Sometimes it feels like modern life has been designed to distract us from ourselves. In our always-on, 24/7 world, there’s so much to look at, to watch and scroll through.

Navigating Loneliness

Navigating Loneliness

Pre-internet (and pre-pandemic) we’d physically go somewhere outside of our homes to connect with people; now we’re surrounded with opportunities to constantly and virtually connect. This may have been a lifeline during the enforced social isolation of the pandemic, but clamouring to connect over the internet left many Zoomed-out. It seems like we’ve almost forgotten how to be alone with ourselves. And when we’re on our own, we can even feel bereft.

Yet, while too much solitude can lead to loneliness, there are many benefits that can come from its solace.

Benefits of alone time

Solitude offers the opportunity to work on yourself. It provides freedom, time and space away from the hustle and bustle to contemplate and cultivate the life you want; to reflect and create and learn. As such, alone time needn’t be negative.

In fact, the positive power of solitude often comes from the realization that solitude isn’t being by yourself; it’s being with yourself.

There’s an appealing sense of freedom when nobody is making demands on your time or attention. When you’re not beholden to anyone else, you get to fully control how you spend your time and do as you please, uninterrupted. That may sound selfish, but when much of your life may be spent putting other people first, it’s refreshing (and necessary) to take time for nourishing self-care.

Being by yourself gives you the chance to be yourself too. When there is nobody else around, you don’t need to pretend. You get to just be you.

When we see solitude through a lens of escaping, as a place of retreat and renewal, we can more readily celebrate and appreciate the time we get to spend alone, rather than fear or avoid it.

“I have to be alone very often. I’d be quite happy if I spent from Saturday night until Monday morning alone in my apartment. That’s how I refuel.”

Audrey Hepburn

Five hacks to savour solitude and connect better with yourself

1. Reframe how you see solitude. Consider all the benefits: Solitude gives you freedom to do as you please, to be your true self (away from others’ demands and judgements); to be more mindful, work through worries, gain perspective, and make future plans.

2. Make a nourish list. Jot down self-care rituals and enjoyable activities you love to do – from watercolour painting and dancing to soaking in the bath and reading. On the second list, write what you’d like to learn or improve? Such as learning to play an instrument or to cook healthier recipes. Next time you find yourself alone, do something that will nourish you rather than numbing out in front of Netflix by default.

3. Journal. Write down three things you want to achieve by the end of the month, the end of the year and this decade. Now write three things that might be getting in the way of those goals. Write quickly to see what flows out of your pen. Next write three things you’re grateful for that happened this month. Then three positive words people might use to describe you. Solitude gives you the perfect opportunity to ponder on what is and isn’t working in your life, to uncover truths about yourself and find clarity. You can find within you all the answers you need, collect your thoughts and make sense of things, then you can formulate a plan of action.

4. Daydream. Make the most of the silence of solitude and let your mind wander and wonder. Use your imagination to conjure up images of dreams you’d like to bring to fruition. Your daydreams will tell you a lot about what matters to you. As Terry Waite says in his book Solitude, ‘During those years of isolation I began to travel in my head. Using my imagination I crossed continents, sailed the oceans, and retreated into the inner recesses of my mind in order to try and understand myself more completely.’

5. Make the most of me-time. Choose to watch the sunrise or sunset – take a flask of tea or coffee then sit and savour the beauty of it. Or why not become a tourist in your hometown? Find places of interest you’ve never been to and see them through a tourist’s eyes. Explore the world solo and see how much more you notice.

When we spend time alone, we get to give ourselves the attention we deserve. We get to respond to ourselves the way we wish others would – with compassion, encouragement and respect. And the better we know ourselves, the easier it becomes to allow and accept other people’s reactions, because we’ve reclaimed our power.

By Cheryl Rickman, author of Navigating Loneliness: How to connect with yourself and others, Welbeck, £8.99