The difference between solitude and isolation? One is a choice.
Up until recently, the dominant stance on elders in our community being isolated by circumstances of their physicality, or simply by their preference, is that being alone is unhealthy.
The Trend Is Changing
Plenty of evidence supports that viewpoint: for starters, social isolation might increase the risk of hypertension, heart disease, and depression.
But, hang onto your rollators, buckaroo, because it’s becoming clearer that solitude might not be as harmful as previously thought for older people. Is it true that, for some senior citizens, being alone for long periods of time can be depressive and scary? Absolutely! But, it’s not a blanket assumption anymore. And while some dementia can be exacerbated by being and feeling alone, there is no empirical evidence that physical time away from others actually brings on dementia.
What Can Being Alone Do for You?
One of the most beneficial aspects of being free from social interactions and their constraints is having more time to explore creativity, spiritual growth, and your values and goals without interference or distraction.
It’s relatively easy for me to carve out extra time to be alone. I get up earlier or have one of my “no tech” days, where all communication with the world via TV, computer, or my iPhone is curtailed for twenty-four hours. It’s during these times, without distractions, that I can go deeper — deeper into hashing out my problems more effectively or examining my responsibilities and tasks to be completed.
When I’m constantly with others, it’s their voices that creep into my voice. Only when I’m alone am I able to fully flesh out my thoughts, my opinions, my rationale for what defines me. I get back to my roots when I’m alone, and sometimes it takes a few days to dig down to that level before thoughts come to the surface.
Personally, I’ve always been an introvert who needs time alone, but in the last year or so, I’ve made more effort to increase that alone time by paring down relationships that were uncomfortable or disruptive. I’ve let go of persistently negative or angry people. I’ve curtailed getting together with people where the connection was marginal. I know you too are aware of these kinds of acquaintances, which never develop into full-on friendships. I’ve been peeling away all that is not true, and these interactions have gone by the wayside, leaving me with more time by myself.
I Have Limits
How much time alone is too much? Where is the outer limit between luxuriating in private time and feelings of debilitating isolation? Obviously, that limit is different for each of us.
For me, the limit is about three days. After three days, I’ve solved all the world problems in my mind, and I’m starting to turn too far inward examining feelings, past conversations, ideas, conflicts, etc., that might not really exist. This is about the time when my creative juices need an infusion from the outside world, when my own resources aren’t enough to inspire me to higher thinking or ways of approaching life.
After about three days I’m ready to join others in some shared activity, be it social, educational, or based on proximity alone (shopping, going to a movie, or attending another entertainment venue).
What About You?
Of which camp are you? Sad and down if left alone or happy to while away the days by yourself with only minimal interaction? If you cherish your time alone, how much is just right?