Loneliness, isolation and not liking your own company
Have you found yourself lately with a lot of time to yourself:
Maybe when the kids went to back to school?
Maybe you’re working remotely and missing a team environment?
Maybe you were shielding and the experience of spending time with yourself wasn’t a pleasant one…
With busy lives and taking care of others we can be guilty of not taking enough time out for ourselves, however recent shielding and isolation situations have meant that we have either had to spend long periods of time alone or with one or two significant others which can limit the amount of alone time you can actually get.
It’s healthy to both socialise and to have periods by yourself but when the balance isn’t there it can affect our mental health in sometimes unexpected ways.
- Moodiness can increase and the most placid of people end up with a short and fierce temper
- Living in close quarters can mean limited alone-time and that can increase our levels of stress due to not having any personal space.
- Disinterest and apathy can set in; generating thoughts of What’s the point? If I do it then it won’t matter and if I don’t then it won’t matter either.’
- Personal hygiene standards can start to drop; if you aren’t able to see people or do the things you love then why would you bother to get dressed, clean your teeth or brush your hair? No one else will see it anyway, right?
This kind of mind-set breeds this disinterest and a vicious cycle can start up. Aside from this you can find your own company extremely frustrating. If you tend to care for everyone else and make others a priority in your life then being placed in isolation can be a great shock, feel uncomfortable, unwanted and you’ll feel uneasy because your roles have been taken away from you. If you generally struggle to make decisions without other people then suddenly the basics of going shopping, deciding on what to eat, paying bills etc become really hard to accomplish. You realise you only have yourself right now and if you haven’t been paying attention to yourself over the years this realisation can be quite frightening especially if you realise you don’t like yourself.
So what can you do about?
- Think about your needs- list them; what do you need in your life to feel stable and grounded?
- Look at these needs and think about if you meet that need or if someone else meets that need for you. Consider how balanced the list is- do you meet your needs more often than other people or is it the other way around?
- If you find people meet your needs more so than yourself, consider how you can take some of that control and responsibility back, for e.g.
‘I rely on my family to take me out once a week; this is my only social outlet.’
Options around doing things for yourself might include you asking a friend or neighbour to be part of your social bubble so that you can widen who you interact with and are less upset when plans with your family get cancelled- you will then have other means of socialising.
You can take part in online ‘pub quizzes’ solo or pick up a puzzle book and test your wits and skills! This doesn’t require anybody else but you so you are only reliant on your commitment to taking part.
- Take a walk: people are mostly missing interactions and connections right now so a simple ‘Hello’ when you pass a stranger in the park, down a lane or up a hill can make a real difference to you and to the other person. It may spark a conversation too and maybe even a friendship.
- Read a book- the escapism of a good book cannot be underestimated. The current climate is such that reading a powerful or engaging story will likely lift your mood and allow you to think about different perspectives, opportunities and directions simply based upon the story you read. You can also consider a factual book, maybe on something you’ve always wanted to learn more about for instance.
- Record your thoughts- enforced isolation can be hard to deal with and negative thoughts and frustrations are really common. Journaling can be a good way to see the reality of those thoughts and it is sometimes enough to just read them or see them in the flesh for you to think that they are actually unhelpful, untrue or not really your own thoughts at all but someone else’s opinion (society’s, friends, news, parents). Challenge these thoughts and look for the evidence that proves and disproves them- consider neutral alternatives that don’t set off further negative thoughts; not believing all you think in pressured times is a really useful way to extinguish harmful thought patterns.
- Reengage with past hobbies; things you cherished from your past and recent past can always make a comeback. Do things that bring you joy; isolation provides a long day- why can’t that day be full of fun?
- Take action: you’ve recorded your needs, considered how to help yourself and readdress the balance, challenged your own thoughts and you’ve done some journaling- what do you do now?
Decide what you can change and take responsibility for no matter how small or seemingly insignificant and do something that takes you towards meeting that need. You wrote it down and put it on your list so it’s important to you.
It may start out as low-level as deciding to have chicken for tea but making a decision at any level that influences our lives is empowering. Continue to make decisions with you at the heart of them and you may feel inspired more often to try new things.
Curiosity and spontaneity are a great thing, encourage them. It’s a sign that you are starting to trust in yourself and have confidence to believe in your decisions. The possibilities are endless if you start to like the time you have alone because you’ll start to like yourself.