Why Spending Time Alone Is an Essential Form of Self-Care
I actively seek out moments to be alone, but I am terrible at it. Here's why.
The Latina Love Project profiles the lives of women — mothers, daughters, sisters — who often sacrifice their self-care in their struggle to balance and care for family, friends, and work. In this series sponsored by Ford, we spotlight their struggles and triumphs and learn how they create time for themselves.
I have a confession. I do not know how to be alone. The numbing sound of silence leaves me paralyzed, struggling to understand my own thoughts. Weekends are particularly bad, especially because I don’t have work people to chat with and typically my roommates leave the apartment to attend their busy lives. And though I spend most of my free time with my boyfriend, our relationship is not built on dependency. Instead, I actively seek out moments to be alone. But, I am terrible at it.
It’s strange that a woman who grew up as an only child would feel terrified by the thought of solitude, especially one who chose to move away from her family to pursue a career in New York City, rather than her native Puerto Rico. But, sometimes the value of dreams trump the struggle I have with solitude. I’ve accepted my fear of isolation as a sacrifice to achieve professional goals.
But, since turning 23, I realized my anxiety around being alone works against me, and like any other toxic behavior, it needs to be shed. Therefore, I date myself from time to time.
The routine goes like this: I pick out a day during the weekend when I can be completely alone — from morning until night. Luckily, I live in New York City, so by default I’m never bored. During the summer, my routine includes walking from my apartment in Crown Heights to Prospect Park. The 10-minute walk serves to get my melanin levels back to Caribbean standards after a dreadful winter season. I then proceed to walk to the north side of the park until I reach the Grand Army Plaza station to head home. The evening is a mix of wine and a home-cooked meal with fashion documentaries (I’ve probably watched Mademoiselle C like 20 times) and my blanket. The winter version features a walk around a museum instead of the park, but it’s practically the same.
What does a walk around the park and a bottle of wine do for my anxiety? It eases my ability to spend time with myself. It’s a date where I get to indulge in my love of the sun, which I miss so dearly, art, good food, and yes, wine. Throughout the day, I also ask myself the hard-hitting questions we all cope with through Internet memes. Was coming to New York a good idea? Am I going where I want to go? What is next for me? Was I too rude to that girl in the subway yesterday? This practice also helps spark my creativity. I start thinking about video ideas for work, freelance stories I’d like to pursue and the company I want to build at some point before I die.
Science also backs my thesis. Psychotherapist Amy Morin says spending time alone increases productivity and the ability to plan important activities and goals. Morin also says solitude maximizes creativity, empathy and self-awareness. She acknowledges that for people it might be uncomfortable to just sit alone in silence with everyday anxieties creeping up when you least expect them.
This is when meditation and technology also come in handy. Headspace, an app designed to teach people to guide their thoughts, is probably why I now know how to get out of my own head. By practicing 10 minutes of meditation everyday, I am able to identify when my thoughts are playing tricks on me when I am alone. It goes something like this:
Mind: I am so far away from home.
Me: But you chose this, remember?
Mind: I make such bad decisions.
Me: But you always wanted this.
Mind: Are you sure about that?
Me: Okay, now you’re just playing. Bye.
I come from a culture that doesn’t prioritize time alone. Instead, it rejects it. I grew up in a family with more than 50 members — on my mom’s side alone. We all lived near each other and planned parties or excursions together almost every weekend. It was always surprising when one of my cousins or when I decided to leave the island. Tíos and tías would cry-ask why you’re choosing to leave and remind you that it’s cold in New York City and that you’ll have to cook the tostones yourself from now on. No one ever said it would be good for me to spend time alone.
Amid all the worries from my family about my “loneliness,” I accepted a challenge to live far away from my island during one of its worst political, social and economic times. But, to say it hasn’t been good would be a lie. Learning to sit still with myself has taught me that I am my own home and it’s beautiful to sit on my couch to watch One Day At A Time with a glass of wine.