As the news, advertisements, and your mother have been reminding you over these past few weeks, these are unprecedented times we’re living in. Life has all been put on pause as the nation (and the world) continues to grapple with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
However, when it comes to social distancing and self-quarantining efforts, many of us are starting to feel the lines between work, personal, and family time beginning to blur. This can lead to stress, frustration, and a sense of having no time to one’s self.
Thankfully, there are ways to create dedicated and productive alone time so that you can reconnect with yourself and find some calm, even when the world around you feels like anything but.
Understanding the Value of Alone Time
Alone time is too often perceived as a selfish or even scary thing to do, but the fact of the matter is, it’s crucial to one’s overall emotional and mental wellbeing. As psychologist Caleb Dodson, MA, MA, LMHC, puts it, “We need to be able to be with ourselves. It’s from us that we live life, we’re the captains of our own ship, not others.”
The benefits to alone time can manifest in positive ways such as stress relief, introspection and relaxation, among others. Alone time allows one to recharge their batteries, so to speak, and improve productivity, which is especially valuable during this new societal structure we find ourselves in.
Licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Rebecca B. Skolnick, Ph.D points out that, “If you are spending a great deal of time caring for or focusing on other people during this time, alone time is an opportunity to practice self-care.”
“Having the time and space to do things for yourself can help prevent burn out and create a buffer to help you manage the stressors and demands of this time,” Dr. Skolnick says, adding, “Otherwise, you may feel completely depleted and unable to care for yourself or others. We are better able to manage our emotions, work, and care for others when we take care of ourselves.”
If you’re wondering what to do by yourself or you simply need to learn to be alone, here are nine helpful ways to have productive and dedicated alone time during quarantine.
Designate Space for Your Alone Time
For people with children, spouses, and/or pets, having space to yourself for alone time can sometimes feel like an impossible task.
However, you can make your alone time a team effort. “I recommend trying to coordinate with a partner if possible or working around your child’s schedule,” Dr. Skolnick says.
For example, you can use your child’s naptime or homework time as an opportunity for your alone time. Dr. Skolnick suggests, “If needed, you can put a sign on your door that says ‘do not disturb’ and explain to others in your house/apartment that when this sign is up, you are taking some time for yourself and do not want to be interrupted unless there is an emergency.”
If the household doesn’t work for you and you have a car, you can go for a drive for some space and alone time. If you do this, Dr. Skolnick recommends listening to music mindfully in the car, or simply enjoy the change of scenery.
“If it is really impossible to block off an extended amount of time/space for yourself, the bathroom can be a great place to take a few deep breaths or check-in with yourself,” Dr. Skolnick says, adding, “Try taking a mindful shower or bath. You can also brush your teeth or wash your face mindfully. Try to pick something that you already do alone, even if brief, and make it an opportunity to be fully present in the moment with that activity.”
Whether it’s your home office or your car or even the bathroom, what’s important is you’re carving out alone time just for you. As Dr. Dodson puts it, “We all need space to grow.”
Put It on Your Calendar
It may seem silly to write down something like, “Go for a drive and listen to your favorite podcast at noon,” but it’s actually quite helpful when it comes to making alone time a priority. You can also set a reminder on your phone with an alarm telling you it’s time to do some yoga or read that latest article you’ve been meaning to get to. Whatever helps you take those moments in your day reserved just for you, this makes sure you stick with it and get the time you deserve.
Communicate Your Desire for You Time
As mentioned, it can sometimes be a group effort to ensure you get your dedicated alone time. To do this, Dr. Dodson says, you’ve got to be as direct as possible with the people in your life.
“You can explain in advance that in order to take care of ourselves, we can all benefit from taking some time alone,” Dr. Skolnick notes, adding, “You can explain that taking some time for yourself will help you be the best partner/roommate/parent/friend that you can be”
If you feel comfortable, Dr. Skolnick says you can even tell them what you plan to do during the alone time and how to give each other alone time.
“It is helpful to provide an estimate of how long you will need to be alone so that others around you can plan accordingly and you don’t have to worry about getting interrupted unless there is an emergency,” Dr. Skolnick says. “It may also be helpful to define what entails an ‘emergency’ that warrants interruption so everyone is on the same page.”
