Afraid to be alone with your thoughts? Try Self-care.
Self care is nourishing when you can organize and plan for it to be a positive experience.
Observe what obstacles are in your way
I know a few people, however, who, if given a choice, wouldn't choose the alone time that they crave so much. Why is that? A therapist friend, Eve Brownstone of Brownstone Therapeutics, commented that there are many of us who don’t give ourselves “permission nor the time to put ourselves first.”This post is for those individuals who say they are too busy for self-care. If you are someone who suffers from depression or anxiety, however, this post will not necessarily apply to the challenges you experience. I plan to write a post in the future to discuss how I've helped my clients who have depression organize. I know there is so much more involved than simply making time for yourself.
So whether you avoid self-care because you don’t feel you need it, or, you are a busy mom, a busy student, or an overworked business owner, you can approach your self-care routine however you want, but I hope you get a nudge to start or plan for a new self-care routine. If you need help with some ideas, I created a PDF checklist with a few prompts to get you started.When I bring up the topic of self-care, I am not only referring to our external bodies that we care for, like a massage or a haircut, which are two examples of outward forms of self-care, but I am also referring to the kind of inner peace and calm that can only come from self-reflection and alone time.
What happens when you seek quiet?
A great part of self-care is allowing yourself to be in a state of relaxation and quiet, but some of us can’t sit in that kind of quiet for too long before the chatter in our minds starts and our overthinking tips the scales into anxiety and uncomfortable feelings.
While compiling a list of self-care ideas, it occurred to me that some people, including myself, may not enjoy being alone for extended periods of time. When we’re left alone to think, we tend to craft solutions to our problems and over-think. Instead, we would seek out people, conversations, or activities to occupy or entertain ourselves.
I never gave much thought to self-care as a young adult. I enjoyed the occasional bubble bath when I had muscle tension, or I’d light up a candle in my room for the calming effect it gave me. But for the most part, wherever I was, I’d usually be surrounded by people.
I loved spending a spa day with family or friends as a social activity. Or I’d attend a yoga class with a group. I read a book in a cafe or in the library. Nonetheless, I was always surrounded by people. I had no idea how much time I spent with other people until a roommate in college pointed out the disparity in our own behaviors. She liked being alone to do things, to think, and to be creative. She didn’t have people constantly around her.
Her observation of me was that I preferred to be around people most of the time. I enjoy sharing creative activities or conversations with friends. But being alone was never a priority. I appreciated that observation and took it to heart. I became more aware of how I felt and observed my thoughts when I was alone. I made a conscious effort to learn more about what guided my choices.
I am, generally, an optimistic person with a positive outlook. However, one thing I know about myself is that I tend to overthink. While I am not one to think negatively, my thoughts could sometimes take a turn into "what ifs” and other fantastical scenarios that serve no purpose. When I reach this level of thought, anxiety rises and my mood shifts.
What I discovered was that by giving oneself this kind of time alone to energize, it gives you the kind of rejuvenation you need to take back control of your day and lean into the challenges you face on a daily basis.
Don’t let fear stop you
I recently read an article from Richard Sim of the Washington Post, and it made me think more about self-care and how some may be afraid to be alone with their thoughts.
Being in solitude and alone with your thoughts can be uncomfortable and scary sometimes, but if you sit in a safe place and guide your thoughts toward positive outcomes, then, no matter what emotions arise, you can let your imagination go. This is easier to do while sitting in nature. Weather permitting, try to spend more time outdoors. There is no other goal but to spend time alone to quiet your mind, just be, and observe.
In the "Brain Matters" section of the Washington Post, Sim wrote, “How to be alone with your thoughts" and discovered that “thinking for pleasure can have many benefits, such as helping us tolerate uncomfortable situations and making us feel calm and peaceful."
In the article, he follows researchers and their studies. Thuy-vy Nguyen, a social psychologist researching solitude at the University of Durham states, “I think the key benefit of solitude is through dampening arousal and allowing us opportunities for rest and relaxation,”
In Sim’s article, he concludes by saying, “Pleasurable thoughts are not inherently meaningful, and meaningful thoughts are not inherently enjoyable." "Selecting topics that are both can help improve the experience of those thoughts, which may make the task of being alone with your thoughts easier in the future."
Once I noticed how often I filled my days with people and kept myself busy, I started to choose opportunities to enjoy quiet times, to be creative, to read, to bake, and to just be me. I learned to enjoy my own company for hours. Now that I am older and "wiser,” I enjoy those quiet times even more.
Self care for your mind, body and soul
Some people may equate being alone with being lonely. I learned, however, that being alone and working through one’s thoughts and emotions in solitude is self-care and can really bring positive results.
If you want the benefits of self-care but being alone doesn’t come easy to you, start out with small steps. Write down the things you already enjoy doing. Look at what makes you happy. If you're unsure, "try things on for size." Activate all your senses. Make a list and group them into categories. I created a list to spark ideas that can nourish the mind, body, and soul. Print the list out and use this free worksheet to help you get started.
By practicing a little discipline and not allowing negative thoughts to creep into your mind, or at least letting go of those negative thoughts just as quickly as you let them come up, you can really benefit from a mind, body, and soul connection.
The monthly tracking checklist attached to this post may help you be aware of how you spend your time. The checklist is a self-guided tracking worksheet for your self-care routine and can help you see where you flourish as well as where you can pay more attention to those parts of you that may feel neglected.
The key to a positive experience is to curate one’s own self-care routine. Setting up and planning the who, what, when, and where will give you a better chance of raising one's self-esteem and demonstrating love for oneself. As a result, you'll feel more fulfilled and organized, live more in the present, and be able to be there for others wholeheartedly.