7 Ways Solitude Can Actually Help You!

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The Problem: Experts have said that there’s an “epidemic of loneliness” in our society. 

The Science: Some studies have illustrated the value of spending time alone in solitude. 

The Solution: Consider taking some time to yourself to help your mind and body recover!

In our society today, it can seem completely normal to be surrounded by others and constantly busy.  In a way, “Busyness” has become synonymous with worthiness, popularity, and even success. On the contrary, being alone is considered a red flag: that there’s something wrong or that you are unhappy.

Now, however, more than ever, we need our solitude. Aloneness can give us the power to regulate and adjust our lives. It can refill our energy well. Studies show that solitude is crucial for the development of the self. As highlighted in a study entitled, Solitude: An Exploration of Benefits of Being Alone, solitude is associated with freedom, creativity, intimacy, and spiritualityCheck out these 7 specific ways that being alone improves you:

  • Your brain actually grows.   A UCLA research study showed that regular times set aside to disengage, sit in silence, and mentally rest, improves the the “folding” of the cortex and boosts our ability to process information. A study published through the National Library of Medicine found that exposure to prolonged silence can actually cause the brain to produce new cells.
  • Self-Awareness Increases. In silence, we can become more aware of our emotions and thoughts and engage in more detached reflection of them. The break from external stimuli can put us in tune to our inner voices. This enhanced awareness can lead to greater self-control. Silence brings our awareness back to the present.
  • Memory improves. Combining solitude with a walk in nature causes brain growth in the hippocampus region, resulting in better memory. Taking a walk alone gives the brain uninterrupted focus and helps with memory consolidation.
  • Problem Solving Improves. Our brains need to rest and recharge in order to function as well as we want them to. So even if you’re not an introvert, alone time is still important for processing and reflecting. “Constantly being ‘on’ doesn’t give your brain a chance to rest and replenish itself,” Sherrie Bourg Carter, Psy.D. wrote in Psychology Today. Unconscious thought excels at integrating and associating information, by subconsciously carrying out associative searches across our broad database of knowledge.
  • Creativity is Enhanced. The creative process includes a crucial stage called incubation, where all the ideas we’ve been exposed to get to meet, mingle, marinate — then produce a eureka or “A-ha” moment. The secret to incubation? Doing nothing. What’s typically seen as useless daydreaming is now being seen as an essential experience. Professor Jonathan Schooler from UC Santa Barbara says, “Daydreaming and boredom seem to be a source for incubation and creative discovery in the brain.” When we’re not focusing on anything in particular–instead letting the mind wander or dip into our deep storehouse of memories, ideas, and emotions–the brain’s default mode network is activated. Many of our most original insights arise from the activity of this network.
  • Relationships Improve. Solitude also enriches our connections with others by providing perspective, which enhances intimacy and fosters empathy. You think more critically about the role you play in others’ lives and the role they play in yours. And when you do spend time with someone else, you’re refreshed enough to really pay them due attention. After some calm, peaceful time on your own doing nothing, you can find things and people who irritate you reduce dramatically because you are now relaxed and more tolerant.
  • You can become more mindful. Elements of mindfulness such as being present, focusing your attention, emotional regulation and acceptance can be strengthened in aloneness and solitude, where you are free from distractions and external stimuli. So too, can the balance between “doing,” which is predominant in our culture and “being,” which focuses on quiet reflection. In addition, strengthening our mindful practice of intentional responding rather than reacting by “autopilot” can be further enhanced. Our fight/flight mechanism causes us to flee not only from physical difficulties but also emotional difficulties. Ignoring and burying negative emotions however, only causes them to manifest in stress, anxiety, anger, and insomnia.

While society seems to think that being alone is a bad thing, science shows that solitude isn’t always a negative and can actually help us!

A version of this article was published in Psychology Today

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Ray Williams
Ray Williams is Owner and President of Ray Williams Associates, a company based in Vancouver, Canada, providing leadership and executive coaching and professional speaking services internationally. Ray has been a CEO, senior HR Executive, Management Consultant and Executive Coach for the past 30 years. His clients include those in the Fortune 500, Best Managed Companies in Canada, entrepreneurs and professionals. He has written books on leadership, personal growth and organizational change, and written for, or been interviewed by such media as NBC News, The Huffington Post, USA Today, The National Post, Entrepreneur, Forbes, The Financial Post, Psychology Today, and other international professional publications. He has served as the Vice-Chair of the Vancouver Board of Trade and President of the International Coach Federation, Vancouver.
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