Using Nature to Become Comfortable With Being Alone

By: Lysianne Peacock + Save to a List

Humans are social creatures. We long for connection and relationships with one another. Nowadays, we struggle to find contentment in our daily lives without the buzz of people around us. Read more about how you can use nature to become comfortable with being alone during this pandemic.

I took a class in my graduate program called “Management of Recreational Services” where we had to create a challenge and write a paper on that challenge. I decided to do a “rejection challenge” where I purposefully did things that would make me feel or get rejected. One of the challenges I presented to myself was eating alone in a restaurant. The entire time I sat eating my pasta, I feared that onlookers were thinking I didn’t have friends and that I must be lonely. The funny thing is, no one but me was probably thinking that. The idea of sitting in silence and doing things alone makes me feel uncomfortable. I fill awkward silences with trivial conversations and ramblings that help dispel this cognitive dissonance. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused me to look reflectively at my discomfort in being alone and has opened my eyes to the moments that I have spent alone. You see, I just recently watched the rom-com “How to Be Single” that explores the lives of four characters as they navigate the waters of not being in a relationship. Despite being a raunchy comedy full of unrealistic drama, it has a great key takeaway: the importance of being okay with being alone. While the future may seem bleak, COVID-19 is offering a unique experience for us to reconnect with nature and become unashamedly comfortable with being alone.

Being Alone Versus Being Lonesome

For a long time, I confused “being alone” with “being lonesome.” While alone and lonesome have the same root word, they have two different meanings. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary alone is defined as “being away from others.” Lonesome, on the other hand, is “sad from being alone.” Coming to terms with this definition allows you to see the good in being “lone” and defining it separately from how you are feeling. Once you become comfortable with being alone, that feeling of sadness will go away. Especially if you embrace this reality by following physical distancing guidelines and take advantage of the opportunity to take solitary hikes.

The Benefits of Spending Time Alone

All of this alone-time might be starting to take its toll as we enter our third, fourth or fifth weeks stuck at home  while we become reliant on video-chatting apps and social media to keep us connected. Instead of looking at physical distancing as a period of boredom and torture, we can reframe our state of mind and find the benefits in spending our time alone. Here are just a few of the benefits of our increased alone-time:

1. Improves creativity

Your best ideas can bloom when you give yourself time alone. This is due to the lack of distractions getting in the way of your ideas. If you want more proof, this study shows that brainstorming is more effective when done in solitude.

2. Increased productivity

The lack of distractions can also ensure that you will get more done. You can get done in one hour what you would in five hours with your friends. This Harvard study only reiterates that our alone-time can increase our productivity by 4.4%.

3. Increased mental strength

Spending time alone can increase your mental strength and self-esteem by improving your overall happiness and help you develop better stress management skills.

4. Time to unwind and relax

We are the victims of the “busy culture,” constantly on the go without giving ourselves time to focus on our alone time. Being by yourself gives you the chance to clear your mind because there are no distractions.

Nature as Medicine

There is no doubt about it and studies have proven it time and time again: spending time in nature is good for your physical and emotional health. In a webinar led by Michael Suk (2020), he explores the benefits that nature has on individuals including improving short term memory, symptoms of depression, and reduction in mental fatigue. Nature can also increase your immunity by increasing enzymes in your body which is very beneficial right now.

Spending time alone in nature shows its own benefits on mental health. In the 2018 article, “Spending time alone in nature is good for your mental health,” (Daley, 2018), research conducted on Outward Bound showed that participants in undergraduate wilderness program at Montreat College in North Carolina and Wheaton College in Illinois benefitted from the experience of being alone in the outdoors. Spending time alone in the outdoors has a therapeutic effect on individuals by helping to relieve stress, restoring attention, and having an overall calming effect on the mind. Alone time in nature can also provide challenges that inspire creativity in problem-solving and that can result in increased self-confidence. 

The Solo Outdoor Experience

A close friend of mine once told me that nature walks are meditative for her and one of the most therapeutic things she does. My first truly solo hiking experience occurred this summer when I decided to go above treeline to explore alpine lakes that have been on my Rocky Mountain bucket list since 2017. I almost didn’t take advantage of the blue, clear skies out of anxiety for hiking alone but instead I reaped the benefits of hiking alone and developed a newfound self-confidence that can be attributed to basking in the benefits of being alone. 

You, too, can experience your own solo outdoor experience. You don’t have to go on a ten mile hike to reap the benefits. You can start with a short half-hour stroll in the woods or you could step it up a notch on one of your local trails to experience the therapeutic benefit of being alone in nature. Take the time to reflect on yourself by bringing a journal to write your thoughts or just let your mind wander and relax.  Make sure to follow safety precautions and let someone know where you are going. Always bring the Ten Essentials with you if you plan on going hiking farther than your neighborhood.

Conclusion

My discomfort with being alone travels all the way back to my childhood but my first prominent memory was the Summer of 2014. I was celebrating the end of my high school years and welcoming the freedom of what college was going to offer me once September rolled around. I remember hardly being home, and my mom’s frustration at my need to be always busy, always hanging out with friends, always gone. I remember feeling depressed when I was left out of social gatherings, and spending my nights feeling lonely while curled up on my futon watching Netflix. This feeling of uneasiness also reflected in my serious relationships. My first long-term relationship revolved around constantly being with each other and making the premature decision to move in together. My most recent relationship ended with me insisting that he beg me to not pursue my dream career 900 miles away. 

Now sitting here reflecting on my alone time during this pandemic, I realize that the happiest I have ever been has not been when I was in a relationship, or when I was waiting to be invited to the next social gathering. The happiest I have ever been has been when I had solitary experiences in nature. I largely attribute this to my time spent on the trails in Rocky Mountain National Park hiking my heart away. I was so happy to be alone in the middle of nature, that I fell out of love with the man I was with for a year and a half. When I was training for my first (and only….so far) half marathon, I relished my solitary early morning runs that I didn’t have to share with anyone else. While I am still on my own personal journey to being comfortable with being alone, it is becoming increasingly easier everyday to relish solitude instead of fearing it. Who knew it would take a little nature to nurture this newfound enlightenment. Now that you know that there are benefits to spending time alone in nature, you can also reap these benefits to help yourself become comfortable with being alone. 

How are you benefiting from your alone time? Please share your thoughts below!

This story was originally published at hikespiration.com

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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