Did you know that more time-saving gadgets have been invented in the last 20 years than in the past two centuries? And yet, humanity has never felt as stressed and overwhelmed as it does today.
Among the drivers of stress today are these time-saving gadgets themselves— particularly our smartphones that keep us connected day and night. While there is nothing wrong with staying in contact with the people around us, the mental burden of constantly having so many other people’s voices in our heads can have a real negative impact on our well-being.
This is also why unplugging and delving into solitude once in a while does sound like a radical solution. However, only a few people are actually doing it. “Our fear of solitude is really fear of boredom,” explains Aytekin Tank, innovation author and CEO of JotForm. He says that it is natural for today’s generation to want to feel constantly entertained. “Introspection intimidates us,” he adds.
But one doesn’t necessarily need to go to the mountains or distance themselves from other people to experience solitude. Anyone can start reconnecting with their inner voice regardless of where they are. (Read: Five ways to do soul-searching while in quarantine)
Read on as we name four instances when you can heal your worries with the power of solitude.
1. When alone, reconnect with your inner thoughts.
The practice of solitude begins with small steps. You can start reconnecting with your inner thoughts during your alone moments—while you are waiting in line, while you are on your daily commute, or even while you are eating your meal. (Read: Meet the Filipino Who Overcame COVID-19 Alone in New York)
How to do it: Turn off (or set aside) your phone and be in the present moment. Notice the sounds in your environment, the people in it, the object you’re sitting on, the floor beneath your feet. The goal of this exercise is to help you to be truly where you are— not five hours into the future thinking about your meeting, or two days in the past regretting something you said. Just being where you are now— and staying there for at least five minutes— will slowly help you get used to the “discomfort” of being by yourself.
2. When overwhelmed, focus on what matters most.
Studies have found that overwhelming moments have a tendency to increase our blood pressure. When this happens, blood flow and brain activity divert into the emotional side of our brain, making us even more ineffective at accessing the logical part of our minds. (Read: 5 Easy Ways to ‘Be There’ For A Loved One With Depression)
This makes deliberate moments of solitude even more important. “When you surround yourself with moments of solitude and stillness, you become intimately familiar with your environment,” says writer and life coach Zat Rana. “You start to see things for what they really are… and you learn that there are other things you are capable of paying attention to, and not just what makes the most noise on the surface.”
How to do it: Begin with the steps outlined in number 1. Then, do five seconds of prolonged inhale then hold your breath for another five seconds. Release the same breath in a prolonged exhale, again for five seconds. Do this breathing set for five rounds.
While this exercise might seem simple, it has been proven time and again that our breath is the “switch” that resets our physiology. When we “flip it,” it immediately allows us to go from overwhelmed to calm.
3. When stressed, think of what makes you happy.
Studies have found that no human being can feel both stressed and grateful at the same time. Gratitude is actually a turn-key emotion that one can deliberately create. In turn, it automatically creates other positive feelings like contentment, peace, happiness, and joy. “We’re always told happiness comes from within,” observes Aytekin Tank. “And yet, we’re never taught how to be alone with ourselves.” (Read: 2 Simple Ways to Remain Grateful Despite the Chaos)
How to do it: Begin with the steps outlined in numbers 1 and 2. Then, write down at least five things you are grateful for from the past 24 hours. (If you happen to think of more than five, then go for it!) When you’re done, take a look at what you wrote. Try to hold on to the feeling of gratitude for as long as you can throughout the day and see how lighter you will feel.
4. When tired, take a moment to stay still.
During their training, pilots are reminded over and over again of this important guideline: If you suddenly find your plane upside down and you don’t know what to do next, do not do anything. The same advice could be applied to different upheavals of life: The first thing to do is to always stay still. (Read: 3 Ways to Take Care of Your Mental Health While in Quarantine)
How to do it: Stretch your practice of solitude by connecting it with the wisdom it naturally brings. Begin with the steps outlined in numbers 1 and 2. Then, using a journal to capture your thoughts, ask yourself these three questions:
1. What is the issue that’s been bothering me?
2. What keeps me from resolving this issue?
3. What options, insights, or solutions can I come up with to address these barriers?
The things you write down do not need to be brilliant or unique. They just need to come from you—after you have stayed long enough in stillness and solitude. The last step, of course, is to review the ideas you’ve captured, and immediately put into action the one that is most doable.