The last two years have been strange, to put it lightly – particularly when it comes to our social interactions.
First, we were thrust into isolation, which meant either being stuck with the same faces for weeks on end, or being alone for an extended period of time like no other.
Slowly things reopened – with various stop and starts – and excitement for Freedom Day left many feeling a mixture of excitement and pressure at the prospect of being sociable again.
But the extreme of going from solitude to a packed out social calendar has disturbed our sense of equilibrium.
And now, many of us are lost when it comes to enjoying our alone time, after over a year of craving company.
Francesca Specter, podcast host and author of Alonement, a book about rethinking and embracing alone time, believes that moderation within our social lives has been amiss for a long while – and this is why some of us feel so out of sorts.
‘The way the easing of lockdown restrictions fell meant that so many things post-Freedom Day and so many social events were compressed into a short period of time, which would would be overwhelming in any circumstance,’ she tells Metro.co.uk.
‘You’d go on Instagram and it was so full of weddings, birthdays, celebrations.
‘People perhaps have lost their confidence in their alone time and feel out of practice in having a positive experience with it. They’re wondering how they get back there and how they ever did it.’
The term she’s coined, alonement, is defined as beneficial and restorative alone time – this is the kind of aloneness we’ve lacked in recent months.
Spending time solo isn’t something we’re conventionally told how to do, Francesca explains, whereas we are with socialising.
‘We’re social beings, we’re community driven, [but with alone time] we’re not taught how to naturally cultivate it, so it’s a harder thing to learn to love,’ she adds.
Jen, a writer in London, tells us this is something she’s struggling to find joy in, given her desire to be around people more after various lockdowns.
‘I rarely felt lonely before the pandemic,’ says Jen.
‘It wasn’t just having plans, scheduled or impromptu, with friends, but there were always people in the city and tons of micro interactions in the office.
‘It seemed back then that people spent more time in the city and engaging in more activities, whereas many now have streamlined their social activities.
‘I think being a bit older, a lot of my friends moved away to have a slower pace of life or raise a family, and this last summer wasn’t as packed as I anticipated when waiting out all those winter months in lockdown.’
Jen went to her home country of the US for a few months to be around people who also craved that level of interaction. Perhaps that shows just how deeply many of us feel a need to avoid spending time without others.
It’s natural that we take a while to ‘bounce back’ to our pre-pandemic selves – including our independence.
But it really is vital that we re-learn how to be alone.
Psychotherapist Caroline Plumer tells us: ‘Without periods of “me” time, it is more than likely we will end up with social or emotional burnout.
‘It’s important to remember that we need downtime to rest and recover so when we are with friends or family, we can be fully present and enjoy the experience.’
Francesca recommends easing ourselves back into time spent solo.
‘The foundational thing is to learn to be a bit more comfortable sitting with your thoughts,’ she explains. ‘There’s no getting around it, when you spend time alone you will be with your thoughts.
‘Due to social media we don’t have to build much of a capacity to do that.
‘Start with a daily meditation or journalling practice for 10 minutes – that effects the structure of your brain so that you’re able to think and become more resilient with your thoughts.’
Then, we’ll need to actively structure alone time into our lives – and reframe it as something to look forward to, not dread.
‘Think about the way you plan quality time with a partner or close friend – it doesn’t just happen,’ Francesca notes. ‘You need to plan ahead.
‘So you can put solitude days in the calendar, for example every Wednesday evening, and then plan the things you want to do in that time.
‘It could be things you’ve missed out on doing due to socialising and that structure around it allows you to anticipate the time, look forward to it, and ultimately reframe it as positive.’
She suggests ensuring these times aren’t always spend watching Netflix (though that’s valid too) as it’s good to think about what you’ve been ‘craving’ and what will ‘nourish’ you.
Just as going out for a fancy meal with a friend is usually more fun than staying in and doing nothing, apply that same logic to some of your solo time. Make it fun. Treat yourself.
It won’t happen overnight, but it’s possible to cultivate more pleasure and comfort in your moments that don’t involve other people.
We just need to find balance again.
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