Society often gets the introvert’s need for solitude wrong. When we talk about introverts spending time alone, we picture them hiding in their bedrooms or trekking through the woods on a solo journey of self-discovery. Of course, there is no substitute for literally closing the door on the noise of the world or spending time in nature, but these aren’t our only options when it comes to creating downtime. In reality, many introverts enjoy solitude while in the middle of a crowd, during a mid-afternoon nap, when commuting to work, or even while spending time quietly with another person with whom they feel comfortable. Solitude might involve indulging in books, the Internet, a computer game, Netflix, music, a creative act, or even an adult coloring book.
No matter how you choose to create downtime, solitude is actually really good for you—whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert. When you make time for solitude, you reap powerful mental and physical benefits:
1. You solve problems more effectively. The unconscious mind needs solitude to process and unravel problems. Getting away from other people clears the mind and helps you focus better. When therapist Ester Buchholz’s patients are faced with a dilemma, such as feeling stuck emotionally or artistically, or just needing to make a decision about something, she gives them advice that seems counterintuitive — spend time alone and don’t focus on the problem head-on. She explains: “Others inspire us, information feeds us, practice improves our performance, but we need quiet time to figure things out, to emerge with new discoveries, to unearth original answers.”
2. You discover yourself. You can’t figure out who you really are as a person if you’re constantly with others. Traveling alone, going to a restaurant by yourself, or doing anything that gives you the opportunity to spend time with your own thoughts instead of being bombarded by other people’s will help you discover your own inner voice. You may be surprised that you make different decisions or take different actions when you’re alone and not with a group. French philosopher Michel de Montaigne wisely expressed, “The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to oneself.”
3. You improve your relationships. Again, this may seem counterintuitive, because spending time alone means you can’t spend time with others. But you know what they say — absence makes the heart grow fonder. According to psychologist Sherrie Bourg Carter, you may come to appreciate your relationships more after you’ve spent time away from them. Plus, if you’re spending time by yourself and gaining a better understanding of who you are and what you want out of life, you’re more likely to make better choices about who you actually want to be around.
4. You recharge your mind and body. As an introvert, downtime is essential to your well-being, but did you know that your brain and body are actually wired for it? The introvert’s physiology is linked to the parasympathetic side of the nervous system, which is nicknamed the “throttle down” or “rest-and-digest” side, explains Dr. Marti Olsen Laney in her book, The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World. When you engage this system, your body conserves energy and withdraws from the outer environment. Muscles relax, energy is stored, and your heart rate and blood pressure slow. The neurotransmitter acetylcholine increases blood flow and alertness in the front of the brain, which focuses you inwardly and makes you feel good as you relax in pensive contemplation. Extroverts, on the other hand, prefer a different side of the nervous system, called the “full-throttle” or “fight, fright, or flight” system, which gears them up for action and quick decision-making.
5. You think deeply. It’s nearly impossible to have nuanced, rich thoughts if you’re always engaging with other people or shuffling from one scheduled activity to the next. The famous deep-thinking poet Rumi once said, “A little while alone in your room will prove more valuable than anything else that could ever be given you.”
6. You increase productivity and improve concentration. When you remove distractions from the day, you’re able to focus better and get more done.
7. You boost your mood. Some studies have shown that adolescents who spend some time alone are less likely to suffer from depression.
8. You think more creatively. The famous artist Pablo Picasso noted, “Without great solitude, no serious work is possible.”
Signs that you’re not getting enough solitude
Many factors influence your health, but as an introvert, not getting enough solitude can take a toll on you both mentally and physically. According to Dr. Laney, if you experience the following symptoms, try creating more alone time:
- Trouble sleeping or eating
- Frequent colds, headaches, back pains, or allergies
- Feeling anxious, agitated, irritable, and “snappish”
- Unable to think, concentrate, or make decisions
- Confused and discombobulated, as if you are dashing from thing to thing in a blur
- Trapped and wondering what is the meaning of life
- Drained, tired, and put-upon
- Disconnected from yourself
“Solitude matters, and for some people, it’s the air they breathe.” Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking
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