If you are one of the 34 million people in the UK battling depression and anxiety, the chances are that you’ve been told to surround yourself with friends, family, and everyone else you love. While social interaction is indeed a powerful antidote to stress and loneliness, you may sometimes feel like disconnecting in a place that is all your own. Whether you go for a nature walk or a run, take part in meditation, or read your favourite book, “alone time” can heal the mind, especially when all one craves is peace, quiet, and the chance to connect with nature.
Healthy time alone
A recent study conducted at the University of Buffalo found that not all forms of social withdrawal are detrimental. The researchers noted that the negative emphasis on isolation stems from the idea that, during childhood and adolescence, positive interactions with others are key when it comes to developing social skills and receiving support. Their studies showed that not all social withdrawal is based on shyness or avoidance. Some people simply enjoy spending time alone to read, work on a project or use their computer. Lead researcher Julie Bowker stated that social withdrawal is potentially beneficial when not based on fear, since it boosts creativity.
Solitude enables mindfulness
In many settings in which stress can interfere with positive outcomes (including cancer recovery, eating disorder and substance abuse recovery), mindfulness is recommended due to its unique ability to reduce stress hormone levels. While being part of a group is a fantastic way to lift one’s mood and engage in lively conversation, doing so can sometimes detract from mindfulness – the sense of giving oneself fully to the present moment. If you crave time in nature, take a book or a sketch pad into a park or forest and simply enjoy the sights and sounds around you (this practise is sometimes called “forest bathing”). If you cannot get away, try to create a peaceful resting space in your garden. Make sure the colours are light, that there is plenty of greenery inside and outside your shed, and that walls are made of glass so that natural light floods in, instilling a sense of delightful calm.
Solitude as self-compassion
Many studies have shown that self-compassion, the practise of self-kindness, helps one weather life’s ups and downs and protects people against the harmful effects of perfectionism and depression. Satisfying a healthy need for solitude can be seen as an act of self-compassion. Busy individuals can feel pulled apart in various directions, as they struggle to fulfil competing obligations, including social ones. When the body and mind crave the kind of peace and quiet that results from self-reflection, it can be a big gift to the self to say ‘yes’ to this moment.
When the need for solitude does not arise from fear, shame, or social anxiety, it can be a positive way to recharge our batteries, strengthen our bond with nature, and be kind enough to ourselves to lay expectations aside and treat ourselves. If you enjoy your “me time”, make sure you have a beautiful spot at home or at a nearby park to do so; solitude is an ideal state in which to self-reflect, connect with one’s thoughts and emotions, and use positive self-affirmation as a way to feel the appealing energy that comes from being kind to oneself.
– Jackie Edwards
Jackie also wrote a wonderful piece on postnatal depression for us, which you can read here.
As always, remember, if you are struggling with a mental health issue, please go here for support.