For some of us, the idea of being alone with ourselves scares us more than any other challenge we’ll face in our life. Solitude scares us so much that we prefer to be out doing something instead of sitting in solitude doing nothing, even if that something causes us pain. In a recent (depressing) study, psychologists found that when given a choice, people would prefer to shock themselves with electricity as opposed to sitting alone with their own thoughts.
Technology allows us to escape our troubled minds more easily than ever. With our smart devices attached to our hands and ears, we never need to be alone with no one to talk to and nothing to do. There will always be some app to converse with or a person to call.
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But a new study in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin finds that solitude away from devices and people is a necessary and healthy way to recharge and reset our overstimulated brains.
Study: 15 minutes of alone time is enough to deactivate your stressful emotions
Student participants in the “Solitude as an Approach to Affective Self-Regulation” study were split up into two groups: those who got to talk to a researcher about their studies and those who were told to sit away from their electronic devices and do nothing for 15 minutes. Although the students who talked to the researcher experienced no changes, the ones in solitude experienced significant decreases in positive and negative feelings like excitement, anger, and anxiety.
What you can do
If you need to reset your emotions, go somewhere where you can be alone.
“The set of studies thus suggested that people can use solitude, or other variations on being alone, to regulate their affective states, becoming quiet after excitement, calm after an angry episode, or centered and peaceful when desired,” the study concluded.
Having the intensity of negative emotions decrease is good, but how can people enjoy their solitude more, so that they can be calm and peaceful without being more lonely?
It starts with seeing solitude as an opportunity.
When you see the option to be alone as a choice, as opposed to a life sentence, that affects how your brain sees your time alone. Researchers found that participants would report feeling less lonely and calmer when they actively chose to be alone.
So, next time you feel yourself getting overwhelmed with emotions, turn off your phone and walk away from your chatty colleagues. It may be the small yet impactful breather you need to keep going.
This article was first published on November 7, 2017.