Flip through a magazine or scroll an online article about self-care and, inevitably, one of the tips will be: spend quality time alone.
As a therapist, I’m not disputing the potentially helpful benefits of quality time spent alone, but I do think that this self-care tip can sometimes fail to take into account how challenging spending time alone can actually feel for some people.
Spending time alone can feel hard for different people for a variety of reasons: perhaps they are simply unaccustomed to spending time by themselves; perhaps for others, spending time alone helps them get more in touch with their feelings (not all of which may feel easy to tolerate when they show up!); and still others may have some stigma and negative reactions about spending time alone (e.g.: “Only a person with no friends spends time alone!”).
Whatever the case, spending time alone can feel challenging to some people even though it may ultimately help them. The following are a few tips I offer to clients to help them make time alone feel more comfortable and less lonely:
1) First, breathe into any discomfort that arises. So often when we are alone we itch to turn to our phones or turn on the TV or radio for noise, company, and distraction. While this may not necessarily be bad, it can also prevent you from feeling your actual feelings that are surfacing now that you’re alone. So instead of following the impulse to text/call or stream something, instead, pause, notice how you’re actually feeling and try breathing into any uncomfortable feelings that may be arising. If you feel emotional discomfort when you’re alone, that’s a clue that some important feeling is trying to get your attention. Pay attention to it with gentle and compassionate awareness.
2) Challenge the challenging thoughts that arise for you. If potentially painful or challenging thoughts arise such as, “I’m alone because nobody wants to spend time with me, they’re all spending time with their partners instead.” or “What if I actually do end up alone?!”, as much as possible, try challenging these thoughts with other, more moderate and supportive thoughts. For example, “I spent time with my best friend the other weekend and I have a baby shower to attend at the end of the month. It’s not true that no one wants to spend with me when I have things like this lined up.” or “I’m alone because I’m choosing to spend time alone for my own self-care, not because I don’t have other options.” Challenge any scary, unsupportive, or self-critical thoughts that arise and, hopefully, this will make the process of being alone feel easier.