How to be alone, but not lonely
Hi, my name is Megan. I graduated with a degree in International Business from Loughborough University in 2018 and subsequently founded Hashtag Me (#Me). #Me aims to equip and empower students to better handle life’s ups and downs and maximise their university experience. We offer a 12-week, student-led course connecting like-minded peers to help students become more self-aware and resilient as they share experiences, learn healthy coping strategies and overcome challenges together. Subomi, one of our Social media and Engagement Leads, and I thought what better time than Mental Health Awareness Week 2022 where the theme is ‘loneliness’ to talk about the negative presumptions around being alone.
Often people can think there is something wrong if you’re alone or choose to do something alone. And they subsequently come up with conclusions that the only probable reason is that you don’t have friends, you’re boring or a ‘loner’. But why does this have to be the case? Being and choosing to be alone should not be perceived as unappealing. Rather it should be about choosing yourself, over anything or anyone else. It’s an opportunity to carve out space or time to find peace and solitude — to reflect, unwind, and maybe even to be creative.
Being alone versus being lonely
In our opinion, being alone isn’t the same as being lonely. Being alone is a physical state where you are by yourself while being lonely is an emotional state of sadness attributed to not having a connection with yourself or others. So, what this means is that you can be alone but not lonely and that you can be lonely even when you’re surrounded by people. They are not the same concepts; one is physical, and the other is emotional.
How to be alone
Before getting into the specifics of how to be alone, it’s crucial to note that being alone doesn’t have to imply loneliness. Yes, there can be instances where you’re alone and feel lonely, but the two don’t always have to go together. So, how does one achieve being alone without feeling lonely?
- Go on a solo date
Although this may seem daunting, taking yourself on a date is a powerful and bold first step in learning how to be alone. Dates are strongly associated with two or more people, so this is your chance to challenge this assumption and practice independence and self-sufficiency.
If dating yourself still sounds scary, then start small. Study alone at a coffee shop, then try grabbing brunch with your favourite book or whilst listening to a podcast. And before you know it, you might even fancy a solo date day out to an art exhibition or to the cinema! The options are endless.
Start with what most appeals to you and seems doable, and once you become comfortable with that, we almost guarantee that being alone won’t seem so daunting.
Still not convinced? Remember that you’ll be able to improve self-awareness and reconnect with yourself as you practise entertaining, nurturing, and dating yourself.
- Take a break from social media
Social media is an easily accessible medium to a world of connections. Online platforms have changed the whole concept of being alone because we are just an Instagram story or tweet away from feeling connected to another person and their experiences. In situations where we’re waiting in line for something or going from A to B, a lot of us almost instantly pick up our phone to pass the time. Relying on social media can easily become a way to avoid being alone with our thoughts or engaging in the moment. It also presents a distraction from facing our own reality.
So, when you’re next tempted to pass the time, we challenge you to avoid going onto social media (and your phone altogether) and instead, take in your surroundings. Another suggestion is to stay offline for a particular time in the day (during your morning or evening routine for example) and if you’re comfortable going further, you could try setting daily limits or avoid social media altogether for a full 24 hours once a week to check in with yourself and be more present. Perhaps even use this time to practice self-care or to focus on a project you’ve started but haven’t gotten around to finishing.
- Find a creative outlet
Being in a creative space or doing something artistic can inspire and motivate, often leading to becoming so engrossed with our work that we lose all sense of time, and space. Finding a creative outlet helps to keep our minds busy and avoids letting the fear that often comes with being alone creep in. The distraction can encourage a state of joy or peace rather than feelings of loneliness.
There are the typical creative activities which first come to mind such as dancing, writing or arts and crafts, but your creative outlet can be anything that has meaning to you and that brings you satisfaction and a sense of achievement – even if it’s cleaning or doing maths!
To tap into your creative side, it’s worth considering what you’re passionate about and which environments you’re naturally drawn to. If you love being surrounded by nature, then perhaps you can spend some time foraging to bring the outdoors in? Or maybe there’s something outside of the box that you’ve always wanted to try? This is your encouragement to give it a go! It’s all about finding something that you can do alone which helps you to focus and express your energy, emotions, and thoughts. Just remember that it’s more about the experience and having the time alone than creating something perfect!
These ideas might not make a drastic difference in your life; however, we hope they will provide a stepping stone to getting comfortable with being alone. The more you incorporate some of these things into your routine, the easier it will get! So, try to see them as starting points in your journey to practising solitude and becoming more independent.
If you are experiencing feelings of loneliness, we have written an article on tackling it which we encourage you to read or share with someone you feel it could help.
Subomi Lawal, Social Media and Engagement Lead, #ME
Megan Gamble, Alumna and Founder of #ME
Health and Wellbeing
Wellbeing means being in a positive physical, social and mental state. Wellbeing is important to us as happy, healthy people who achieve harmony in their work / life mix are more creative, productive and help to create a great place to work.