Doesn't mean I'm lonely when I'm alone...
January 30, 2014 3:57 PM   Subscribe

How to enjoy 'me-time'?

Similar questions have been asked before, but basically I get anxious whenever I don't talk even for a few hours. So even if I have a task at hand, or if I am sitting in a public area such as an office, if I don't talk or socialize for even two or three hours I start getting pangs of nervousness and self-loathing thoughts and bad memories start recurring... Sometimes this doesn't happen, and I feel like me-time is almost luxuroius. But most of the time I'm stuck in this limbo where I hate my own company but feel too unworthy and awful to socialize and I don't want to mess up other peoples' impressions of me.

I try to change my attitude and think of it like 'oh spending time with me! This is a great opportunity to have a better relationship with myself' but after a few more hours I am this scary nervous avoidant ball of stress... What do you guys do to help with your anxieties and to stay out of the dark place when you're alone, especially if you have work and you need to focus?

Thank you!
posted by dinosaurprincess to Human Relations (10 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
You say that you get anxious whenever you don't talk for a few hours. Do you talk to yourself? If so, does that help?

If not - you know, it's sometimes okay for adults to have imaginary friends too. Try telling some imaginary person about your day while you're in the middle of making dinner or something. (I've totally done that.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:03 PM on January 30, 2014 [4 favorites]

You need to ask yourself where these bad thoughts and memories come from and what purpose they serve. They serve some psychological purpose: it's probably to distract you from something else or avoid some discomfort. For example, if you're unworthy of socializing, that's the perfect excuse never to put in the effort to learn to socialize better since, hey, you're unworthy, end of story.

If bad memories assault you when you're working, well, that's a great excuse not to put in your best effort. And in fact if you don't do so well you have a great excuse. This might be a defense against perfectionism. This is just speculation, of course.

Once you understand what purpose they serve, try to figure out whether the underlying fear is unrealistic or not and how you might address it in a healthier way. For example, if you fear that you won't do so well on your work, perhaps it would help to remind yourself that you cannot and do not expect anything more from yourself than your best effort.
posted by shivohum at 4:12 PM on January 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

Hunh, I hadn't expected this question to lend itself to 'try therapy' answers, but CBT might be appropriate if you feel the troublesome thoughts are pernicious. My understanding is that's something it addresses especially well.

A longer term possibility occurs to me too. I wouldn't rush into it, because they're work to train and could be quite frustrating if you aren't prepared for the job or don't have the experience to avoid projecting the wrong expectations on them, but in principle (once house-trained and led away from mischief), quite a lot of dogs would love to remain by your side when you're alone and reaffirm your mind-blowing awesomeness with sincere affection for the small price of a daily walk, some food, and a lot of belly rubs. The benefits may be relevant.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 5:12 PM on January 30, 2014

Honestly, what helps me is to make a list. Make a list of everything you have to do, even if it's something stupid like eat or make a phone call, or take a coffee break.

My List Rule is: Get 3 things done on the Master List.

The advantage of list making is to get all of that stuff out of your head and onto a piece of paper. Make it as long and as silly as you want. But commit to getting 3 things done at a time. Go back and cross them off, even if it's "go to the bathroom." Because then your brain will be like, "oh hey, I did this!"

What this does is short circuit the ruminating because now you are focused on your List of things. No time, no time! said the Rabbit!

So now you know you can get 3 things done on your Master List. And often, it will gear you up to do more things on the list, and then you have things that you did that you can actually talk about with people and relate to them and so it goes.

Being alone for long stretches can be very anxiety producing, I agree. But you have to short circuit that part of your brain by activity. Putting on some music, tapping a pencil, etc. It's perfectly natural, we all go through it. And if you're not doing something that's fascinating, it can be agonizing.

Anyway, that's my method. List it all out to the bare bones and then do 3 of those things.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 5:15 PM on January 30, 2014

I use this two-or-three step process.
0. If you're OK with a tiny bit of booze, sit down after work and savor one (1) fancy mixed drink, beer, or glass of wine every so often. Or go hit up a happy hour with one of your friends. Eases the nerves.
1. Put one of your most familiar songs or records on the stereo (if you don't have neighbors who will complain about the noise) or on headphones and the portable music device of your choice (if you do). Sad songs need not apply.
2. Dance like no one's watching because they totally aren't, you're just rocking out to one of your favorite jams! Singing is optional, but if you have a hairbrush, you basically have a microphone. Just sayin'.

As EmpressCallipygos suggests, when you're alone and wanting to talk, you can absolutely talk to yourself. No shame in that, it can be really useful if you need to work out topics you're feeling conflicted about.

