The Importance of Alone Time
Can we be really honest for a second? College is crazy. It’s like a giant social experiment around every corner.
From the moment you arrive on the scene you’re thrown into bizarre relational conundrums — sharing a bedroom with a total stranger, sharing a bathroom with three total strangers, deciding whether you should be bold and eat lunch by yourself, or be bolder and text the guy you met in class this morning and see if he, by some miracle, also has a lunch break and no new friends at 11 a.m.
But that’s just the normal struggle of growing up and leaving home, right? Wrong. The crazy part is, it doesn’t get any less weird after those first brutal weeks of freshman year!
When I actually took a second to think about it, I realized that I carry a weight on my shoulders to be social all the time that I just didn’t care to bear in my younger years. Being tossed out of the nest and into the great, wide, socially-driven world has lit a fire under me that says, “I HAVE to meet up with people during all of my class breaks. I NEED to be out in the living room with my roommates every moment that I’m home. I MUST have somebody to study with at the library.” Being around people has become a comfort zone for us, even a safety blanket of sorts.
Some switch inside of us has been flipped that says being alone means there’s something wrong.
Don’t be mistaken, I love all of those things I just mentioned — lunch with friends between classes, watching Netflix on the couch with my roomies, the camaraderie of a good late-night study buddy. These socially jam-packed moments are where I thrive. I’m an extrovert through and through. I am a firm believer that every human being on Earth needs good relationships to lead a healthy life. But healthy means balanced, and balance means moderation. Even socially. Even people like me who feel energized by social interaction need some valuable time alone to fully recharge.
I aim to appeal to the same need for solitude in you that is in me — the solitude that was gasping for air when I finally let it out.
But before we talk about the benefits of alone time...
Let’s be real: We don’t know how to be alone. I’m the first to admit that I had to learn how to be by myself. I first committed to setting aside regular alone time two years ago. I remember sitting down the first day, so determined, ready for my inner monk to suddenly emerge. But when I sat down in my room alone, I couldn’t sit still. The quiet was absolutely deafening. It only took about five minutes for me to cave and turn on Netflix.
I share this with you as an encouragement in the hope that you won’t have to face the same wall of frustration that I did. There’s a learning curve to alone time. Aside from face-to-face social time, our generation has also spent our most formative years with smartphones attached to our hands. It’s so normal to us. The time we actually spend in true solitude is so rare, of course our systems have to adjust to it.
But once you get there, true magic happens. I’m serious.
Becoming a happier person
Spending time alone has legitimately made me a happier person. I’m not talking about a complete personality change. I’m still an extrovert (energized by being around people, remember?). But being alone, even for thirty minutes, offers a great environment for processing emotion. I could spend a whole other article ranting about just how important it is to properly address your emotions, but you’ll just have to take my word for it. Processing. Emotion. Matters. Whether it’s the best feeling you’ve ever had or the worst, identifying how you feel about a situation can completely change the trajectory of that situation, your day and (big picture, woah) your life.
Improving your focus
Another benefit of spending time alone on a regular basis is improved focus. In a few minutes of quiet your brain has room to re-center and refocus. There’s room to re-establish the goals you hope to accomplish during the day but lose track of among all the minute-to-minute social encounters. You know what happens when you walk into a room to study and find a whole table of friends. Three hours goes by and you’ve made it through half a page of notes, not really even sure what you read or how many pages of notes you intended to get through in the first place. I’ve found that, after having a few minutes to myself, I can much more effectively accomplish the work in front of me. Even if, after those moments of solitude, I return to studying with friends.
Becoming a better friend
It sounds counter-intuitive, but leaving my friends for a little while everyday has actually made me a better friend. It’s the concept of filling up to pour out. Have you ever been with your friends for a long weekend and just been SO ready to have a minute to yourself when you get home? I know I’m guilty of it. I notice my need to recharge when it builds up in concentrated times like that, but I neglect it in my normal, day-to-day life. Just because I’m not noticing it, doesn’t mean it’s not there.
The key is not letting that need build up until you’re worn out and unable to be the kind of friend you know you want to be. And I know it’s not that you don’t want to be a good friend! These are your people. You love them and they love you.
I’ve learned that if I’ve been a listening ear all week and haven’t taken time to care for myself, I have little to offer my roommate who comes to me for advice at the end of the week. Setting aside time to be by yourself provides the head space and the heart space to recharge so you can make the most of the time you do spend with friends.
That’s a lot of information about solitude. I promise I’m not suggesting you should become a hermit and abandon every relationship that’s ever mattered to you. I am suggesting that you consider what being alone for fifteen minutes a day, or every other day, or even once a week could change for you. Try it out! It can’t hurt!
Be well, Auburn.
Photography: Julia B.