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Loneliness And Healthy Alone Time

by Karen Hawthorne, M.A.

I've often said that life is better shared. The things you do with family and friends can be the most memorable moments in your life. But there's something to be said for carving out "alone time" or "me-time" to do something just for yourself. And as it turns out, alone time is good for your health.

Why? You take a break from the demands of other people, put away that to-do list and relax... with a good book, a bike ride or a relaxing massage or manicure-pedicure for summer sandal season. Just because...

The way I see it, modern life is filled with must haves and must dos. We think we have to have and do certain things to feel fulfilled and find happiness. There's nothing wrong with ambition, mind you, but all those needs should be balanced by taking some quiet time to clear your head and simply enjoy your own company.

Let me be clear on this one thing. Spending time alone is different than loneliness, a feeling where you're experiencing pain from feeling isolated or disconnected. Loneliness is fueled by trauma, loss, grief, insecurity and low self-esteem. This sense of loneliness can put you at risk for heart disease and depression – both common among aging seniors. I understand that loneliness is tough, especially when it comes to our mental health and well-being.

Healthy living habits have a lot to do with how we handle loneliness. People who lead healthy, balanced lives are better able to face these negative experiences because they have both internal and external resources that help guide them along. They have a strong, positive self-image and a sense of community.

Essentially, you can be alone and lonely, or you can be alone and happy. Time alone can simply describe the fact that you're not with people. And that's not a bad thing.

Being alone has its benefits.

While we fully recognize the importance of a strong sense of community with friends, family and supportive professionals in our lives, enjoying alone time can be just as beneficial. A study by business professors at the University of Maryland and Georgetown University found that you can have an equally good time doing fun activities on your own, without any sense of loneliness.

The downside may be worrying about how others perceive you as friend-less. As with any uncomfortable situation – your fear of being identified as the "lonely loser" – sometimes you have to push past the negative thoughts and just do it anyway. The same goes for being alone. More often than not, the result will be a lot more positive than you anticipated. If you can get past the negatives, there are some great benefits to your health.

In fact, you can be more creative on your own, and creativity is good for your mood, energy and immunity. Research shows that brainstorming groups can be good for team-building and camaraderie, but groups come up with far fewer ideas than the same number of people who work alone and then later pool their ideas. Doing something on your own, too, makes you accountable for it, so you tend to get it done quickly and efficiently with a better result.

Interesting, too, for people who are introverted, alone time is crucial for happiness. That's because each social interaction depletes your energy. It takes more out of you and you need time alone to reboot. For extroverts, social situations are like fuel to make you burn brighter, longer.

Another side of doing things on your own is creating opportunities for new connections. If you've been feeling a little lonely lately, try taking on one of your favorite activities on your own. Not only will you have fun, but you might meet someone who shares your interests. For example, taking a group tour or bus trip may find you chatting with someone like-minded with similar interests.

Or join a weekly exercise class, like water aerobics, which could put you in touch with a new workout partner or coffee date, you just never know! In the meantime, you're doing something you enjoy, just for you.

Company can be draining.

There's also something calming about not having to converse with someone. You can just be quiet and let your brain rest and recharge. Our brains work hard, even when we sleep, so taking time during the day to clear our minds helps us function better.

Being by yourself with no distractions gives you the chance to clear your mind, focus, and think more clearly. You can look at it as an opportunity to revitalize your mind and body at the same time. Like mental meditation without a more concerted effort to be still, turn inward and visualize your happy place.

And what about the bonus of doing something you really want to do? When you're comfortable with making that choice, it can be liberating. If a friend wants to pick you up and go shopping and you'd rather go for a hike, go hiking on your own. Take a rain check for time with your friend.

Of course, you don't want to turn your friend down too often, but enjoying your own company on your own terms can be satisfying and good for you, too.

Yours in Good Health,

Karen Hawthorne, M.A.

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