How to Understand the Difference Between Isolation and Healthy Alone Time and Why It’s Important

Issue 29. June 30, 2023 ✨ Higher Power Coaching & Consulting

photo credit: Hannah Busing

I’ve lived alone most of my adult life and I got really good at isolation. That’s how I dealt with my fears and anxieties for decades before recovery. I indulged in my various addictions and compulsions in isolation, though some of it I did publicly like drinking. I used to think I was an extrovert who required a lot of alone time, but now I think I’m an ambivert who has both introverted and extroverted qualities.

Since I needed a lot of alone time, I told myself it was just what I needed – isolation. I didn’t realize I was running from the world and trying to escape interaction with others to keep myself safe.
I didn’t want to be seen or truly known.

Which is odd, because the thing I’ve said I wanted for a very long time is to be known. But I wasn’t willing or capable of doing what it takes to be known, That requires being authentic and vulnerable with others.

The main difference between isolation and healthy alone time is what it does to our energy. Isolation drains our energy and healthy alone time replenishes our energy.

We’re drained while isolating because we’re trying to fend off the world. We’re also often doing unhealthy things that sap our energy such as sitting alone watching TV, eating nachos, smoking cigarettes, smoking weed, drinking alcohol. Those were the things I did, sometimes all at once!

Generally, isolation is unhealthy and it’s an escape. Healthy alone time is rejuvenating and energizing. When we’re spending healthy alone time, we’re recharging, and it increases our energy.
Perhaps there’s a movie you’ve really wanted to watch because a friend recommended it. If you watch it, you can engage in and enjoy watching that movie. Or it might mean that you sit by the seaside and watch the seagulls and the boats going by, perhaps with a sketch pad. Or you spend time writing down random thoughts, or in prayer or meditation or some kind of physical activity that brings you joy like yoga or dancing.

Healthy alone time is taking care of yourself. Isolation is harmful.

Healthy alone time brings joy. Isolation is typically depressing and leads to further depression.

Just because you’re spending time alone doesn’t mean it’s good for you. Your intention with that time matters.

I didn’t understand that my motivation was to fend off the world, to isolate myself from the world and to ensure that I didn’t get close to anybody. I thought I just needed a lot of alone time. Which is why I’m sharing this, so that maybe you’ll see that that alone time you’re taking is really about isolation.

If you spend a lot of time alone I think it’s important to think ask yourself some questions.

  • Why am I spending time alone?
  • Am I afraid for people to get to know me?
  • What am I doing with my time?
  • Am I punishing myself and draining myself?
  • Am I fueling myself?
  • What is my goal here?

If you’re isolating and depressed and thinking all kinds of negative thoughts, try shifting what you DO during your alone time. Instead of zoning out in front of the TV do something that gives you energy. Only you know what that is, but give it a try and see what it does to your mood and your energy. You are worth trying something different.

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