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How Solitude Can Help You Regulate Your Mood

This year has given many of us a whole new understanding of solitude — whether we wanted it or not.

Being alone has been on our minds — and on the minds of experimental psychologists, too. Over the past few years, researchers have devoted significant study to the concept of solitude — its potential benefits, its role in our lives, even its basic definition.

So, here are a few takeaways from their recent work — with an eye toward how you can make solitude a healthy practice in your life.

1. Solitude is in the mind of the beholder.

“There isn’t even a really agreed-upon definition about what solitude means,” says Robert Coplan of Carleton University in Canada.

And he should know. Beyond his role as director of the Pickering Centre for Human Development, he and colleague Julie Bowker edited The Handbook of Solitude, a collection of some of the latest scholarly research on solitude.

But many agree, at least when conducting their studies, that the key rests with whether participants feel alone. One’s subjective perspective matters more than whether their objective circumstances would bear that out on closer inspection. In other words, if you feel alone, you probably are — at least for the purposes of your mental state.

2. We may crave time alone the way we crave time with others.

When we feel lonely, it’s because our desire for company exceeds our ability to find it. And Coplan posits that this process can work in reverse as well: If our desire for solitude exceeds our ability to find it, we can also struggle with feelings of discomfort.

What constitutes the right amount of solitude varies person to person, Coplan says, but when you aren’t getting enough time on your own, you may begin to feel more irritable, anxious or put out.

3. Don’t expect an epiphany.

Sometimes solitude is calming, sometimes meaningful, but for a lot of us, it’s often downright uncomfortable.

Paul Salmon, a psychology professor at the University of Louisville, recommends looking at your quest for solitude more along the lines of a high-intensity interval workout — as a variety of exercise that can be brief and scattered throughout the day but no less effective for it.

Thuy-vy Nguyen has found that just 15 minutes in solitude can have an effect.

4. Solitude can be a communal exercise.

Funny as it may sound, pursuing your solitude may help develop your sense of community. By asking others for the time to yourself, and explaining why this is no reflection on their company, Salmon says you are bringing others into your trust, which they may appreciate.

“Explain that it’s not like you’re isolating yourself and setting yourself apart, but that what you’re doing is something of personal value,” he recommends.

And if even this does not help you obtain a separate space of your own, even for a little bit, remember that in many ways, solitude is what you make it.

Excerpted from “How Solitude Can Help You Regulate Your Mood” on NPR. Read the full article to learn more.

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Source: NPR | How Solitude Can Help You Regulate Your Mood, https://www.npr.org/2020/07/15/891564595/how-solitude-can-help-you-regulate-your-mood | © 2020 npr

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