How to Cope with One of the Scariest Fears of All: Solitude


Halloween is the time when we poke fun at fear—which winds cultural tradition and recreation and playfulness into one. But it’s also an attempt to gain control over fear by, well, mocking it. But one of those monsters doesn’t have a costume: It’s the fear of being alone.

Whether you feel full-on afraid or just mildly anxious, for many, being without another person or a distraction, and left to your own thoughts and fears, is incredibly discomforting, which is why we tend to schedule up and smother ourselves with activity, whether that’s watching television while you eat or 24/7 texting.

Not that there’s anything wrong with having fun or enjoying your friends. Far from it. Pleasure, community, and connection are vital to your resilience. The problem comes when you’re courting chaos to hide from difficult or scary parts of your life. That in turn can create more stress for you, and then more chaos, until something is bound to break–your health, your relationships, your work.

What you need isn’t to avoid all alone time, but to build up your solitude muscles, to face the fear of being alone little by little, until you trust that you are strong enough to stay still, to turn off the phone, or go for a solo walk or stay in for the night with only yourself for company. Take a tip from the habits of introverts, the masters of replenishing alone time. Follow these strategies for tuning out the world, tuning in to the positivity in solitude, and feeling strong and brave to be who you are, where you are, right now.

Sink into Something You Love
As Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts, points out, social science research has shown that solitude is a catalyst for innovation. It’s where great ideas are born and creativity can take flight.

Find a project or undertaking that deeply engages you. Making jewelry? Running? Testing mascaras? Go for it. Give yourself time to sink into it, to really enjoy it, and enter what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihaly calls “flow.” This is a kind of solitude that feels good. You may not literally be alone or quiet, but you are with yourself in a deeper, more rewarding way.

Go for Old Tech
Learning to be with yourself is a change of pace. The modern malady of busyness is itself a form of distraction—if you move fast enough, you don’t have to grapple with whatever’s out of balance in your life—and its antidote is to do an activity you normally speed through with deliberate slowness.

(Read more about how busyness is the new black.)

Try writing an actual letter. On paper. With a pen. To be put in an envelope. With a stamp. Letter-writing is like journaling with purpose. It takes time to choose what you want to write to this or that particular person; you get to think about your relationship and your shared history.

Or, if you’re a cooking type, try making something from scratch that you normally buy boxed or take-out. Wash a special item of clothing by hand with a lot of care. Arrange a bouquet of flowers yourself. Brush your dog or cat (if they’ll let you). Do a little busywork, like filing papers or organizing the spice rack. This doesn’t have to be complicated, and you don’t have to forsake modern conveniences. All you’re looking for is a positive contrast from your normal quick pace that brings you to what you and you alone are experiencing here and now.

(Read more on why busywork makes you happy.)

Make Time for Mindfulness
We at meQuilibrium come back to mindfulness practices often because they’re a simple, powerful tool for learning how to stay present and peaceful with your thoughts and feelings when you’d much rather drink three espressos and start a debate about last night’s episode of The Voice.

Think of mindfulness as less grueling lunges or curls. You work these muscles a little at a time and suddenly, there you are with a 12-inch vertical leap and the triceps of Jennifer Aniston. Here are our favorite (and super simple) mindfulness techniques.

Solitude isn’t about cutting yourself off from humanity, or hiding out in a cabin in the woods. It’s about balancing stimulation and rest so that you’re not a scary stranger to yourself. A deep, sustaining confidence comes from knowing you can be good company to yourself (no matter what zombies pop out of the haunted house closet at you).