Making the most of "alone time"
This piece was adapted for Yahoo
One point that I snuck onto the end of all interviews last year when discussing the changes that a Christmas in lockdown enforced, was that not everyone was unhappy. Solitude is not loneliness, and more than one person I spoke to (myself included) felt a sense of release from obligation. It is not that I don't enjoy socialising, but I can find some events more draining than others.
Whether we’ve rediscovered our enjoyment of solitude, or we weren’t naturally “social butterflies” in the first place, lockdown has given many of us the opportunity for some alone time. Perhaps we’ve found a sense of structure through being able to create our own timetable without a commute or constant social events to factor in – perhaps our finances have been likewise rewarded, and maybe we’ve also found we have more energy for our loved ones because we’ve been able to say “no” to things that we considered “unnecessary”…but didn’t like to say.
Although we might be easing back into our social scenes, there is much to be said for embracing our “me time”:
1. Remember it’s ok to edit your life
Your friendships may have changed during lockdown…it is not uncommon for people to admit that with the pandemic revealing a range of reactions and behaviours, they are less sure whether they really want to maintain some old ties. So as you open your doors, make sure you’re letting the right ones in.
- Write down the names of 3 – 5 people you love in your life
- Write down the things you value about them
- Work every day to demonstrate those values yourself: We often, albeit unconsciously, teach people how to treat us and if you are surrounded by takers, you might need to ask why you are giving so much. While you may recognise that “generosity” is a trait you love – perhaps what is of value in the person you admire is that they are discerning with their gifts.
- AND opt to spend more time with the people whose names you mentioned, and you might find that the more exhausting people are “squeezed out” (or you have a little more energy to manage them)
2. Maintain the healthy routines you have in place
If you have already got into a routine, then try to fit it around the working day prior to returning to work. If you haven’t got a routine that will fit within the return to the office times, then start making those changes bit by bit…it’s like setting your watch to the time zone you’re travelling to…you are preparing for it now. The early preparation will also help you identify what is going to work and what isn’t, giving you time to make any changes.
And, if you are worried about having to make up excuses to incorporate your wellbeing rituals, consider being honest with people and explaining what you are doing – you might even inspire them!
If those healthy routines involved getting outside, so much the better. Humans are biophilic and are drawn to – and invigorated by – nature. Going for a walk can help with breathing, posture and getting oxygen to the brain, but it will also stimulate production of Vitamin D and serotonin which makes us feel good – naturally.
3. When it comes to effective Self Care, work out your personal preferences
With the headspace of solitude, you can think about your personal needs without the influence of others – and this can be very effective when it comes to self care.
- Recognise when you are enjoying something.
- Decide if that activity energises or relaxes you.
- Decide which you need – and pick from the list of things you know you enjoy.
Habitually you may hear “self care” and think “spa day” or “meditate”. But whatever energises or relaxes you best (at the time you need it) is going to be the most effective for you. Remember that if we are anxious, then something relaxing may be most effective, and if we are feeling down, then an energiser may be best. Being consciously aware of what you need, means you get there faster. Work this out now, and as your commitments grow, you’ll know what will give you the energy – or the calm – in order to embrace them and even thrive.
4. Begin to explore and set your personal goals.
While you may be tentative because our recent experience is “anything can change”, having a focus, with flexibility or alternatives, means you have something to work for, and look forward to. Try writing down your aims, and then breaking down those goals into smaller steps – some of which you might be able to start right now. Breaking down what you want, or need, to do can prevent those things from becoming overwhelming.
Another benefit of doing this is by having something you know you are aiming for, you are less likely to feel compelled to “fill your appreciated alone time” busying yourself with other people’s psychodramas just because you “need to do something”.
5. Schedule in “development time”. Timetable yourself in every day – making that commitment to yourself as important as your commitments to others. Whether you use that time to meditate, take a class, read, or simply have a cup of tea (while it’s still hot) – clearing some headspace will also help you be more effective when you release the pause button.
Finding time for yourself can re-energise you for when you cannot escape a social event - and when feeling positive you might even give it a chance and discover ways of enjoying it!
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author with a specialty in the "how to take action", rather than just giving explanation and advice. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience. For self development tools based within positive psychology: click Her YouTube Channel . Twitter/IG @draudreyt