How to Relearn the Joy of Being Alone

When you’re quarantining with other people, it’s easy to forget how to do things solo

A woman smiling and hugging her bed.
A woman smiling and hugging her bed.
Photo: JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images

I was halfway down the pasta aisle when it hit me: In quarantine, without realizing it, I’d become afraid of doing things alone.

My husband was next to me, as he had been for every grocery run since we went into lockdown. By this point in the pandemic, though, I knew how to stock up for an indefinite quarantine. I didn’t need him there to weigh in on how many boxes of fettuccine we should grab; I just wanted him, because I’d gotten so used to the company over the last four months. Come to think of it, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d ventured out for anything by myself.

While loneliness may be baked into the quarantine experience, for people who are isolating with others, this time has also been defined by a profound lack of solitude. And with all the careful coordination that now goes into every formerly low-stakes activity, many of us are forgetting what it was like to do things independently, without consulting or planning with someone else.

But being alone is a skill like any other. It may be rusty now, but with practice, you can get yourself back into it. And with the pandemic stretching out ahead of us with no clear end, it’s a skill that can help you hold on to a clear sense of self as you weather it. Here’s how.

Catalog moments when you’re alone and happy

If you haven’t been away from your partner or roommate in months, you might not even remember what you enjoy doing independently, not to mention what you really like about yourself in those solo moments.

The professional development coach Danielle Adams recommends using a time log to get reacquainted with these aspects of yourself. It sounds a lot more involved than it is: Next time you’re alone — even if it’s just for a few minutes as you take a shower or step out for some fresh air — make a mental note about how it made you feel, and jot it down on your phone or a piece of paper when you can.

Look for patterns and small details that might make the transition into longer stretches more comfortable. If, for example, you realize that singing in the shower is fun, then wear headphones and put on a favorite playlist when you’re outside.

Be the first to get up

Use the early hours of your day to shift the focus onto yourself and your own thoughts. “Create a morning routine that includes solo time,” says the therapist Christie Tcharkhoutian Kederian. “Having [this kind of] morning routine will help with starting the day connecting to yourself.”

Your morning routine likely already has some things you do on your own — you probably don’t need company while brushing your teeth — but build in space for more reflective moments, too. Plan to wake up a few minutes earlier than the rest of your household. Drink your coffee in solitude. The more you can reintroduce solitude into your time at home, the more comfortable you’ll be venturing outside of it alone, too.

Schedule meetings with… yourself

Putting this time on your calendar — actually blocking it off — will make it easier to adjust to a routine in which flying solo is a regular occurrence. Carve out a half-hour for a scheduled solo walk or drive. Make a list of errands you need to run, and plan a time to do them on your own.

It may feel weird at first. “Check in with yourself frequently, being sure to offer yourself plenty of encouragement along the way,” says Saba Harouni Lurie, a therapist with Take Root Therapy. You can make these trips slightly longer or venture out further as you get more comfortable.

The key is that you’re making decisions to be alone — that it’s an inherently active, positive thing. “For many people, being alone is very different than feeling alone,” Adams says. “In order for being alone to feel acceptable or normal, a person must feel they have made a conscious choice rather than living at the effect of fear, tension, or pressure.”

For some of us, making the conscious choice to independently estimate the correct quantity of pasta sauce for the whole household feels like a major personal victory. And these days, it counts for a lot.

Alli Hoff Kosik is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn, NY. A voracious reader, she channeled her love of books into launching The SSR Podcast in June 2018.

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