One of the things people hear me talk about often is something I call ‘healthy isolation’. Healthy isolation was one of the main practices I implemented into my life when I started my recovery from an attempted suicide. The thing is, telling people that they need to spend time alone when they are suffering with mental health issues seems like a pretty dodgy piece of advice to give right? When someone is in an extremely bad way surely the best option for them is to have people around them who can support them and make sure they don’t become a risk to themselves, right?
Well you’re not wrong there, not at all. This is the disclaimer that I make every time I speak about this topic.
The dictionary of Haleema defines isolation as the following:
Unhealthy isolation: When you are in a negative mental state which is either declining or maintaining at the same level, you are unable to support yourself and you cut yourself off from people who can support you.
Healthy isolation: When you are in a negative mental state but you are ready to start getting better or have already started doing so and you cut yourself off from people in order to protect your space so you can actively work on yourself without having your thoughts disrupted by external opinions.
Let me take you back to the week of 09/07/2018-15/07/2018. This was the week that I spent inside the mental health unit. This is where I was able to release so much emotion that the only thing left inside me was logic. I was finally able to break apart my life piece by piece and figure out where everything had gone wrong and what I realised was that every bad thing that I had experienced happened to me because I didn’t love myself enough to think I deserved better, which meant I either did not try to find better or I just allowed bad things to happen to me because.. why not? That’s all I’ll ever deserve right? That’s what my life is supposed to be like.. right?
That was when the penny dropped. My recovery was never about talking to a therapist about my problems, it was never about fixing my relationships with anyone, it was never about forgiving people or figuring out how I should’ve done things differently, it was about ME. It was about my mind, my lack of self-love, my boundaries, my standards, my beliefs, my habits, my routine, my emotional intelligence. IT WAS ALL ABOUT ME. I WAS THE PROBLEM. The common factor in everything bad I had ever experienced was ME. So that is where the work had to begin.
This was the point where isolating myself had gone from being dangerous to now being the healthiest option, because I had now become aware of the root cause. I was ready to get better and I was now prepared to do what it took. I was ready.
Now what are the benefits of healthy isolation?
Firstly, let me just say that healthy isolation doesn’t always have to be something as drastic as what I did. My case was extreme, I was at the most extreme low and it was either disappear or deteriorate. You might not be anything like I was, or there might just be a few similarities. So instead of me taking you down my personal path and telling you about the things I did, let me just explain some of the benefits of alone time and why it will be good for your mental health for you to take time out to yourself.
- Gaining Clarity: Clearing your mind of external voices, external opinions, etc, gives you the opportunity to become more in touch with your own thoughts and enables you to see the picture clearly (in any situation).
- Creativity boost: Similar to my first point, when you remove external noise and give yourself a chance to be at one with yourself, your brain will get an opportunity to start focusing on other things. Personally, I have found that when I spend time alone, I get inspired by things around me or ideas just pop up out of nowhere which increases my creativity and supports my work as well.
- Less stress: Stating the obvious here really! If you are not yet in the part of your life where you have set your boundaries and you are still surrounded by people who do not align with who you wish to be, then being around them will give you more stress than peace. Once they are not playing a part in your life as active as they were before, your stress levels will drop.
- Boundaries heighten: Following on from point 3, due to spending more time alone and going through the process of learning to love and respect yourself, you begin to raise your boundaries because your level of self-worth is increasing. This will result in the people around you treating you a lot better than they did before and anyone who does not align with your new boundaries will organically leave when they realise you no longer play the part in their life that they need you to.
- Increase in empathy: When you spend less time with people that you are used to, you develop compassion for people who may not be the ‘typical’ type of person you normally spend time with. This comes from seeing the world from a wider perspective. You’ll notice that your level of generosity and overall compassion will increase majorly.
- Productivity increases: Distractions where? Nowhere! The only thing that can distract you is yourself, and as you begin to master the art of solitude, you will be able to manage your thoughts a lot better than before which will result in you being able to stay more focused and more productive. Also, as your self-worth increases you will start to see yourself as more of a priority than you did before, and that will automatically encourage you to become more productive because you know you deserve more than self-procrastination.
- Heightened sense of awareness for deep rooted issues: If you are in the process of recovering from something, having time to yourself enables you to let your mind wander. When your mind wanders you will be amazed at the things that come up. Sometimes it isn’t always something you want to surface, but it is important that you allow it to happen and maybe even write down the things that come up. Like I’ve said many times, the first step to change of any kind is awareness. So, when your thoughts bring up things that have never even crossed your mind before, allow it to happen and try to find the lesson in what you have discovered.
- Increase in independence: Spending more time with yourself means spending less time with other people, so naturally you will have to do more for yourself and that will boost your independence and self-sufficiency. Trust me, it’s a wonderful thing to know you don’t actually need to rely on anyone for anything. It also means that you will look at your relationships more as bonuses in your life rather than necessities which is actually a lot healthier.
- Learning more about yourself: How do you get to know another person? You spend time with them. So how do you get to know about yourself? You spend time with yourself. Hanging out with yourself is a process that starts off very uncomfortable for most people but as time goes on it becomes very liberating as you begin to learn more about who you are. The little things, the big things, every single thing. Then the next time someone says “who are you” you may just be able to answer them without even mentioning your job.
Thuy-vy Nguyen is an assistant professor in the department of psychology at Durham University. She said: “we have some evidence to show that valuing solitude doesn’t really hurt your social life, in fact, it might add to it”, pointing out that because solitude helps us regulate our emotions, it can have a calming effect that prepares us to better engage with others.
In an article she wrote she stated that people often find it hard to be alone because of all the researches stating that humans are social beings and need interaction, and they dismiss the importance of actually having alone time as well.
As you have read above, clearly there are benefits to spending time alone. In fact, what I wrote above doesn’t even touch the surface! Those are just some of the main points that I can explain and take from my own experiences but there are so many other benefits to be gained from having regular moments of solitude.
Of course, all of us have different lifestyles, different responsibilities and commitments etc so not all of us have the same amount of time to be able to give to ourselves, but whatever you can give to yourself will always be better than nothing.
Also don’t forget that you are your number one priority, and if your concern is more about the people in your life then know that you cannot pour into other people if your own cup is empty. Look after yourself first so that you can give more to those around you.
So, give it a try, spend some more time with yourself and see if you can notice the benefits that it has on your life, but don’t focus so much on the destination, just embrace the journey.
Lots of love to you!