lonely is always a direct result of being alone. Pair the fear of loneliness with anxiety, depression or any other type of mental illness and suddenly it is significantly more frightening than before.
Personally, I struggle to maintain a healthy relationship with being alone. I go through phases where I can’t bear the idea of being alone, I’ll make plans for all of my spare time and become increasingly anxious if everyone is busy but I’ll also go through phases where all I want is to be alone, ignoring messages, avoiding seeing people (even my own family) as much as possible and spending a large portion of time in bed.
Recently I’ve been working on forming a healthy relationship with myself and in turn valuing the time I have to myself using three tactics: taking part in a hobby or passion, allowing myself time to relax and unwind and objective thinking (hint, this is the one I find most useful).
Having time to yourself is not only key for your mental wellbeing but can also be incredibly rewarding once you get the hang of it. In the beginning, it’s easy to spend your alone time analysing and overthinking everything: your friendships, work, that one thing you said to that one stranger 5 years ago on Saturday… being alone with your own thoughts can be a petrifying thing initially, I get that, but it is possible to overcome those initial fears and thrive whilst being alone.
It’s important to find something that you enjoy doing, allow yourself time to relax and also learn to manage your thoughts. Whilst it sounds easier said than done nothing is more satisfying than sitting down after a long day/week (year?) without having to worry about conversation, social cues or anyone talking through your TV program.
Finding something that you enjoy doing might mean taking up a new hobby, returning to an old one or focussing and building on the one you already have. Turn that hobby into something wonderful and rewarding, for example I took my love of arts, writing and literature and created a website for people to share their creativity and personal experiences. In the back of my mind for years, the idea of starting a website was something that I was always too scared to do, learning to spend time alone meant that I spent time dissecting my thoughts and, ultimately, also learnt to think objectively.
Having a hobby gives you something to do and enjoy whilst you’re alone. Valuing your alone time does not mean you need to sit in silence and stare at a wall, it simply means you’re able to appreciate your own company and not feel a compulsive need to fill your life with noise, people and grand social plans or big nights out on the town.
The next step, just as important as finding a hobby, is allowing yourself some time to relax and unwind. This might mean soaking in a bath with some candles and enjoying the peace or reading a book. It might mean setting yourself up on the couch with a glass of wine or a cuppa and catching up on some tv, some movies or immersing yourself in a new Netflix binge.
Relaxing and unwinding for you might be as simple as having an early night and unplugging from technology. It doesn’t matter what you do to relax, just that you take time to do it and recharge your physical and emotional batteries. Studies also show that having some downtime also increases productivity, attention span, memory retention and creativity – that downtime that you’re currently sitting there overthinking won’t just benefit your personal life but also your work and social life too!
Last, but definitely not least, start using life’s lemons to make lemonade. Your obsessive/intrusive/anxious/depressive thoughts can be your worst enemy, your best friend, your driving force. It’s important to remember that your thoughts are just that, they are YOURS. Yours to do with what you will, you could convert them into a positive action, learn to accept them or learn to think objectively.
Thinking objectively is more often than not one of the easiest ways to cope, it might not change your thought process or stop your down/anxious days but it will help to ground you. Adding a second voice to the mix that says “yes you can” when all the other voices say “no you can’t” encourages doubt when it comes to fear and anxiety.
I’ve written about my objective thoughts in previous blog posts for example: when my ‘anxiety brain’ tells me that I look stupid, that everyone is staring at me, talking about me, judging me and laughing at me my ‘objective brain’ knows that it’s not the case and people are just going about their own day.
Being able to think objectively is not something that will stop negative thought processes, but it will help to put things into perspective and eventually assist you in overcoming barriers imposed by negative thought processes.
Trust me when I say that I understand the fear of being alone. For most it’s the fear of the unknown, how could you POSSIBLY enjoy being alone with all these anxieties and insecurities? How could there ever be some sort of light at the end of the anxiety spiral?
Grounding works (the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 technique) and objective thinking will help. Keep yourself busy but remember to find the healthy balance and do what’s right for you. Only you know what is best for yourself.
To be alone is not to be lonely, to be lonely is not to be alone.