Last year, I moved to a very SMALL town just outside of Altoona, PA called Cresson. The neighborhood was kept well, the neighbors were nice, and the sense of community was strong. I had a nice little apartment with cute little windows and enough room for all my stuff.
I hated every moment of it. Why? Because I was super lonely.
Now, I didn’t mind being alone on a regular basis. It afforded me a lot of time to think and decompress from the stressful weeks of cold-calling and trying to get appointments to develop a sales territory that seemed overly hostile towards newcomers.
I made friends at the CrossFit gym….in Johnstown, roughly 40 minutes away… but that didn’t stop me from going (I’m a dedicated freak tbh) or from making friends. One of my closest friends still lives there and he’s trying to get me to do a competition where we would be in the same place.
I still felt lonely, despite all of this, for a few reasons: no family nearby (which was awful when I ended up in a car accident), very rural neighborhood (not my style of living), and I missed interacting with people my age on a regular basis (minus CrossFit). I slipped into a depression very quickly and the guy I dated at the time shipped off to army bootcamp, so I was also in a long-distance relationship as well.
All of these factors contribute to loneliness and it proved difficult to fight off the depression and impending meltdowns.
But what I did learn is that being alone has its value. That move taught me the value of having your own space and your own peace. These two things are really important, especially after living with other people for the first 23 years of my life. I didn’t have to listen to weird noises in the middle of the day or late at night. I didn’t have to wear pants all the time if I didn’t want to. I could keep my mornings quiet and enjoy my coffee, instead of having to talk to someone first thing.
The Difference between Loneliness and Aloneness
The difference here is the mindset through which you view your situation. People who experience chronic loneliness usually have a negative mindset and need external stimulation to feel good about themselves. These are also people that will never leave their hometown or, if they do move, it will be to an area where they know more than one person because they’re afraid of being alone.
Loneliness usually manifests as someone who is overly social, but never takes a break from it. These people could also be serial monogamists, meaning they’ll break up and then 2 weeks later be in another relationship. Or they’re always hanging out with friends, even if those friends aren’t a positive influence in their life, just so they don’t have to be alone.
Some crave attention while others play it cool, but you can uncover it from their conversations, body language, and their social life.
Aloneness is essentially the opposite of loneliness because it is viewed with a positive mindset. Their stimulation comes intrinsically and they’re able to recharge. Embracing alone time is a trait of someone who is confident and independent, recognizing when they need to take a step back and center themselves.
Aloneness manifests itself as someone who is independent and comfortable in their own skin, recognizing their value and what they offer without needing validation from another person. They balance their time alone with their social time and can politely decline an invitation if they’re feeling socially burnt out or lacking the mental energy for socialization. They pick their friends wisely and have other projects that keep them busy, selectively giving their energy away.
Some are very social and need very little alone time and others need extensive amounts of alone time. Let’s also be clear that loneliness and alone time can be experienced by both types of people, but one does occur more often in one type of individual than another. It depends on a number of factors.
How to know when you need alone time
Here are some tips to know when you need some downtime.
You feel rundown, even though you’re not sick, after a weekend of socializing (this EXCLUDES being hungover)
When you’re out with friends all the time, even if you’re not out late, you’re expending a lot of extra energy to be there. There’s the getting ready, meeting your friends, and staying in the present moment when there’s a lot going on around you. It can be mentally exhausting if you’re not checking in with yourself and how you feel.
You can’t make a decision to save your life
There’s some cognitive theories that suggest we have a number of decisions that our brains can handle. When you’ve reached that quota, you have a hard time deciding on anything because you spent your allotted energy on making the decisions for the day. When this happens, you need some downtime to recharge and clear the fog.
You’re irritated with everyone and Everything
When you spend too much time with others, sometimes you’ll get moody, especially if you’ve been around the same person for an extended period of time (significant other, friend, family member, coworker, etc).
How to be Alone without being lonely
Just because you need alone time doesn’t mean that it has to be spent doing nothing. You can spend the time alone doing a number of things. Do the things you want to do. Just be comfortable wherever you are.
Remember how you feel when you run to Starbucks by yourself in the morning? Your purpose is to get coffee. When you’re alone and you go do something by yourself, if it feels nerve-wracking, remember that you’re going to do that thing.
If you’re taking your dog for a walk alone, just remember that you’re walking the dog. Enjoy the walk.
If you’re taking an art class by yourself, remember you’re there to learn something new and paint, an activity you genuinely enjoy. Don’t let being alone stop you.
Your friends don’t wanna go? Whatever, go anyway. You want to do it, right?
If you want to be alone and do nothing, still focus on doing nothing. Who gives a f*ck? It’s your mental reset and you should do with it what you want.
You wanna make your mom’s artisan bread recipe? GET THAT BREAD, BOO BOO.
Your mans too busy to go out to dinner with you tonight? TREAT YO SELF SIS.
Like Nike, JUST DO IT.
Being alone doesn’t have to be lonely. It can be opportunity to love yourself by doing things you enjoy or mentally taking some time off. It’s your time and your ONE life. Do what you need to do. Do what you want to do.
I promise everyone else is so focused on themselves and how dumb they look to you to notice how awkward or dumb you think you look. And honestly, you don’t look dumb or awkward, I swear.
In love and light,