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Balancing sociability and intentional solitude

Last Modified: June 19, 2024

Healthy Mind, Family Medicine

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This post was written based on an appearance by Courtney Washington, PsyDParkview Behavioral Health Institute, on the program PBS HealthLine.

The COVID-19 pandemic drastically changed the landscape of human interaction, igniting a strong desire for social connection at a time when gatherings were limited. Now that restrictions have largely lifted, many may feel pressured to "make up for lost time," which can lead to prioritizing social events even when not feeling up to it. This may cause guilt over canceling plans, leading to social burnout and neglecting personal needs for rest. Here, we'll explore the benefits of social connection and intentional solitude and offer strategies to empower you to meet your social needs in a way that feels right for you.

Building social bonds

Humans are inherently social, and maintaining interpersonal relationships is crucial for physical and mental health. Despite the end of strict isolation measures, the lingering effects of pandemic-induced isolation, such as increased depression, anxiety and substance use disorders, are still prevalent. Reengaging with the world thoughtfully by gradually increasing social activity and engaging in meaningful interactions that strengthen bonds and emotional support is essential. Here are some strategies:

  • Participate in structured group activities like fitness classes, clubs or sports leagues to feel connected and invigorated.
  • Volunteering helps build strong community bonds and provides a sense of purpose while connecting with others working towards a goal.
  • Consider joining a support group or group therapy to discuss shared challenges and experiences with individuals facing similar issues.
  • Be open to forming new relationships, even with individuals outside your usual social circle. New friends can offer fresh perspectives and broaden your worldview with diverse experiences and ideas.
  • Choose meaningful interactions and spend time with people who uplift and understand you rather than merely filling your social calendar.

Welcoming solitude

Despite the numerous advantages of companionship, intentional solitude is equally vital for mental health. Whether you consider yourself an introvert, extrovert or somewhere in between, everyone needs time to recharge and reflect. A study published by Frontiers involving 2,035 individuals, including adolescents, adults and older adults, highlighted the varied benefits of spending time alone, such as increased feelings of competency, self-growth and autonomy. Consider the following methods to enrich your alone time and foster personal growth:

  • Create a personal space that feels comfortable and inviting for your alone time, whether it's a reading nook, a garden or just a secluded space in your home.
  • Incorporate mindfulness practices or meditation into your daily routine to enhance mental clarity and reduce stress.
  • Engage in solitary physical activities such as yoga, running or home workouts to improve physical and mental well-being.
  • Plan for your future by using alone time to set short-term tasks and long-term goals.
  • Sometimes, the best way to recharge and reset is to do absolutely nothing at all.

Man journaling in nature

Final thoughts

It's essential to listen to our inner needs, recognizing when to stretch our social muscles and when to retreat into our personal sanctuaries. By embracing the joy of community and the peace of solitude, we equip ourselves with resilience against stress and enhance our capacity for happiness.

If you find yourself in need of additional support, contact the Parkview Behavioral Health HelpLine anytime at 260-471-9440 or 800-284-8439. This free service is staffed 24 hours a day with experienced specialists who can guide you to the most appropriate care and resources for your situation.

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