Firestarter Friday: Solitude

I love cooking with a kid, but cooking alone can be wonderfully calming.

I love cooking with a kid, but cooking alone can be wonderfully calming.

…and I’m relaxed again. I was a bit stressed for sure the past week, but it was the good kind of stress. You know, the kind where you are waiting for things to come together because you know something good will come of it. This morning was the bake sale for Montana No Kid Hungry, and despite less-than-stellar weather, it went pretty well. We raised just over $200, so I am beyond thrilled. And now that it is over and my biscotti is in the process of being eaten, I can share with you my firestarter post.

So, solitude. It seems to get a bit of a bad reputation. So many people are in a constant state of joining clubs and running off to lunch with friends, then back home to families until the end of the day. Connections are wonderful and a much-needed part of life. Science has proven over and over again how meaningful friendships and family connections are essential to general well-being as they are a powerful weapon against depressed mental states. So generally speaking, everyone needs to get out and socialize. But in a society where we are constantly driven in one way or another, it’s really easy to forget to spend quality time alone.

Every part of life needs to be balanced, and time with others versus time alone is no exception. When you have quiet time without the need for interaction, you can learn so much about yourself. Time alone lets you think about your goals and refocus on them. You can take stock of what is going on in your life and take time to figure out rational actions for problems that are going on in your life. The good thing is any block of time large or small can make a difference. These little pockets of time all add up and leave you feeling recharged and ready to get back into your creative endeavors. So today I wanted to share a few things I do with my alone time and some goals I like to keep in mind.

Lunch alone is fine. Seriously, just fine. Even fun. For the seven years I worked downtown, I went to lunch alone waaaaay more often than with others. The reason was simple: a full day of being in a crowded busy office meant I didn’t want to have conversations at lunch. I wanted to eat and think and draw and make lists. It was wonderfully calming, and I do miss it a bit. So many of my friends lament how awful it is to have to eat alone. How embarrassing, how sad. I completely disagree. Sitting alone in a booth, you can look around and be alone with your thoughts. You don’t have to get a good conversation going only to have it interrupted by a friend checking their phone constantly. So often when I would leave the restaurant, I would feel relaxed and happy. As an added bonus, I often used that time to catch up on writing and working out things I had to get done for the week. Even if you are scared or nervous, try eating alone every once in a while. Bring a pen and notepad for lists and doodles. And don’t feel bad if all you order is onion rings for lunch. No one is there to judge you.

Meditation…it’s not just for hippies. I probably don’t need to do a detailed rehash of everything that has been said about the benefits of meditation. For body, your brain, your soul, they all get a boost. So I will just tell you what I know from my own life. When it comes to stress, I internalize it a lot. I am quite vocal, but that is usually only when I am moderately upset or worried. When my stress levels are at their highest, I clam up and power through on my own. I don’t think it’s always a bad thing, but it has the potential to cause larger problems. I really dislike talking with anyone about serious touchy-feely stuff (that’s a whole other story) so to offset the stress, I meditate. The more I have worked meditation into my daily routine, the happier and less stressed I feel. I am also better at letting things go. The best part is, it’s free. All is costs is time. You can spend hundreds on special chairs, fountains, essential oils and all sorts of stuff. But you don’t need it. You just need yourself and some free time.

Talking to yourself. I have been busted doing this so many times. I used to mutter instructions to myself and little reminders at my desk constantly, and my desk mate and I always had a good laugh about it. A little comment or trailing though uttered out loud is fine. How often have you thought something, but when you said it out loud it sounded totally different? That’s why verbalizing what’s on your mind can be a really good exercise. Now you probably don’t want to wander the streets in town having entire out loud conversations with yourself…unless that works for you. But find some time and space where you can talk out loud without fear of others overhearing. Talk about a frustrating family issue or a painting you are stuck on. Think of it as the verbal form of free-writing and let your words flow. They don’t have to make sense or come to some logical conclusion, just getting them off your chest will feel wonderful.

Treat yourself. From small to large, enjoying the things you love isn’t an indulgence, it’s part of life. Go on a short walk, brew yourself a big mug of tea, buy a new set of markers for drawing with. There are so many little things that add up to really big boosts to your mood.

Shutting out sound. Feedback from someone you trust can be a really good thing. But sometimes you need feedback from yourself. When we are facing problems large and small, we tend to overload on information. You ask your parents, your best friend, your co-workers for advice. You read articles online and in magazines. Information is dug up from every possible source, but it’s really easy to forget all about asking yourself. Quite a few problems have multiple solutions, and you need to find the one that best suits you. When you shut out the furor of what everyone else thinks, you are better equipped to properly deal with anything on your plate.

Set your alarm a bit early. Or if you in a family of early birds, stay up a bit late. I don’t get to do this one as much right now. With a nursing baby, I am up early whether I like it or not, and I don’t want to get up any earlier and lose out on precious sleep. But with a warm, quiet baby on my lap, I can actually (kind of) count that time as alone time. Time to think, to plan, to regroup. If setting aside that tiny part of your day is something you can manage to do, give it a try. The benefits may be huge.

Okay, in a nutshell: spend some time alone! You will reap such wonderful rewards, there will be no looking back.

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