If you're alone in a public place, you can pull out a pen and paper and write a fan letter to the person you miss more than anything, even if they're not around to read it. Or write a sincere apology to someone who deserves it. Or both, if they're the same person (I just did this; I can attest that it is awesome). Donate some money to your favorite charity. Send a text message to your best friend or closest family member that says something like, "Just saying hi, hope you're having a good day!" Click some puppy and kitten SLYTs on the Blue -- make sure to put your phone on mute first. Rock out to some comforting jams on comfortable headphones. Stand up and hold the door for someone walking into or out of the room, or just go outside and get some fresh air. Sunshine solves most things.

If you're at home, marathon a so-terrible-it's-excellent or regular old excellent television show on the streaming video service of your choice. Find local lessons for a hobby you've wanted to pick up and then start practicing it in your free time. Go to a sangha and learn how to meditate. Start clicking 'Random Article' on Wikipedia until you find something that trips your trigger and take a free online class on the topic. Make an amazing new Pandora station. Pick up a volunteer gig, even if you can only do it once a month. Let yourself feel happy and fulfilled more often, it's OK.

I know everything feels very scary, but you can try to focus on this one amazing truth when you're alone and feeling overwhelmed: No one deserves to be miserable. No one in the world. Nothing you've done in your life has earned you this constant pummeling of background radiation thick with anxiety and self-hatred. That's a useful bit of information for when you need to comfort yourself; it reconnects you with a very basic sort of humanity, which can seem so far away when you're mired in feeling awful and unworthy. So here's to studio apartment karaoke and earnest letters and new hobbies and self-edification and heroes, right? (Right!)

Every day, try to do something for yourself that will make tomorrow easier for you -- make some tasty overnight oatmeal, set out some nice work clothes, clean the kitchen so it's all sparkly when you wake up. Set yourself up for tiny successes, encourage your own curiosity and inner growth, genuinely try to comfort yourself when you're sad, get some talk therapy and Pema Chödrön books, try to be more patient with yourself and everyone you meet. Stuff like that will help you grow accustomed to treating yourself with more kindness, which will stand in stark relief to hating your own company, which should gradually help make being alone with your thoughts more bearable in the long term. As a wise man once said, "It hurts, but it's worth it."

Hang in there, good luck!
posted by divined by radio at 5:19 PM on January 30, 2014 [7 favorites]

I think mindfulness can really help you deal with that stuff. It sounds like you are doing a lot of ruminating or going over and over things in your mind. Mindfulness helps you acknowledge and recognize that you're doing that and retrains you to handle yourself with compassion. I'm also getting on the "try therapy" bandwagon, if there is one yet.
posted by mermily at 5:22 PM on January 30, 2014

I have an easier time with scheduled alone time than with unplanned alone time, as it reminds me that being by myself is a (good) option, not a necessity.
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 6:06 PM on January 30, 2014

I try to change my attitude and think of it like 'oh spending time with me! This is a great opportunity to have a better relationship with myself'

Actually, I don't think you're having an unusual or even unhealthy reaction. Isolating yourself for hours, intent on having a rigorous kind of "quality time" with yourself, sounds crazy-making. Nobody could stand up to that kind of scrutiny!

I love spending time alone, but I don't use that time the way you're trying to. Usually, I spend it on pastimes that force me to focus very intently -- but on things completely outside of myself. I like to build things, read, garden, draw, go off on long tangents of research...things that require a lot of concentration and so aren't very suitable to doing with others, but which are fundamentally not about me or inward-focused. They get me out of my own head, I guess? Those times, to me, feel meditative and peaceful. Do you have any hobbies or interests that aren't particularly social (or productive even)?
posted by rue72 at 7:20 PM on January 30, 2014

Listen to music and sing along!
posted by mrrisotto at 10:12 AM on January 31, 2014

I'm getting to a great place with this, personally. I have to say that your discomfort in being alone with yourself (and you recognizing that and wanting to figure it out) is a great place to start. Alone time is all about WHATEVER YOU NEED.

So, it sounds like what you need right now is to dig into why you don't like being alone with yourself. I know that might sound circular, but it's not. Next time you're antsy and alone feeling pressure to have some great quality time with yourself, take that time to answer the question: what is it I don't like about the feelings I get when I'm alone? What do I think about myself or my life in those moments of silence that is uncomfortable? This is where the fun begins. Just answer yourself. Don't judge yourself, just take a great thing about alone time is that you can do the things that you can't do in front of everyone else, like be introspective.

At first, you'll probably find there' slots of fodder for deep personal discussions with yourself about this inner struggle, its roots, its cure, and all that stuff...after a while of just getting to know what's there inside, you will be more and more comfortable with what's there, and you will understand and like yourself more. Then, you-time can turn into self-love time like watching great movies that none of your friends like but YOU love, or dancing like nobody's watching because nobody is!

I think you've found the right first step by noticing your discomfort. I think you should start right there, and just get to the bottom of it. The end result will be that you know and trust yourself more than ever before. That's when alone time gets to be more fun.
posted by SarahBellum at 12:06 PM on January 31, 2014

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