What is the Difference between Isolation and Alone Time?
Alone time is a period of time an individual spends apart from others. Similarly, isolation is to set [yourself] apart from others. Definitionally, these two words seem similar, if not identical. However, it is the colloquial use of these words that sets them apart. In conversation, alone time is positive whereas isolation is negative. Why is this?
Alone time has become synonymous with a mental health exercise in which people choose to separate themselves from others for a period of time. People use alone time as a way to counterbalance moments spent with others to decrease stress.
On the other hand, isolation is an unhealthy detachment from a person’s social circle. During periods of isolation, an individual stops participating in events and gatherings that they typically enjoy. As we isolate, we sever our ties to friends, family, and others who care about us.
The distinction between isolation vs. alone time is incredibly important during addiction recovery because we need to avoid isolation and find joy in solitude.
Why Is Isolation Bad For You?
Alone time has the potential to sour, becoming isolation. Being alone with our thoughts is great during a moment of healthy reflection. However, once our thoughts become negative, we can really harm our overall outlook on life. Unfortunately, people in recovery find themselves stuck in a loop of self-critical thoughts if they aren’t careful. During an extended period of solitude, we lack the distraction of conversations and events which can lead to a downward spiral of negativity.
The critical inner voices can tell us we are unloved or worthless, and being alone can validate the feelings of loneliness during a moment of self-judgment. These thoughts lead to feelings of loneliness, which lead to self-isolation and depression. That being said, loneliness is not dependent on the length of alone time, but on how we feel when we are alone.
People in recovery who suffer from depression have the tendency to isolate themselves. Typically, depression and loneliness result in social isolation to avoid judgment from others. Ironically, socialization and communication are a great way to heal from these mentalities, but the overwhelming feelings of sadness convince people to cut ties with their healthy relationships. In fact, isolation is immensely damaging because it removes the psychological, emotional, and physical benefits we gain from social connection.
Why Is Alone Time Good For You?
Alone time allows the brain to recharge after a period of stimulation. When we go out with friends, stay in with family, or spend hours in sober meetings, our brains are constantly working to take in information and output communication. While social interaction is incredibly important for brain health, we also require periods of rest and relaxation to decompress. For instance, even if you can spend weeks on end with friends without feeling stressed out or exhausted, your brain still needs a break from the round-the-clock analysis of information. Solitude provides the opportunity to revitalize your mind and body in a calm, distraction-less environment.
Additionally, alone time increases creativity and productivity. While creativity can come anywhere with anyone, it really flourishes in the mind during alone time. Our best ideas tend to arrive on our own time, from our own brain. In recovery, many people fear that they will lose inspiration and creativity. However, the biggest damper of creativity is a fear of judgment from peers. Unique ideas are often difficult to explain and people often misinterpret your meaning, responding with criticism. Instead of shutting down due to rejection, alone time enables us to flesh out our ideas and act on our creativity.
Similarly, alone time increases productivity. People are rather distracting, which can be helpful during recovery if you’re struggling with cravings. Although distractions have their place in sobriety, alone time provides you the space to focus your full attention on a task. In solitude, distractions are minimal, and because of this, you are able to concentrate on work. As a result, you can get more done in a shorter amount of time. Being by yourself in recovery allows you time to focus on yourself and strive toward our goals without constant interruption.