Life, even when it’s really good, can be stressful. So, I like to keep my mental toolkit full of ways to de-stress. One of my go-to stress reducers is conscious solitude.
I say conscious solitude because we’re all alone at least some of the time, but in order for me to consider the solitude truly rejuvenating, it has to be solitude that I planned at least somewhat in advance so that I can say to myself “Ah, this is alone time. I’ll have to treasure this.” I usually don’t count unexpected solitude, if only because it’s usually over before I realize I had it.
What can I say? I’m a busy woman.
Solitude is vitally important for my mental and spiritual health, and it keeps me in tune with my own inner voice. If I’m ever tempted to override my instincts, a little solitude, and the introspection that comes with it, usually puts me back on the right path.
Here are just a few of the benefits I get from conscious solitude:
I realized several years ago that when I let my mind go wherever it wants to go, it makes plans. Sometimes they’re plans to do things I didn’t even realize I wanted to do (this website is one of those, in fact), but often my mind starts fleshing out ideas that had been simmering on my mental backburner for months or years, but I may not have even consciously realized they were there until I gave my brain permission to remind me of them.
The mind is a funny thing. It’s not keen on purging unused detritus, unlike I am in real life (one of my great joys is getting rid of junk I no longer love or use). The mind holds on to those mental scraps of paper scribbled on in diners, or souvenirs from holiday weekends decades ago, and reminds you of things you didn’t even remember you forgot.
So when I give myself solitude – it may only be 10 minutes in the middle of the day – I like to let my mind off its leash so it can sniff around and find something fun. I highly recommend doing this on a regular basis. (Pro tip: have a pen and paper or a journal handy. I promise you’ll think of something you want to write down.)
Conscious solitude reminds me why I love the people in my life. Sometimes it’s their mere absence that makes me appreciate them, but just as often, it’s that when I take time to be alone and undistracted, gratitude is always there, waiting for me to acknowledge its presence.
If there’s one thing I’ve realized as I’ve gotten older, it’s that human connection is the Chemical X of a happy life. The nicest cars, clothes, homes and vacations don’t mean a thing if you don’t have at least a handful of people around you whom you love and who love you back.
When I spend time alone, I have time to remember how special they are to me, which often prompts me to do something to deepen that relationship. That could be as simple as a phone call to schedule a lunch, or it could be a grander gesture. But, at the very least, it ensures that the next time I see them, they’ll get an extra hug.
When you work in an office, distractions are a fact of life that can impair your productivity. Granted, sometimes I’m begging for a distraction, but when I need to buckle down and work, a closed door is the only thing that helps me get it done.
Even one hour of distraction-free work (phone in drawer, internet browser off, and email alerts disabled) can mean a profound productivity boost. So while I treasure collaboration, I also require solitude to really get things done.
My Own Opinions
I recently watched a movie that I hadn’t read any reviews for and knew very little about. I enjoyed it quite a bit and was glad I watched it. About a week later, though, I saw a review for it and saw that the critic really disliked it. Had I read that review first, I might not have watched it just because someone else “in authority” decided it wasn’t worthy.
That episode reminded me that, particularly when it comes to art and other highly subjective matters, the only opinion that matters is mine. I buy art because it speaks to me and I want to see it in my home, not because it has any worth on the open market. I enjoy a particular restaurant because the food is great and they make me feel welcome, not because it’s on a magazine’s “best” list.
I always try to sort out how I feel about important things on my own before I consult others. I know I don’t have a lock on wisdom, and the perspective of someone with specialized knowledge in that subject is important, but I also know my own values.
Spending some time alone, thinking through how I feel about a movie, a piece of art, how I’m going to vote – whatever – is a great way to get in touch with those values, and to act accordingly.
If you’re feeling frazzled, uncertain, or stressed, schedule yourself some solitude. It could be at home, in nature, or in your office. Wherever you do it, enjoy it. And let me know how it goes!