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The Science of Solitude

Oct 13, 2022
The Science of Solitude

4 minutes - enough time to finish your breakfast and start the day productively 🍞

Sometimes we need to be alone

No matter whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, misanthrope or social butterfly… There are scientific benefits to solitude.

After being isolated and disconnected from one another and feeling the impacts of the pandemic, we have learned the hard way how human beings thrive on togetherness.

But, post-lockdown, what about when our social batteries do run dry and the only solution to recharge them is to go and be on our own again?

Aloneness is not the same as loneliness

Being alone can be an enriching, peaceful and important way to spend your time. Counteracting the stigma of aloneness can be liberating and empowering.

There’s a case to suggest that, yes, while people are fundamentally social creatures and prolonged isolation does more harm than good, regular solitude can have unexpected benefits.

Verywell Mind asserts that ‘alone time’ is ‘pivotal for our mental health. The article suggests that this is because time spent with others causes taxation on our brains. 

To a certain degree, we are always ‘switched on’ in social settings. There’s mental gymnastics involved in attuning to a room and other people’s perceptions of us, then choosing appropriate behaviours.

What are the benefits of spending time in your own company?
Boosting your creativity

Research has shown a correlation between introspection, and highly creative people. Solitude causes changes in the brain which support creative ideas and expression. In response to the lack of social stimulation, activity in the neural circuits of imagination increases. 

As a by-product of our brains filling the ‘social void’ in this way, we can strengthen our imagination by letting the mind wander. Your productivity levels can also get a boost through this process.

Getting to know you

Focusing on yourself requires undivided attention. When you’re with your social circle you’re naturally interested in them. Occasionally, spending some time on our own can allow for some introspection. 

Maybe you’re someone who likes to journal, or perhaps this is your opportunity to research or watch a documentary on something that interests you. Maybe you can make time for a hobby that helps you express yourself, like something artistic. This can be a refreshing way to get in touch with who we are and what we love, as well as a great reminder to prioritise those things in your routine. 

Recharging

Sometimes those who live alone have a richer social life and higher levels of social energy outside the home compared to those who live with other people. 

This is thought to be because being alone is the optimum state for resting our brains and ‘recharging’ our social energy. One supports the other. In this way, aloneness can strengthen your relationships and make you more empathetic.

Have we forgotten how to appreciate solitude?

So with all these benefits to spending time alone… why don’t we do it?

In the digital age, we are ever-connected, allowing us to reach out to others all too easily when perhaps we should be taking a moment to reflect inwards. Social media gives us the dangerous ability to compare. So in the rare moments when we are alone, we latch onto images of people being social on Instagram and think we should be doing that too.

The world is also busier than ever. The busier the environment, the more isolated we can feel. Contrarily, those of us who live in bigger cities statistically feel more lonely than those in smaller communities. 

The stigma around aloneness is one major reason that we avoid it. Sometimes we are so accustomed to a lack of solitude that we become fearful of it.

One study demonstrated that people would prefer doing tasks they don’t want to do (boring ones) or even administering electric shocks to themselves when the alternative was just 6 to 15 minutes alone in a room with their thoughts.

How to be alone

The trick is finding the balance that works for you. 

If you want to dive straight into a full 30 minutes of silent meditation, great! If you prefer to spend your solitude with some kind of stimulation, whether as simple as listening to music or a new project or hobby, that’s great too.

The top tips to get the most out of your alone time are to eliminate distractions, make a plan and set out some time to enjoy it. Choose a time when you feel comfortable and relaxed being alone, not a time when you will feel isolated, distressed or anxious about missing out. 

Then reflect on the value of the experience. Once you find what works to make you feel refreshed and recharged, try keeping it up with a loose routine that integrates a bit of quiet time into each week.

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