Reallocate Your Tasks
If you’re finding that you still have too many conflicts arising when it comes to scheduling your alone time, it may be worthwhile to reassess or reallocate tasks. If you have too much on your plate (including, seemingly, washing dishes for the thousandth time), you can decide which workloads and responsibilities can be dismissed, shared, or simply put off for another time. “If the point of alone time is to take a break from responsibilities and demands, then it might be helpful to determine an alternative time to complete those tasks,” Dr. Skolnick says.
However, as Dr. Dodson points out, this can also depend on what you want alone time to be. “When people have an idea of what they like or like to do and know their sense of worth, this time can be quite productive.”
So, if you want your alone time to be catching up on previous tasks or chores that give you a sense of calm or purpose, you can move those to the forefront during your alone time. It’s all about using your time the way you want it.
Turn Off Your Phone
Dr. Dodson says that many of us use our phones to cope and fill space, “which is totally human, especially now.” But, while some of us use our phones to try to meaningfully engage, Dr. Dodson points out that cell phones can actually increase feelings of loneliness, which is the antithesis of meaningful alone time. Alone time can be free of stress-inducers often found on our phones, such as social media or emails.
Of course, unplugging entirely from our phones isn’t an option for everyone. When it comes to turning off your phone for alone time, Dr. Skolnick says to consider if you think there is a chance you will need to be contacted for an emergency situation, if you are someone who is constantly checking their phone, or if you simply want to use your phone during your alone time.
While there’s no right or wrong with how you feel about having your phone on you during alone time, if you are seeking some peace and quiet, Dr. Skolnick suggests silencing your phone. You can also set it to ring only for certain people.
“If you are able to put your phone in another room, then it might be helpful to do so for a specific period of time (e.g., 20 minutes) so you can get a break from screens and interruptions. If you would like to listen to music on your phone, you can download some and put the phone on airplane mode so you do not get interrupted,” Dr. Skolnick says.
Learn to Be Alone By Starting Small
For some, dedicating alone time can feel like an overwhelming task. One big reason for this, Dr. Skolnick explains, is that some people are simply not used to being alone.
The best way to adjust to alone time is to practice and start small. Dr. Skolnick suggests beginning with short increments of time, such as two minutes or five minutes, and try doing something that you like.
“For example, you can listen to a song you like, put on lotion, read or anything else that you desire to do.”
Make a List of the Benefits of Alone Time
Like creating a calendar of your alone time, making a list can feel silly, but it’s actually quite beneficial. Because just your schedule, your list is going to help you get the most out of your alone time.
When making your list, Dr. Skolnick says you should think about your goals for alone time, whether it’s to feel relaxed, energized, intellectually stimulated, etc. Then, she says, you can “pick those activities that are in line with your goals and consider how long you might want to spend in alone time.”
Don’t Mistake Solitude for Loneliness
Alone time can feel strange or even unnatural to some, but it’s important to remember that this dedicated time isn’t loneliness.
As Dr. Skolnick explains, “Loneliness is an emotion that anyone can feel at any time, whether they are physically alone or not. People often feel lonely when they are not with anyone, however, it is possible to feel lonely even when someone else is present.”
“In actively choosing to take some alone time, you can plan something to do that is soothing, enjoyable, or relaxing,” Dr. Skolnick says, adding, “This will evoke positive emotions and help you reconnect with yourself.
If you do start to feel lonely during your alone time, that’s OK, too, Dr. Skolnick assures. “Just try to think about the goal of your alone time and plan what you are going to do so you are more likely to get the most out of it.”
Make a Plan For Your Alone Time
Your personal plan comes down, ultimately, to what your definition of alone time is, Dr. Dodson says. For some, it will be an outlet for creativity, for others, it can be simple moments of reflection while drinking a cup of tea.
Alone time can also be a time to try something new, Dr. Skolnick says, or simply to practice being mindfully in the moment rather than worrying about the unknown future, especially during these uncertain times.
Whatever your plan for alone time is, you can and should stick to it, even after quarantine comes to an end in the coming months.