Benefits of spending time alone

Suheil Thadani is a Manager of Strategic Partnerships for an events services firm based out of Bethesda, Maryland. He graduated from the George Washington University and previously lived in Nigeria.

When going through college, one of the most difficult things we struggle with is learning to adapt to all the stimuli that come our way. Forget classes, assignments, and student orgs; I’m talking about everything else that comes our way–the early relationships, the pressure to be adventurous and try new things, the urge to discover oneself. Everything.

As a response, most people dive into every experience. They join as many orgs as possible, sign up for classes they’d normally never take, and ‘date’ quite a few people along the way. Unfortunately, the most important, and often overlooked, aspect of college life is our personal development; our internal happiness.

Few people spend some time alone to get to know their inner-selves. Most people are even afraid of the word ‘alone’. Yes, environmental stimuli are VERY important. College is a great place to experience new things, meet new people, and shape your habits and preferences. With that being said, one of the biggest mistakes I made during college was to be ignorant of the person I was becoming, ignorant of my lack of happiness, and ignorant of my changing personality. I thought that if I just dove into new experiences and tried new things, the rest would follow.

I learned the hard way that our inner beings, our personalities, need love, attention, and care as much as our best friends or significant others. Through my sophomore and junior year, I became depressed. No external circumstance could change this. I just felt a dark cloud over my head at all times; I always felt like something was missing, like I wasn’t doing enough. That I wasn’t enough. I didn’t understand, as everything in the outside seemed fine: good grades, a strong group of friends, and a supportive family. I was even studying abroad in Paris, one of the most beautiful and inspiring cities in the world. And yet, that dark cloud always lingered.

I realized that I was being neglectful and assumptive. Neglectful of my inner happiness, assumptive that just because everyone around me seemed to be doing perfectly fine, I should be too. I assumed that I didn’t need to spend time alone every day to do some soul searching because no one else seemed to need to.

The reality is that unless we spend time with ourselves, getting to know the people we are becoming, checking in on our mental state from time to time, we will often find ourselves lost, confused, and even depressed.

What I did in Paris changed the rest of my life. I took control of my mental health, took control of my happiness, and gave myself the clarity I needed to begin on the path to becoming the person I wanted to be. Here are some things that worked for me:

1. Take some time alone for yourself: Every day, before class, I spent 15-20 minutes on a bench outside my apartment. I never told anyone I was going there and never asked anyone to meet me. I did this to get some time alone and to spend a few minutes getting better acquainted with myself.

2. Pay attention. During my times outside, I would ask myself how I was doing. Literally. I would think that question, sort of put in on my mind’s projector screen, and then be aware of the feelings that came up.

3. Write it all down! You’d be surprised the overflow of emotion (both good and bad) that can come from an evaluation of your life. I wrote down everything. Every doubt, every fear, every goal, every positive aspect. I wrote it all down so that I could begin working on and addressing everything I was feeling. Life can get disorganized, and nothing gets lost faster than an intangible thought.

4. Meditate. Seriously. This one is a game-changer. When I first began sitting outside every morning, I felt overwhelmed. A rush of worries overtook my thoughts and I felt anxious to get back up and do something, to get back to work. What fixed this was meditation. Not necessarily in a spiritual way, but in a way that released my tension and helped me slow my world way down. Try this: sit upright, close your eyes, and breathe deeply. All the way in and all the way out for about 3 minutes. Picture yourself in a calm setting (mine was by a river or sometimes in a garden) and every time a thought pops into your head, go back to focusing on your setting. For those three minutes, let it be the only thing that you think about. Trust me, it helps more than you can know to slow your world down.

5. It will all be okay. This is a line that I repeated to myself time and time again. Eventually, I began to believe it. And I was right to. Everything will be okay; we will all go on to live happy, productive lives and, if we work at it, become the people we always dreamed of being.

Mental health issues are not something we have to go through alone. If you feel overwhelmed by a sense of negativity, depression, or anxiety, don’t be afraid to seek help. Someone will listen. Someone cares.

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