Check Your Vibes: How To Be Alone (And Love It!)

Someone once told me that on a subconscious level, our biggest fears do double duty as our most secret desires. I’m not sure whether that’s true (most things I fear are too terrible to imagine any positives coming from them), but it would make perfect sense in certain contexts of my life — especially when it comes to my periodic desire to be alone. I adore alone time. In fact, it’s one of my favorite things about living in New York — despite being a city of millions, it’s easier to spend time alone here than anywhere else I’ve lived. This can be a double-edged sword, because living here can also be lonely if you’re not intentional about seeking out social activities, but I love that I’ve never gotten a funny look here on days when I hang out on my own. I never go far without spotting happily-alone kindred spirits meandering through the park or unwinding over a book at a restaurant.

At the same time, I fear true, bone-deep isolation, and that fear shapes many of my thoughts (I wish I could say I were braver). Yet, I also regularly crave the freedom and creative fuel that comes with spending time on my own. It all comes down to finding a healthy balance between solitude and time spent nurturing relationships, but that’s a tough thing to gauge. Everyone has a personal limit on how long they can enjoyably be alone and gain something out of it without going batty, and I’m not great at noticing when I’m reaching my limits. I’ll be puttering along, enjoying my day when – wham – I suddenly need some damn social interaction. Occasionally, it’s because I’ve run the tank to empty and really am feeling lonely, but often, it’s simply because I suddenly realized that I should feel uncomfortable about having spent several hours alone (ahh, that fear of isolation again). At this point, the onslaught of FOMO takes me out of whatever bliss or focus I was feeling and makes me feel antsy. Balance: it’s a work in progress!

That dreaded FOMO is what holds many people back from spending any time alone, but even if you’re a full-on extrovert and are at your happiest around others, occasional solitude can be beneficial for just about everyone, and I will preach about it until the end of time. Some of us only need a small amount of solo time now and then, but being alone with our thoughts makes for a chance to reflect, to consider the core of who we really are and, perhaps most importantly, to gauge what we really want and believe when we’re not surrounded by the loud opinions of others. It gives us a chance to check in with ourselves and make sure we’re not running on autopilot. In short, spending time alone now and then makes us less likely to wake up fifty years in and think, “how the hell did I get here?” If you’re still not convinced, consider some of these benefits of spending time on your own:

  • You’ll be a much more present friend because when you’ll have had a chance to sort out your own mental white noise before engaging with them.
  • You’ll learn who you are when nobody’s watching and use that to inform future choices.
  • You may arrive at answers to complicated issues that have been gnawing at you, because your mind has had a chance to sort itself.
  • You’ll be better at entertaining yourself on your own during unexpected delays or downtimes.
  • You can try new things you may be self-conscious doing in front of others, and maybe even find a new hobby.
  • You can prove to yourself that even if being alone isn’t your cup of tea, getting through it for a short amount of time isn’t the worst thing on the planet, which takes away some of its power. When you’re less afraid of spending time alone, you’re less likely to put up with subpar treatment from icky people because if they get too difficult to handle, you’re comfortable hanging out by yourself for a while if need be.
  • You may become more comfortable sitting with your own thoughts (which can be a scary thing), which may ultimately help you steer away from harmful coping mechanisms previously used to avoid those thoughts.

Unfortunately, life can pan out in such a way that our first big chunk of alone time in years arrives when we don’t want it — after a huge loss, breakup or relocation — and aren’t in an emotional place to enjoy it. So, let’s turn the tables! Carve out some alone time for yourself, by choice, even if you’re not sure you’ll like it. If you spend lots of time by yourself already, find ways to better enrich that time. If you’re in the mood for some introspection, use this moment of rare mental quiet to ask yourself things like “What do I want out of life? Am I getting it now? Am I on the path I want? Who am I on my own? If that’s a bit much (let’s be real, that task is a bit high on the existential crisis spectrum for an experience that’s meant to be rejuvenating), try something more fun and calming. Here are a few tips to get started on the path towards blissful solitude:

1. Give yourself just 15 minutes. Before your workday starts, take a walk with your coffee or sit on a bench near your place of work and just watch the world or ponder what you want to happen that day — no email-checking allowed!

2. Go out to eat alone. Do it without checking your phone! Bring a book if you like, but if you’re feeling extra ballsy, just sit down with no distractions and enjoy your own company over your meal. You may have so much fun people-watching that you’ll forget to be self-conscious!

3. Make it non-negotiable. I have to admit, I kind of hate when women are told to firmly schedule certain “self-care” activities and refuse to make any exceptions, as if we are the problem and if we just learned to treat ourselves more, everything in life would be just fine! People are busy, and life doesn’t work like that. That said, once I realized that I’m a much more efficient person and a better friend and partner when I get periodic alone time to hear myself think, it suddenly wasn’t so hard to make time for it. When a practice benefits the rest of your life and the other people in it, it starts to feel like it actually saves time, so if this is the case for you, make it a priority!

4. Take a solo stay-cation. If you have a day off on the horizon, spend it all on your own, however you please. You can play tourist in your own city all by yourself, with nobody else’s needs to bend to and no need to explain how you choose to spend your day!

5. Go on a one-woman hike. A long, leisurely walk around your favorite park will also suffice. No Snapchatting, Facebooking, emailing or Instagramming. Just you, your two feet, and maybe a soundtrack. Doesn’t that feel nice?

6. Find an exercise to do alone. Some people love working out with a gym buddy, but if that’s not your jam, find an exercise you love that you can do alone. Running or zoning out on the elliptical by yourself can become a retreat from the rest of the world where you sort out your thoughts before giving your all to the day. You could even try attending group fitness classes alone, so you’re able to make acquaintances with the other people in class (and thus still get some social interaction) while still getting some you-time.

7. Get creative. Try drawing, watercolor, playing an instrument, weaving (like The Frisky’s own Amelia) or taking part in some other creative hobby by yourself. This can be a great way to let your mind take a relaxing break from those spreadsheets you stare at all day at work, and since nobody’s around to watch or listen, there’s no need to worry about whether you’re good at it!

8. Visit a museum. Art museums can be quiet, calming retreats that are perfect for hanging out by yourself.

9. Head out on a drive. Yes, this is bad for the earth and a huge waste of gas money, but every now and then, a quality solo drive is the stuff of dreams. Is there anything better than rolling down the windows, putting on your favorite hokey music, and going wherever the road takes you as you ponder your deepest thoughts while passing miles upon miles of dirt roads and open fields? No friend, there is not, and I will never not recommend it. Just keep those eyes on the road!

10. Take a trip. Try a solo vacation! Most people love it so much that they start plotting their next solo getaway the second they get home. Nothing says “ultimate relaxation” like spending your precious time off exactly how you want to, without answering to anyone else. No bickering with travel companions! No compromising on where to eat brunch or how long to spend at the beach! Spending as much or as little money as you want! It’s the stuff of true rejuvenation.