Alone time. At some point in our lives, we all desire it. Some of us need it every day, maybe even at regular intervals, to be able even just to function. For some of us, ‘alone time’ is a coffee alone in the morning or a bubble bath at the weekend. Some of us thrive off being amongst others so much that it takes a lot to push us over the threshold of needing time to ourselves.
But what happens when it stops being a treat or a remedy to busy life, something that lasts no more than a day or so? What happens when the time stretched out in front of you is just a mishmash of moments of ‘alone time’. There were patches of time last year, particularly in Spain, where this was my reality. I was living across the ocean from my nearest and dearest with a pretty skeletal schedule compared to what I was used to back home. Most of the people I met were in work and had very different agendas to me which meant that I was often left with oodles of spare time to spend with me, myself, and I.
I learnt a lot about ‘alone time’ during that period. As someone who straddles the fence dividing introversion and extroversion, I find that I need time to myself but too much can make me feel very apathetic. So the most valuable lesson I learnt was how to use that ‘alone time’, finding ways to keep myself afloat and stop myself from being pulled under into the waters of loneliness.
And these are tools that I encourage you to add to your utility belt that you can whip out if you ever have a patch of prolonged personal time. None of them are groundbreaking by any means, so don’t expect to have an epiphany whilst reading this. But sometimes it’s the simplest things that can make the biggest difference but are the easiest to neglect.
‘That’s it, I’m off’. Hang on a sec, stick with me. I know that our world is saturated with messages telling us to ‘do this to torch fat’ or ‘do that to earn your pizza’, but I’m not talking about burning calories here. I’ve been really working on changing my mindset around exercise and putting the focus primarily on how it keeps my mind healthy, which I will explain in more detail at a later date. And I’ve come to learn that it is an essential ingredient to a day spent with myself.
I’m an external processor and if I have no one to talk to, my thoughts can get all mumble jumbled, cloudy and overbearing. But I’ve noticed that when I get my heart rate up, it’s like giving my brain a little spring clean. Things become easier to manage, less messy and I get my sparkle back. I love running, but if I’ve not got the energy, I’ll go for a walk or do some yoga. But you could put on some music and dance in the living room, go for a bike ride, do some taekwondo …. However you move, move because it makes you FEEL your best, and gets you out of the ‘i’ve spent all day on my own and I feel a bit bleugh’ rut.
Following on from that, it’s always a good idea to get out the house. If you decide to go for a walk or sit somewhere in nature, tune in to your senses and allow creation to speak to you. The Bible tells us that ‘if we didn’t praise, the rocks would cry out’ (Luke 19:40), so we shouldn’t be mistaken that humans are the only ones with something interesting and worthwhile to say. There are a million and one things to tune in to which will capture your attention and curiosity, bringing a bit of interest in to an otherwise lonesome day.
Or, perhaps you decide to sit in a café with a book or to watch the world go by. Being amongst other voices other than the one you have in your head stops you from going a little stir crazy. And when you order your drink, make sure you smile. It sounds so cheesy that it makes me queasy, but without other people to smile at during the day, you might find that you go a whole day without so much as a smirk at a funny meme on Facebook. And there is research to suggest that the simple act of smiling releases endorphins. So, make sure you flash those gnashers, people!
But the important thing is not to fear doing stuff by yourself. I know it can feel embarrassing and like everyone is looking at you thinking ‘sad loner’ but honestly, no one is. Actually, if you own aloneness proudly, people will question it much less.
Dust off your vocal cords
Likelihood is that when you’re on your own, you’re not going to be speaking to anybody. So one thing I like to do to get my vocal cords waggling, aside from talking to myself in the mirror (don’t lie to yourself, you do it too), is to stick on some bangers and have a sing song. It doesn’t have to be in tune, hopefully no one is going to be listening. It’s very unlikely that as you belt out Adele the DPD guy arrives and decides to watch you from the window. That’s never happened to me…
Just like smiling, singing encourages endorphins to get a flowin’, and it also improves your brain function which helps you to think clearer. And it’s alllllways fun to imagine yourself singing at Wembley or on the West End, so it’s a win win really.
Listen to a Podcast
I reeeeeaaaalllly got into podcasts when I was away. I can pop one on whilst I’m cooking, cleaning, on the loo… and just by hearing voices chat away in the background stops it feeling like the walls are sagging from the weight of silence closing in on you. Yeah, silence is golden, but it can also tarnish if it’s been left untouched for too long. So podcasts come in really handy to fill those unwanted silences. And, depending on the podcast, you could learn something new, get inspiration for a project, or perhaps have a good old guffaw that you wouldn’t otherwise have had, that’s assuming that you don’t laugh at your own jokes…
My final tool is to plan the day like any other day. This might not be everybody’s cup of tea, but adding structure to an otherwise structure-less day helps me to feel less despondent and uninspired. And, if I have got work to do or a task that needs completing, it helps me to keep tabs on how much or how little time I spend doing it. Normally in the morning, I’ll exercise, then read my bible and have breakfast before doing whatever is needed to be done that day. Then at dinnertime, I stop studying for the day because that’s when I touch base and spend time with whoever is in my house. So I apply the same structure to a day on my own. That way, I want to get out of bed in the morning and I feel ready to get back into it at the end of the day. So even if it’s planning in when I’m going to get my PJs on and knitting out, it helps to give that day a purpose and stops me from wasting hours watching videos of baby rabbits on Facebook.
So there we have it. A couple of tricks I keep up my sleeve to whip out magician style when I’m tempted to find myself a rainy window to sit by and tearily sing ‘All By Myself’…