Alone or Lonely?

Some of the most treasured and highly anticipated time I have is the time I spend in solitude. During my alone time, I rarely feel lonely. But I’m an introvert, and seeking solitary time is my norm.

The Difference

Knowing the difference between being alone and being lonely is pretty easy:  being alone is a state of being, when you are by yourself with no others around; being lonely is a state of mind and/or heart, of longing for the presence of others. This longing can appear whether you’re alone or in a crowd. For instance, I might be lonely (but not alone) if it’s New Year’s Eve and I’m in Times Square with a million other revelers, but my spouse is on the opposite coast, and I am missing him.

There have been times, rare, but intense,  when loneliness felt like a bunting I couldn’t escape — for you too, I’m sure. Hopefully, your loneliness, like mine, was temporary and not a chronic descriptor of your life. Living with loneliness day in and day out can be damaging to your emotional and physical well-being.

Have you ever felt the need to distract yourself so you didn’t feel lonely?

People who feel disconnected from themselves or want to avoid thinking about situations or problems sometimes seek the presence of others to avoid the pain and suffering of feeling emotional hardships. While this holds true for all of us from time to time, it’s only when we perpetually live in this state of avoidance that we run into trouble. I have known people who could not be happy on their own, who literally required the distraction of friends to keep their minds off uncomfortable emotions.

As we age it’s easier to struggle with loneliness — we have more time to lament the past and worry about the future. Watching  TV and surfing social media can serve as distractions, dulling our fears and preventing us from immersing ourselves in the feeling of loneliness.  But being afraid to face what’s on your mind, of participating fully in life, means you can’t experience living in harmony with yourself.

The Massive Benefits of Spending Time Alone

If you find yourself uncomfortable with being alone on a routine basis, allow me to point out some benefits of changing your thinking and your actions about alone time:

~ You will feel unburdened by the weight of avoiding your problems
~ Your stress level will decrease significantly
~ You’ll trust yourself more
~ You’ll be less afraid

And, finally, one of the greatest benefits you will experience is a feeling of greater and deeper peace with yourself and the world.

Now that you know you want it, how can you learn to be okay with being alone?

My first suggestion for learning to be comfortable with being alone is through meditation. This will come as no surprise to my regular readers, as I could devote (and have in the past) a whole post to that alone. Suffice it to say, a regular habit of spending quiet, unfocused time doing nothing — no TV, Internet, or phone! — is a great place to start. Find personal space where you won’t be bothered and let your mind just feel the sensations of your body:  feel your breath in and out, feel the chair beneath you and the floor under your feet. I use a wonderful app on my phone called Calm; it helps me relax anywhere anytime.

When you begin to feel nervous, shaky or uncomfortable, resist the urge to get up and do something or find someone to distract you. Be mindful and gently encourage yourself to stay put and feel the feelings. It’s not uncommon to be haunted by past traumas during this time. Be willing to cry or feel sad or scared. It’s okay.

It’s also okay if you’re not very successful the first few times. Give yourself a break. Stick with it and create a new habit that will provide the more open, unrestrained and satisfying life you want.

Learn to live at peace with yourself, alone but never lonely!