I really like my alone time. In it, I can designate space for various hobbies, chores, self-work, and creativity. My most productive time is spent by myself, and that works for me. Often, I will even have my husband take my car with him to work so that I don’t have easy means of transportation to go anywhere. It’s a commitment to spending quality time with myself and I consider it solitude, peaceful and restorative.
That’s not to say that every day I designate to being alone is so fruitful. I’ll admit, there are days where I loaf around, marathon tv shows, or sit and play video games for hours on end. It brings a different feeling than days where I’m connected. Stagnant and stuck, it seems like my brain is fixated on staying distracted. When these days occur, it feels like time somehow simultaneously drags on and disappears. Effort is required to become unstuck from a day of isolation, requiring a mental push to step outside of complacency and back into productivity.
According to the dictionary, the words isolation and solitude are synonymous. Solitude is time alone, equated to loneliness, and isolation is the act of separating oneself from the rest of the world, deliberately being alone. I’m sure I am not alone when I hear something different in both words. Superman’s headquarters, the Fortress of Solitude, became a place where he found solace from the stressors of being a superhero, a place to collect himself and gain clarity. Though he quite literally isolated himself, it does not match the clinical consideration of the word. Isolation is reactive avoidance, shutting off outside influences without a mindful goal.
Those days where I fall into the pit of Netflix and video game marathons typically follow high-stress days at work or days that required a lot of social interaction. When I am not mindful of my method of recovery, I lose track of how to recharge. I know I am not alone. The topic of isolation versus solitude has come up with friends, peers, and clients and I share the same insights I have gathered.
If you are like me, you might also enjoy taking naps. But consider the quality of the nap you receive and the purpose for that mini-sleep-session. Is the purpose to boost energy and allow the mind to rest? Or is to waste an indefinite amount of time lounging in the comfort of sleep? Notice the difference—intentionality. If you are like me, you might also notice that a 30 to 45-minute nap leaves you feeling awake and refreshed. You might need to set an alarm to limit the nap to a specific time, and it helps if you have something to do when you get up. However, when that nap is a gamble when there is nothing scheduled for when you wake up, it might go on for two hours, or more. When you wake, you feel groggy, irritated, and might even have a headache. It seems the only solution to the nap-hangover is to take another nap. What was gained from that use of time?
I’m not saying two-hour naps are never useful. If I didn’t sleep well the night before or if I’m sick, then I utilize that nap as needed. But I do so intentionally, just like an alone period. Video games and tv-shows—or whatever you use to occupy your free-time— can still be used to recharge. Sometimes our brains need a break from so much thinking, planning, and self-work. I simply propose that deliberate use of that downtime, with the intention of restoring the brain, can help to create a balance between self-indulgence and self-care. Both are necessary, and moderation is key.