Solitude is a widely misunderstood concept, often classified as loneliness, and a depressed state of being; however, it is proven that people who find comfort in solitude are less likely to have depression. It is important to understand that there is a thick line that separates solitude and loneliness. Solitude might look less fancy as it often involves no posts on social media, and is more tedious as it requires internal work aligning the mind, body, and soul but is a key to happiness that is locked within you. (Check out our recent article on loneliness in adolescence here).
I am a writer with Inspire the Mind (you can find my other blogs here), and other well-being magazines. Over the years, I realized how solitude is an essential tool for my mental peace. In this blog, we shall swim to the depths of the solitude ocean and understand why it is important to be with our thoughts, alone. We will discover what research says about human behaviour and the distinction between loneliness and solitude.
In a study conducted at the University of Virginia in 2014, researchers asked participants to put away any distractions and entertain themselves with their own thoughts for 6 to 15 minutes. 58% of participants rated it difficult and 32% admitted to cheating. In the series of this experiment, participants were wired up and were told that they could shock themselves during the thinking period if they desired. Shockingly, 25% of women and 66% of men chose to subject themselves to electric shock while being alone with their thoughts.
Why should you be so afraid of your own thoughts coming to the forefront that you’d rather electrocute yourself?
Even when one could be alone, there is always a pair of headphones clutched to our ears, or the TV is on, as background noise. If not anything else, we’re always scrolling through social media on our phones. We are sending our thoughts way back into the slush pile, so deep, that they can never be sorted or known.
Though it is considered a trait of introverts, there are reasons- apart from the dreaded social anxiousness- that solitude is often sought by ambiverts (a personality with a balance of extrovert and introvert features) as well. I believe extroverts haven’t yet explored the vast recharge value offered by solitude, and studies agree.
What does solitude feel like?
Solitude doesn’t mean you are sent to a prison with four white walls and an absence of any stimuli. It is the mindfulness that you seek in the moments away from the chaos of people. Sitting with no company, other than your own thoughts. Watching the thoughts chase by in the field of your mind’s space. An internal dialogue will happen on its own, which would let you reach levels of self-awareness over a period of time. The richness of this experience leaves you rejuvenated and instills a better understanding of life.
Why is solitude so important to me, and what techniques do I use?
I was a born introvert, taking on a career that requires one to be an extrovert. A career in Human Resources requires an individual to talk to an average of seventy different people in a week, adjusting their own tone and mental process to everyone’s concerns and queries while also taking care of their own boundaries. At the end of the week, I seek solitude so badly that I am at risk of exhaustion if I am unable to get some quality me-time. The only voices I need to hear are birds chirping, and the only thing I need to see is the greenery of plants.
I have often observed that when life begins to feel heavy, even though there is nothing wrong, it is because I have not had mindful moments for a long time and I’m just revolving into the meaningless churn of life. I consciously make an effort to sit in silence and think of ‘nothing’. I empty my mind using Bhramari Pranayam (Bee-Humming Breathing technique) which is proven to have benefits such as improvement in cognition, reduction in irritability caused by tinnitus, increased paroxysmal EEG waves and reduction in stress levels. After just fifteen minutes of this exercise, my mind feels as if it has been through the clean cycle. Sometimes, however, it might take more effort to empty all the lint your mind has been accumulating while going through the rigmarole of daily life.
Does solitude have any prerequisites?
Kenneth Rubin, a developmental psychologist at the University of Maryland determined some “ifs” for solitude to be productive. Some of these conditions include:
1. If it is voluntary,
2. If one can regulate one’s emotions effectively
3. If one can join a social group when desired
4. If one can maintain positive relationships outside of it.
These four pre-conditions make sense because you cannot seek solitude when you are feeling lonely due to life’s ups and downs. Going through something such as losing a loved one, or experiencing depression aren’t the times when you seek solitude. Such instances might require something more, such as seeking social contact or even therapy if needed. You seek solitude when you want to take a break from outer chaos to get in touch with your inner being. It is beneficial when sought with internal driving reasons instead of life’s pressures.
For solitude to be fruitful, we need to be comfortable with introspection. It might feel like an agonizing and extensive task and can take a bit of time before our mind knows and understands why it is a pleasant experience.
Once it does, you will start to crave solitude the moment your energy barometer starts dipping, because the mind knows that is where the charging point is. It also improves your relationship with yourself. The more self-aware you are, the more you are in touch with your inner self, and the more your life hits the harmony with all other aspects of your life.
What does research have to say about solitude?
Studies have proven the benefits of solitude. From increasing productivity to sparking creativity, solitude is seen as a tool for personal growth and self-discovery. Nature-based interventions involving varying periods of time spent in solitude and silence in the wilderness are commonly implemented among therapeutic and educational nature-based approaches and are linked to beneficial outcomes, involving personal outcomes such as self-discovery, as well as therapeutic outcomes.
When you have the capacity to be alone, you are far less likely to feel lonely when alone. This capacity can be exercised through little joyful moments. You can find mindful moments even while washing dishes or my favourite- tending to plants. In conclusion, if you haven’t yet explored the sensory richness felt after spending some quality solitude time, you are missing an entire inner personality development course.
The solitude flow shall come unhurriedly and would eventually grow upon you. That’s when you’d be able to unplug and know when to put yourself in the solitude recharge. Invite solitude in your life and see how you bloom in peace.