Too much solitude?

When a loner lifestyle starts to do more harm than good.

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One of the reasons I set up Socially Distant was because of my experience of the Covid lockdowns. 

It was during the pandemic that I realised how comfortable I was with being alone. I didn’t relate to all the news stories that focused on the ‘pandemic of loneliness’ that was said to be posing as much of a threat to people’s mental health as Covid was to our physical health, due to the social distancing restrictions in place. 

When Covid hit, I’d just started working for myself from home. So, when we went into lockdown, nothing really changed for me. I was home alone most of the time anyway. And I didn’t get lonely, I didn’t get bored; I was perfectly content in my solitude. 

Similarly, nothing really changed when the restrictions were lifted. As people started heading back to their offices and going down the pub again, I just carried on as I was – working from home, by myself, day in, day out. 

And I was okay with that.

Until now. 

Over the past couple of months, boredom has started to set in. I’m getting increasingly fed up with being inside the same four walls all day; performing the same old routine; not really going anywhere or doing anything; not really seeing or speaking to anyone. I feel stagnant; stuck in a rut. And there’s been a shift in my mood and energy. I’m worrying more and I feel more weary. 

And I think all this has something to do with the solitary life I’ve been living for just over three years now. 

I need solitude. But I think I might have overdosed on it. 

I think my loner lifestyle, in its current form, has started to do me more harm than good… 

The most acceptable way to ‘do’ solitude in Western society is as an act of ‘self-care’. 

In a world which increasingly makes us work harder and go faster, that expects us to be on our phones all day, constantly on call and connected, that assaults our senses with all sorts of stimuli, a little bit of alone time is often recommended as a way to decompress, and ultimately reset, so one is better able to reconnect and get going again. 

What isn’t recommended is making solitude a way of life. 

This is because social connection is considered essential for human health and happiness. The consensus is that without regular social contact – or ‘social stimulation’ –  people will wind up lonely, which can have all sorts of negative consequences for one’s mental and physical health.  

But it’s also the case that a lack of stimulation more generally can also have deleterious effects on both brain and body. 

By lack of stimulation I mean: not going outside enough; not getting enough daylight; sticking to the same routines; walking the same routes; not taking up a new hobby; never going on holiday.

When we end up doing the same ol’, same ol’, day in, day out – (or year in, year out!) – feelings of listlessness, lethargy, restlessness and irritability can start to creep in; brain fog might descend; we may begin to ruminate more; we run out of motivation and our inspiration runs dry, and the things we used to enjoy doing no longer give us the same pleasure. 

Humans don’t just need social stimulation. We also need regular doses of new activity, changes of scenery, and some breaks from our routine to stay healthy. 

This is where I think it’s important to make some distinction between being solitary and being reclusive.

A solitary person might not spend much time with other people, but they may still find themselves around other people from time to time e.g. by frequenting a coffee shop, working in the library, or going to the cinema. 

The recluse on the other hand might rarely venture outside of their house. As a result, they’re not even around other people that much, never mind interacting with them. 

Both the solitary and the recluse lack ‘social stimulation’ – as in, having conversations and forming connections with others. Loneliness can set in for both as a result – although not necessarily. Whilst humans may be social animals, people differ in the amount of social interaction and connection they need – with some not needing very much at all.

However, when it comes to the recluse, even if loneliness doesn’t become an issue for them, their lack of contact with the world beyond the walls of their abode, beyond the inside of their head, even, just might. 

In which case, the usual exhortations to pick up the phone and reconnect with old pals, or to take up a hobby to forge some new friendships, won’t apply. The recluse would probably benefit from just getting out of the house a bit more. 

I reckon this is what I need to do. My solitude hasn’t brought on a desire to socialise more. But it has got me itching for a change of scenery, some change in routine. To be around, if not necessarily with, other people…

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