Solitude is a state of being alone or away from others. Without people or social interaction, we can have privacy and can reflect. Solitude can be physical, as when you are physically separated from others, or mental, when you are detached from social interactions, even in the presence of others.
Solitude is distinct from loneliness, a feeling of emptiness or sadness arising from a perceived lack of desired connection with others. While we think of loneliness as a negative emotional state, solitude can be a positive and enriching experience.
A recent Gallup poll found that loneliness rates have subsided somewhat since the pandemic. The fear and uncertainty of 2020 and the sudden forced isolation out of our control contributed to the spike in loneliness and mental health challenges many people faced.
Perhaps post-2020, we will be more comfortable being alone. As social creatures, we are conditioned to live in groups and seek approval and belonging. If we spend too much time alone, we can become socially awkward, making connecting with others and getting feedback from those around us even harder. In other posts on social anxiety and small talk, I discuss the link between social isolation and social awkwardness, and what to do about it.
Ideally, we should be comfortable with ourselves, alone or with others. If you are uncomfortable being alone, it means you are uncomfortable being with yourself without distraction, engagement, or affirmation from others. This can be a liability in life. If you cannot be alone, you may stay in situations or make life choices that aren’t good for you in the long run, like staying in a job or a relationship, mainly because you can’t tolerate being alone while transitioning to a better situation.
Consider solitude a time for self-reflection, relaxation, creativity, and personal growth. It can allow you to focus on your thoughts and feelings, gain clarity on personal challenges, and develop a deeper understanding of yourself. Solitude can also be a way to recharge and find peace amidst the demands and distractions of modern life, especially for introverts who may become over-stimulated and exhausted by too much social interaction.
It’s essential to strike a balance between solitude and social interaction. Too much alone time can lead to loneliness and adverse effects on mental health. Different individuals have varying needs for solitude, and finding the right amount that aligns with your well-being is essential for leading a fulfilling life. If you’d like to experience the benefits of solitude, consider these suggestions.
1. Schedule daily time for solitude.
Plan some time to be with yourself daily to enjoy the benefits of solitude. For instance, in the morning, plan to meditate for 10-20 minutes when you first wake, before you look at your text or email or talk with anyone. In the evening, plan to take 30 minutes to write in a journal to reflect on your day, or try video journaling; find out more here. At lunchtime, go for a walk by yourself and come back refreshed.
2. Be aware of self-judgments about taking time for yourself.
It’s common to have self-judgments about taking time for yourself. Wanting to be alone can be seen as selfish or anti-social; you should think about others and do things for them instead. You might think you’re too busy to take time for yourself or that being alone wastes time. Compassionately confront these self-judgments and counteract them with positive statements, like that being alone will refresh and revive you to be more present with others, or that taking time for oneself is essential for self-care and mental health.
3. Practice self-awareness.
Mirror meditation is a practice done in solitude to help people take a quantum leap into greater self-awareness and develop more compassion and confidence in how they relate to themselves and others. My book, Mirror Meditation: The Power of Neuroscience and Self-Reflection to Overcome Self-Criticism, Gain Confidence, and See Yourself with Compassion, has some great exercises for developing a deeper and more rewarding relationship with yourself.
For starters, grab a cup of coffee and hang out with yourself as you look in the mirror. There’s no way to do it wrong. Keep an open mind and be curious because you might be surprised by what you discover about yourself.
Taking the time to build a solid supportive relationship with yourself has many rewards: It will enhance all your other relationships personally and professionally, and help you be more discerning about how you spend your time with others—and with whom.
After all, your longest relationship in life will always be with yourself.
Copyright 2023 Tara Well, Ph.D.
Facebook image: stockfour/Shutterstock
LinkedIn image: PeopleImages.com - Yuri A/Shutterstock