Peace Out to Peace In: How to be alone without feeling lonely

Contributed by: Marina Yoshimura

*Although I am neither a medical expert nor a scientist, experiencing mental health issues has allowed me to navigate stress and learn much about living life to the fullest. Below are some of my lessons. P.S. If you’re not one to take unsolicited advice, please don’t take my advice below. 🙂

“If the talk began to wander, or cross the border into familiarity, I would soon find reason to excuse myself. I had grown too comfortable in my solitude, the safest place I knew.” — Barack Obama, Dreams From My Father.

Taking care of our mental health is important, period. It’s especially important during and after a crisis. Although many countries have lifted their lockdowns and re-opened their economies, our lives will not be the same post-coronavirus. Abnormality will be the new norm.

The transitions have made connecting with people all the more meaningful. Whether it’s having a late-night call on Zoom, sending a quick text or commenting on our friends’ Instagram posts, we connect with others differently. But sometimes, we need to disconnect too. How we disconnect and give us “me” time—time to be alone with ourselves—can help or hurt our mental health and others’. Below are some ways that have allowed me to embrace solitude.

1. Exercise. A yoga mat and space can do wonders. Working out is one of the most effective and empowering ways to de-stress. Getting and staying in shape (and I don’t mean weight) can help us feel refreshed, confident and prepared to face whatever comes our way. For people ages 18-64, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends “at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity throughout the week, or do at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity throughout the week, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity.” Although a crisis can make it harder to schedule exercise, our discipline becomes all the more rewarding because of the challenges and the fact that it can benefit both our mental and physical health. Worth the investment!

2. Meditate. Looking within can open new doors. “Peacing out”—disconnecting, decluttering, and reflecting—can help us “peace in.” Meditation can help us create a safe space within ourselves. All that clamoring, clutter and uncertainty during the chaos wane and fade as they give way to clarity, gratitude and confidence. Doing yoga or simply sitting with our eyes closed and our legs crossed, we can channel fear into calm if we so choose. Let ourselves be.

3. Address and navigate toxicity honestly. Although positivity may be overrated, according to psychologist Gabriele Oettingen, getting rid of our mental junk is key. If we want to live a life of and with positivity, then navigating—and eventually eliminating—toxicity is one way to do it. Life will unlikely be linear, which is okay. Sometimes, we’ll regress. Sometimes, we’ll fail and fall. Sometimes, our flaws will be exposed. We may accumulate feelings of shame, jealousy, anger, resentment, and guilt along the way. But acknowledging the feelings (feel those feelings!) and knowing how to manage them can help us become more resilient and positive in the long-term because we more honestly identify the problems. For example, I learned that I can take criticism but not shame. Constructive criticism, for example, focuses on the action; shame focuses on the person. Sort out what kind of toxicity we have in our lives, and our mental detox will come more easily and be more sustainable.

Understanding the sunk cost fallacy, the concept that one continues to invest in something because one has already invested much in it—is necessary too. Investing in something simply because of what could have been or what could be is a waste of time. Facing this truth can be tough. While circumstances and context matter, addressing the toxicity instead of suppressing it will often lead to a silver lining. Navigating toxicity can also help us become the energy we want in our lives. Positivity is not perfection. Positivity is progress and a process.

4. Kintsugi is another way to get in touch with ourselves. It’s a Japanese tradition of repairing broken ceramics by painting golden lacquer over the broken parts. Instead of buying new ceramics, this craft encourages us to make something broken more beautiful than it was before; that’s how our wounds work too. Instead of giving up and feeling broken, believe that there’s something better in store; we can repair the cracks.

5. Reflect. Reflection is an opportunity for redirection, as long as it does not become rumination. Understanding what works and doesn’t work for us can help us understand what we need and want in life. Find your ikigai—a purpose for living. Whether it’s habits, thoughts, my lifestyle, and anything that I allow into my life, reflection gave me the chance to redirect. Journaling is one way to reflect. By focusing on what’s real—instead of what’s ideal—we can make the most of the moment because we’re grounded. Reassessing our habits and acquiring new habits, while also celebrating how far we’ve come, are some of the ways in which we can embrace our solitude.

6. Read. Reading can help us forget and forgive. It can also help us understand where our hearts truly beat. What do we find interesting? What are our fears? Where, when and how do we connect with the protagonist? Below are my recommendations:

    1. Insight by Tara Eurich
    2. When Breath Becomes Air by Dr. Paul Kalanithi
    3. Design Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans
    4. Factfulness by Hans Rosling
    5. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
    6. 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari

7. Journal. Writing to and for myself—and sometimes to others—has been immensely gratifying. Write yourself letters. Communication starts with yourself! As for writing to others, understanding that we have shared joys, vulnerabilities, and concerns and—especially during the coronavirus outbreak—is reassuring and can be uplifting. And if writing leaves us with gratitude, it’s a win!

Solitude has benefits. Self-companionship is a gift. Exercising, meditating, journaling, reflecting, embracing cultural traditions that help us get in touch with ourselves are some of the ways to embrace time alone. Occasionally detoxing from the world—the (excessive) interconnectedness—is essential to keep our sanity and health; it’s how we can keep the world at arm’s length. Having a vibrant social life can be fun and healthy, and I am not advocating for emotional detachment or isolation. However, the more we take care of ourselves, the more we can take care of others. So, let’s be our own best friends. Prioritize “me time” to make the most of “we time.”