How to learn to be comfortable being alone and appreciate solitude

Sally Snowman likes to be alone. As custodian of the Boston Light, the centuries-old lighthouse on Little Brewster Island in Boston Harbor, she’s had plenty of practice time. For most of the past 19 years, she lived there from April to October.

She filled her days with chores, cleaning windows, mowing the lawn and sweeping the spiral staircase of the 90-foot lighthouse tower. She read a lot and watched a lot of sunsets. And she enjoyed every minute.

Mrs. Snowman, 70, said: “It was a relief to be on the island. When she’s alone, “the wheel stops spinning.” Her alone time is for recovery.

But not everyone feels the same way about solitude, and over the past two years, the pandemic has forced all of us to suffer some version of it. We met fewer friends and spent more time at home. Some people have found themselves feel more lonelyespecially if they were Alone or live alone.

As we enter a new phase of the pandemic, less “wipe your groceries” and more “awesome, I guess this is our new normal“The occasional quarantine period can be something we just walk into, like a digital vaccination card or having a dedicated drawer for masks.

Whether you’re hoping for more or less alone time these days, solitude is something you can learn to appreciate.

Virginia Thomas, an associate professor of psychology at Middlebury University who studies loneliness, says how we feel about our alone time largely depends on whether we choose it or not.

People who pursue the solitude of their own will “tend to report feeling full – like they are full of ideas, thoughts, or things to do,” says Dr. Thomas. In this way, it is different from loneliness, a negative state in which you are “disconnected from others and feel empty”.

It’s important to see loneliness as a choice, not a punishment. In one Survey in 2019Dr. Thomas found that adolescents who intentionally sought solitude reported higher levels of happiness and were less lonely than their peers who were lonely solely because of circumstances. The same was true among young adults aged 18 to 25, who also showed increased levels of personal development and self-acceptance, and lower levels of depression. In fact, most studies Dr. Thomas says we benefit more from solitude as we age as we develop more control over our time, along with better cognitive and emotional skills to help us use it more constructively.

Jenn Drummond, one climbing mountant man in Park City, Utah, spent a lot of time alone in training to become the first woman to climb the second Seven Mountains, the second tallest – and generally harder – mountain on each continent. land. If she finds herself “going into a mopey pattern,” she reminds herself that she is responsible.

“Loneliness is happening arrive me,” said Ms. Drummond, 41. “Loneliness is happening because the I. That small change makes the biggest difference.”

You might think it’s just introverts who benefit from solitude, but research is mixed on whether they’re actually better at being alone, says Dr. Thomas. In her view, “anyone, with any personality, can enjoy it – with one caveat: if they know how to use it well.”

That means deciding what you want in your time, whether it’s handling a difficult situation, tapping into your creativity, or just enjoying the five minutes you’ve accumulated without someone under five. age asks you something.

Without a goal “we’re going to throw spaghetti against the wall, and that can trigger a false sense of failure, like, ‘Oh, I’m not good at being alone,’ ‘ says Gina Moffa, grief and therapist Traumatic psychology data in New York City.

Loneliness can be has a soothing effect On our minds and bodies, this can be frustrating for those who often equate happiness with feeling energized, Dr. Thomas says. They often just feel bored or restless.

The key to dispelling discomfort is to replace it with something enjoyable. If you don’t know where to start, “think about something you enjoy doing, and then try it on your own,” says Moffa.

And no, scrolling Twitter isn’t considered healthy loneliness. In one Research 2020Dr. Thomas followed 69 participants for a week, concluding that they were more emotionally satisfied with loneliness when actually alone, without their phone, than when they were alone but still using phone use.

“If you want to connect with yourself or feel calm or creative, does scrolling on social media give you what you need?” she speaks. Most of the time, the answer is no.

Former NASA astronaut, Jim “Ox” van Hoosystem, experienced a very special loneliness; During his missions to space in the 1980s, he was isolated from his family, his habits, and quite literally, from the world.

However, “there are only a few times when I feel as if I am really alone,” says Dr. van Hoosystem, 77. Even though the crew was able to control the ground for just 20 minutes out of every 90 minutes of orbit, he still felt supported. Even in space, “you are never alone, you always have someone to help you,” he said.

That also applies on Earth. Signing up with a friend can still be part of your loneliness ritual, Moffa says. In fact, “having the space to do it while we’re in this solitude can make for deeper communication and more authentic connection, because we don’t have so many layers of distractions around.”

You can also do a single activity but share it with each other. Ms. Moffa joins a group chat with friends who text each other their Wordle scores every day. “We all do this quietly, but it becomes what connects us when we share it,” she said.

Loneliness can also be associated with silence, was found to reduce stress, improve sleep, and help with decision making in some people. But without structure, it can feel intimidating, says Eloise Skinner, who spent a year training as a monk. modern monastic community.

Make yourself comfortable with silence in the small moments of your day, first while actively doing something else – like cooking or walking – and then more challenging, while just sit still. In the monastic community, “all the time of silence has a purpose to them,” says Ms. Skinner, 30. Adding a framework to your silence – by journaling or listening to your breathing – can make you more content.

If you just need to hear another voice, there’s no shame in making it your own. Liz Thomas, 36 years old, professional hiker who have backpacked 10,000 miles alone, talking to themselves using their trail name, Snorkel. “I would say, ‘Now, Snorkel, you have to put this tent up,’” she said. Talking to herself in the second person helped ease her anxieties, which the researchers also found in Research 2014.

Sally Snowman hasn’t stayed overnight on Little Brewster Island since 2019. She still comes in a few times a week for routine maintenance, but the Coast Guard is in the process. transfer of management rights of the lighthouse and don’t need her there much.

She said: Documenting the sense of calm she feels out there has been the “ultimate test” on land. She began visiting a local park during off-peak hours, “looking beyond the man-made aspects and focusing only on the trees.” Then she tries to capture that peace and contentment and bring it home. “Find a place where you feel connected,” she says. “Then practice looking for that place inside of you without having to literally go there.”

Holly Burns is a writer in the San Francisco Bay Area. How to learn to be comfortable being alone and appreciate solitude

Fry Electronics Team

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