October 2015

Home Alone: Learn to be content with your own company

Author: Linda S. Hopkins

Some of the loneliest times of my life have been spent with people—at parties where I didn’t fit in, at events that didn’t interest me or in the company of boring dates or individuals with whom I found little or nothing of common interest. On the other hand, some of the most satisfying moments of my life have been spent by myself—learning, creating, thinking, relaxing and indulging.

I owe my ability to entertain myself to a rather solitary childhood. Growing up, I lived in an all-boy neighborhood. While I could put on my best tomboy attitude and hang with my older brother and his friends, what I loved most was escaping to my room with my stuffed animals and dolls. From an early age, I learned to create my own world and could occupy myself for hours on end without the company of anyone but myself and my imagination.

As a young adult, I was outgoing and gregarious. Then and now, no one would describe me as shy or introverted. Nevertheless, I didn’t forget how to be alone—a skill that has carried me through many of life’s darkest moments and most challenging times.

Today, I am married to a man who travels for business. At first, his coming and going was a difficult adjustment. But I have become accustomed, once again, to making my own fun and being my own best friend.

Alone vs. Lonely
For many people, a night home alone is a welcome reprieve: an opportunity to eat cereal for dinner, watch a favorite program without interruption, skip shaving or apply a mud mask, go to bed earlier or later than usual—in other words, to do as they damn well please. For others, being home alone can range from mildly uncomfortable to terrifying. Wherever you fall on that spectrum, you are likely to survive the night.

But what happens when a night alone becomes many nights or every night? What happens when being alone extends for days, weeks, months or even years? Whether you are single, divorced, widowed, an empty nester or a voluntary recluse, only when spending time alone leads to loneliness does it become a problem.
Loneliness is a sad state of mind and a cry for connection. Aloneness is merely a state of being, which is neither happy nor sad but what you make of it. To reap the rewards of solitude, you must be content with your own company.

TIPS FOR BEING ALONE, NOT LONELY
• Build your sanctuary. Rooms can take on a different feeling when you’re home alone. Figure out where you most enjoy spending time and make that area inviting: think décor, lighting, comfortable seating, music and other amusements. Use the time and space to look inward, to think out loud and to actually consider who you are and what you believe.

• Rediscover fun. When asked the question, “What do you do for fun?” many adults draw a blank. Spending time alone can help fill in that blank. Revisit childhood or remember what brought you joy when you were younger and less laden with responsibility. Chances are, if you once enjoyed coloring, you will love the new adult coloring books that are the current rage. If you liked building things, make a trip to the hardware store and get some supplies for an interesting home project. Think about ways you can incorporate more play time into your social calendar, as well, by getting involved in team sports or joining a card or game group. Having something fun to look forward to can ease the monotony of those hours spent alone.

• Banish boredom. Assemble a personalized entertainment kit. Fill it with potentially engaging activities such as books, magazines, crossword puzzles, Sudoku, your journal, manicure tools, etc. Make it portable—something you can pick up and take to your comfort zone. The potential health bonus is keeping your mind and hands busy so that you are less likely to eat or drink mindlessly in front of the television.

• Learn a new skill. Expand your mind and discover your strengths and talents by learning how to do something new. Whether it’s cake decorating, photography, flower arranging, playing a musical instrument, restoring furniture or figuring out how to use your computer, give yourself permission to be a beginner. Sign up for classes or private lessons and use your alone time to practice your new craft.

• Create something. Dismiss poor pitiful me by tapping into your creative side. Experiment with new recipes; write a story, poem or song; start your own blog or home-based business; draw, paint, knit or sew; assemble model cars or ships; invent a product that solves a common problem… The options are endless.

• Reduce media consumption. Watching television, playing electronic games and surfing the net can be useful diversions in moderation; but numbing out in front of a screen day in and day out is not likely to bring lasting joy. While keeping abreast of world events may be important to you, 24/7 news can lead to a negative attitude and blue mood. Limit your news consumption to a few articles and one or two newscasts per day. For alternatives, go back to your creative endeavors.

• Get physical. It’s a proven fact that physical activity improves the mood. For an endorphin boost and a natural high, take a walk or bike ride around the neighborhood, go on a cleaning frenzy, or put on some music and dance your way to bliss. It’s virtually impossible to feel sad or lonely while bustin’ a move or playing air guitar. You really can have a ball all by yourself.

• Commune with nature. Feeling boxed in or isolated? Not in the mood to dance? Step outside and spend some quiet time with nature. Observe animals and insects. Notice trees, flowers, cloud formations and stars. Listen for bird calls, barking dogs, chirping crickets, croaking frogs and the rustling of leaves in the wind.
Take comfort in the surrounding beauty and the reassurance that the universe is alive and you are not alone.

• Connect with a pet. If it’s comfort and companionship you need (along with a dose of unconditional love), consider getting a pet. Spending quality time with a dog, cat or other animal can have a positive impact on your mood and health. Whether it’s a poodle, parakeet or goldfish, be sure to select a pet that fits your needs and lifestyle—one that you can provide for physically, financially and emotionally.

• Fall in love. The best way to get to know yourself is to spend time alone. Home is a good place to practice caring for yourself: eating well, exercising, relaxing, and getting a good night’s sleep. If you’re beginning to feel like a hermit, try dating yourself! Invite yourself to a restaurant or a movie; go for a walk in the park; buy yourself flowers or an ice cream cone. Whatever you might enjoy with someone you care for is a fine plan for treating yourself…and you may just fall in love with your date.

• Reach out. If aloneness is beginning to feel more like loneliness, it’s time to reach out. Beware of spending too much time with “your pal Jack Daniels and his partner Jimmy Beam.” Drinking alone almost always makes us feel sad and more alone. Make a phone call, interact on social media sites, volunteer to teach someone else a skill that you have mastered, or do something for someone in need. Getting out of your own head and into someone else’s shoes is an effective way to feel useful and productive while warding off loneliness and learning to appreciate your unique value.

Don’t be afraid to be alone. Cultivate your interests. Create something. Connect with your own thoughts, and find activities that are satisfying both intellectually and emotionally. Use the time to discover what you like, to embrace what makes you happy and to cultivate an authentic friendship with yourself. 

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