It’s the weekend. You’re home alone. People are all over social media posting their adventures while you sit home with a silent phone. It’s like you’re the only one not doing a damn thing. Sound familiar?
There are two things you can do in this situation: feel sorry for yourself, or take care of yourself. Contrary to popular belief, scrolling through social media for hours on end is not a hobby, it’s a waste of time. It is great entertainment for a reasonable period of time, but if you find yourself staring and scrolling more than looking into another person’s eyes or being productive you’re treading on thin ice.
Social media does not replace human interaction. That’s why it’s so unfulfilling. In fact, it’s widely known to cause anxiety and depression because people don’t typically post boring nights, or nights they come out of their skin, or sit alone crying. And if they do, they are judged harshly. We all know it. No one wants to see that shit. So we post happiness and fun. We post inspiring quotes and funny videos. We post our triumphs, not our tribulations. Then the people who are in a slump view all the happiness they are not currently experiencing, a term called FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), and internalize this as not being good enough.
The truth is, everyone goes through periods of loneliness. It’s necessary in order to grow. Yes, it’s uncomfortable. It’s supposed to be. But the more you try to numb that discomfort with distractions, the more frequent these periods of discomfort become. Distractions come in many forms. Here are a few:
- Endless scrolling
- Binge watching an unhealthy amount of TV/ video games
- Compulsive shopping
- Drug abuse
- Smoking copious amount of weed
- Texting or calling anyone and everyone just to feel like you’re not alone
- Eating your feelings
- Getting involved in other people’s problems
- Compulsive online dating
Another method of distraction is maintaining friendships that don’t feel right just for the sake of not being alone. These are one-sided relationships where the give and take is so unbalanced you leave the interaction feeling uneasy and more doubtful than if you had just stayed home alone in the first place. Or you leave annoyed, angry, and upset.
One thing I have learned is that if you allow people to take their issues out on you, they will. Excuses about unhealthy family dynamics are only viable during childhood. There comes a point when you are responsible for your healing, for setting boundaries with friends and family, and taking control of your life. You can’t change someone. What you can change is the amount of time you spend with that person.
Getting involved in other people’s problems is another common distraction. When we focus on what someone else is doing, or not doing, it shifts the focus off of what we’re capable of controlling. The person might be in a situation that seems awful to us, but each person has their own bullshit tolerance level. What is intolerable to you, is tolerant to them, at least at the moment. Everyone has different life experiences and paths they must follow in order to grow. And if they want to complain every now and then, that’s ok. We all do it. But going around in circles and constantly complaining day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, without any solutions is toxic behavior.
In the popular psychology book Games People Play, author Eric Bernie names this social transaction Why Don’t You—Yes But. It’s a self- victimizing strategy where “the purpose of the game is not to get suggestions, but to reject them.” We’ve all been on one side of this game at one time or another. A person aires their grievances while another wracks their brain thinking of solutions only to be met with an excuse for each suggestion. When the person offering solutions gets tired and can’t think of anything else, the complainer feels justified in his or her victimization and thus their “whoa is me” demeanor is reinforced. To the people offering suggestions, the WDYYB game is emotionally draining and unpleasant to be around.
Sometimes people vent and don’t want a solution; they just want to be heard. This is why offering unsolicited advice is frowned upon. When you do, you could be unintentionally playing into a victimizing game or participating in codependent behavior. To obsess over other people’s problems is to avoid dealing with your own. Be mindful of how much energy you’re putting out for issues that aren’t your problem.
The goal is to stop the distractions altogether. This is super hard with entertainment right at our fingertips. The minute we feel uncomfortable with our own thoughts we reach for our phones to give us a distraction, any distraction, to take our mind off of the fact we can’t be left alone with ourselves. Stopping distractions in its tracks takes a great deal of awareness and mindfulness. And the only place to start is at the beginning.
Next time you’re alone and uncomfortable, keep track of how long you can sit without searching for a distraction. Look at the time. How many minutes went by? When we practice awareness it helps train the brain to recognize self defeating behaviors. This time alone shouldn’t be lonely, but at first it will feel that way. Once you’re able to accept there’s a distraction issue, you’ll be able to turn loneliness into empowering moments of self fulfillment.
You don’t have to be bored and lonely when you’re alone. Actually, looking to others to entertain you is pretty unhealthy. No one is here for your amusement and you’re not here for theirs. Think of ways you can entertain yourself without distractions.
What are some things you like to do or have always wanted to do? There is nothing stopping you from doing those things yourself, or joining a group that shares similar interests. You may be thinking, “But you just said to be alone.” And you’re right, I did. Alone doesn’t mean you can’t be in groups. Some people are extroverted and love to be around people. What’s important is that you’re around the right people.
Others are introverted and enjoy being alone. For instance, I am an introvert. When I’m alone, I like to go on hikes. I play the guitar. I listen to foreign language lessons. I read books; I write. I meditate; I listen to music. I read tarot. I’ll even take myself out to eat or to the movies.
Being alone means you are taking care of you in a healthy way without participating in unhealthy distractions. Being alone means you are engaging in activities that make you happy.
Alone time is so beneficial for self exploration. It doesn’t have to be isolating and lonely. But it certainly can go there real quick when we engage in distracting behaviors instead of sitting with the feeling in order to change the course to a healthier route. We can’t find ourselves in other people. That’s just not how it works.
So the next time you feel yourself cringing at the thought of being alone, I challenge you to sit with uncomfortableness. What can you find out about yourself? And how can you change the narrative to create a more fulfilling you?