Sitting alone with our thoughts, trying to find peace in the stillness, can be difficult in the best of times. Add in a global pandemic and all the associated stress, loss, and setbacks—and it can feel nearly impossible. Over the past couple of years, I have often thought to myself, ‘Who wouldn’t want to escape the reality that we find ourselves in?’
When we are uncomfortable it is natural to reach for something to help us numb the pain—food, alcohol, work, social media, drugs, video games, relationships will all do the trick. But these escapes are only temporary, and often come with a cost. The feelings we are trying to run from return stronger, requiring more of our numbing agent to achieve the desired effect. We start to feel ashamed, regretful, and disappointed—even more reason to escape. A vicious cycle is created.
So how do we avoid this path? By building our inner strength and developing healthy connections, we can find ourselves in a place of serenity and acceptance, capable of and comfortable with sitting alone with our thoughts.
I’ve witnessed the amazing ways people can develop a deeply satisfying relationship with themselves and learn to make choices from a place of strength and serenity, not isolation and avoidance. I want to share tools which I believe can help anyone to feel strong and recharged, even as we face ongoing uncertainty. In doing so, I hope you can learn to cope differently, stay present, and find peace in quiet moments.
Acknowledge Your Interests and Values: There are many reasons that people don’t have time to explore what makes them happy. Give yourself permission to get to know yourself – take inventory of your life, establish your values, and discover what truly brings you joy. When our actions begin to align with our values, we build self-esteem, which will organically tie into our serenity. Whether you are in early recovery or just feeling lost, there may be times you feel like don’t know exactly who you are, and that is okay. You are not alone. Many of us take time to discover (and rediscover) who we are. Your sense of self is fluid and ever-changing, and it’s important to carve out time regularly to check in with yourself and understand your purpose.
Give Back and Practice Gratitude: In recovery circles, we often talk about building self-esteem by doing estimable acts. This can come from being of service to others, using our own stories and the challenges we've been through to benefit someone else, giving new meaning to our own experience. Likewise, practicing gratitude is an evidence-based recovery tool that works to counterbalance a feeling of paralysis we might encounter if we’re feeling alone and disconnected. Although social distancing and staying home can feel daunting, we can find things to feel grateful for: A chance to spend more time with family, to recharge from your busy life, to reevaluate what is important to you. Taking it a step further, you can reflect on the gifts that exist in your life. Just being grateful for the most basic things can help reduce our need to escape when we are faced with difficulties.
Learn to Prioritize Self-Love: You must truly be content with yourself before you can feel comfortable being alone. As a result, you gain a strong sense of who you are, and that allows you to engage in the world in a healthy and constructive way. Self-love may look somewhat different to everyone, but what’s essential is that you’re nourishing yourself mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. That means taking the time to plan healthy and delicious meals, getting enough sleep, moving your body, crying and laughing when you need to, and giving yourself space to learn and grow. Taking these steps allows you to set healthy boundaries and be intentional with your time when alone and with others.
Make Honest and Loving Connections: There’s an old saying in the recovery world, “We'll love you until you learn to love yourself.” Establish a strong support system with people who are worthy of your love and trust. Be honest and vulnerable in these relationships; recognizing that sharing what you are going through can be enough to alleviate the discomfort. There is something truly healing about being fully seen and supported by someone. If you are trapped in anxiety, fear, or other unresolved negative feelings, talking about it with someone in your support system can help put to the problem in perspective. This will lead you to embrace a feeling of self-worthiness as you feel validated and acknowledged by someone you trust.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help: We must let go of any preconceived idea that asking for help is a weakness. It is a strength and can even be considered an act of service because it reminds another person of their own strength and helps them get in touch with what’s truly important. Finding serenity in being alone takes time and practice. You must build up the strength to develop it within yourself. However, someone who has more experience can help mentor you and guide you in your process. If you're feeling uncomfortable, anxious, angry—reach out to that trusted friend or loved one, one who's done their own work. They can remind you to pause, play the tape forward, or simply breathe.
Build Your Discomfort Tolerance: Building up your tolerance for managing uncomfortable feelings is like building a muscle. Over time, you learn that those feelings will pass. It eventually becomes second nature to practice mindfulness, meditate, or otherwise distract yourself. I understand that this can be very hard, especially for those who are struggling with emotional pain or in early recovery. It takes plenty of practice, but over time you see yourself better able to manage whatever comes your way. Finding a healthy balance in your life means learning to be more comfortable with being uncomfortable. That translates into being present with the feelings you are having right now, both pleasant and unpleasant, and learning that both can be meaningful and valuable. The goal is to live authentically. There may be times when the pain becomes too great, and in those moments, know that there are trained professionals available to help you.
Allow Time to Recharge: People recharge in different ways: Some by being in a social atmosphere, while others need time alone to recharge. Part of understanding ourselves is knowing what recharging looks like for each of us. Sometimes, self-care might involve just sitting at home with a good book. For others, it may mean dinner with friends or family. Identify what helps you to reset and follow through on that action when you are experiencing a difficult time.
My hope for you is that you can learn to embrace enjoying your own company, sitting in stillness and serenity, and not feel the need to escape. This may not come naturally at first, but with a little time and practice, it is possible for all of us.
By Ramona Roberts, Psy.D.