Our culture is constantly encouraging contact - a packed social life, a busy work life, joining clubs and groups for your résumé... It seems like being extremely busy has become aspirational, something that's applauded rather than looked at with skepticism. But there are some things about this mindset that can be harmful.
When you're so overcommitted you hardly have time to get enough sleep (which is also super-important for your health), you rarely get to spend any time alone. We mean, like, really alone - without checking your email, without being on an instant messaging system, and without sharing everything on social media.
With all the focus on prioritizing busy-ness and achievement, the similarly important benefits to spending time alone get thrown to the wayside. While too much solitude can make you go crazy, too little solitude may actually do the same.
There's a reason great authors and artists have dedicated days - sometimes months - of their lives to complete solitude. Mozart, Kafka, Picasso. All these wildly different artists had one thing in common: They made a point to spend time working on their projects alone. They were probably on to something. Here are some unexpected, but very real, benefits of spending time alone.
It increases empathy
Some therapists theorize that alone time is actually crucial for understanding the emotions of others. Spending all your time in group settings might limit your capacity to see things outside the perspective adopted by your particular group. Studies suggest the same. A 2014 study of children showed that time spent separated from communication devices helped them better read facial expressions and interpret emotion.
It boosts your intelligence
This, of course, depends in part on how you spend your alone time. But chances are, if you're spending a large stretch of time by yourself, you're going to get a little reading done or practice one of your hobbies. Reading has a huge number of mental benefits, including staving off Alzheimer's. And getting enough sleep (which is also more likely if you're not making plans six nights a week) can also do a lot of good to prevent brain degeneration.
It could improve your social life
Extrovert or introvert, it doesn't matter - you're a better person to be around when you're able to spend some time alone. Being inundated with social situations can be draining. A little solitude goes a long way toward giving you time to reflect and regroup until your next social outing.
It increases overall energy levels
The most effective way to rest? According to one huge study called The Rest Test, it's (surprise, surprise) resting. Alone time is kind of necessary to truly rest your body and mind - and the more rest you get, the more energy you have later. This time doesn't have to be spent sleeping. You can rejuvenate your mind by doing some other form of self-care, such as meditation or stretching.
It boosts productivity
Working from home might actually be a good idea if you want to get more stuff done. Workplace studies show that people who spend time surrounded by other people accomplish fewer tasks throughout the day. As much as you might enjoy being surrounded by co-workers, sometimes your productivity can benefit from a little solitude instead.
It sparks creativity
"Without great solitude, no serious work is possible." Do you know who said that? Picasso. He knew a thing or two about creativity! Being alone with your thoughts gives them the space they need to wander. As a result, the thoughts that inspired many of the world's greatest creative endeavors were conjured during alone time. Who knows what you'll come up with?
It could help you find new interests
Having time to fill forces you to think of ways to fill it - you might dabble in a new hobby or two, or take up a new skill. This self-exploration can open up new opportunities for interests you might not have otherwise found.
It helps you manage stress
Jumping from place to place, hopping from social activity to social activity, you might not have the time you need to really process what lies ahead. Organization takes effort and time - alone time. The more you can organize and prepare for life, the less stressful it will feel. Self-care activities, such as taking baths or going for walks solo, can also hugely reduce levels of stress and anxiety.
It helps increase self-awareness
What's the best way to get to know a person? Spend more time with them. And the same goes for getting to know yourself. Alone time cultivates a greater sense of self-awareness, forcing you to face yourself and your thoughts head-on.
It promotes mindfulness
Been wanting to try meditation but can't find the time? That's probably a good indication you need to make more time for yourself. Plus, meditation and other mindfulness practices have a plethora of physical health benefits, in addition to being good for your mind. If you aren't interested in meditating, try one of these easy mindfulness practices instead.