Have you ever felt alone? Do you live in a busy city surrounded by swarms of people who are in a constant rush to get from A to B, but paradoxically feel lonelier because people do not seem to have the time of day for you? Do you also find yourself besieged by long working hours and constant connectivity?
Feeling alone is one of our biggest fears as human beings and, even with today’s hectic lifestyle and obsession with social media, it is common to feel lonely and suffocated. Being caught up in the mundane routine of working, eating and sleeping, and with many of us also working when we get home, we can be left frazzled. Furthermore, being engulfed by social media is not the answer to combatting loneliness or making you happy as it can act as a hindrance to a healthy mind by encouraging negative feelings and actions, such as jealousy and gossiping.
With factors such as an ageing population and higher divorce rates than ever before, we are witnessing a rise in the number of elderly and young adults living alone. There is also evidence that extreme loneliness is associated with poorer outcomes, including a higher incidence of mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety. Recent estimates also report that extreme loneliness can increase the risk of early death by up to 14%.
Therefore, with clear evidence that extreme loneliness leads to poorer life outcomes and in a society where there is peer pressure to be popular by engaging in social media, spending time alone is often perceived as ‘uncool’. We therefore seem to take it too far the other way and are almost scared to spend some quality time alone.
For this reason, I would like to put a fresh perspective and positive spin on spending some valuable time alone (without completely isolating yourself) and to highlight the importance of some ‘me time’ with useful suggestions as to how you can best use this time.
Why is spending time alone important?
1. Key to self-reflection
Having more time by yourself allows you to engage in the art of self-reflection. Identifying how you could improve as a person and then translating your ideas into actions is something that we can forget to do when we are constantly distracted. However, setting aside even a few minutes on a daily basis just before you sleep or whilst travelling back from work to think about how you could have acted differently in situations that had arisen earlier that day could be key to self-improvement.
Furthermore, by spending time reflecting, you get to know yourself including your downfalls and life aspirations and this allows you to be comfortable in your own skin.
Consider writing a short and realistic resolutions list and review them at a later date to see if you have seen an improvement. Consider keeping a journal where you can reflect. Sometimes writing things down can make you feel a whole lot better. Take time to think about your aspirations and how you can achieve your goals.
2. Being mindful
This is a new craze that is currently hitting the US and UK. It recommends focusing on one task at any one time and avoiding worldly distractions (where possible) that can prevent you from feeling at peace. Tips on being mindful include:
• Cutting down on the amount of time you spend on your mobile phone
– Make sure it is on silent when you go to bed and don’t use it half an hour before you sleep.
– Wear a watch instead of looking at your phone to see what the time is – this will stop you from checking your emails/text/other social media messages.
– If you are out for a meal or spending valuable time with family or friends then try not to keep your phone visible and just enjoy the company and good food!
• Spend time outside
– Studies conducted at Harvard University have shown that spending time outdoors leads to a number of benefits including increased concentration, higher levels of happiness, decreased healing time for certain illnesses as well as increased Vitamin D levels.
– Go for a walk or a run without any distractions, such as listening to your MP3 player or talking to anyone else, and absorb your surroundings instead.
• Avoid multitasking
– This allows you to focus on the task in hand and therefore devote all your energy to it. You will notice increased efficiency and improved results.
– One common example where many of us multitask is eating in front of the TV. By avoiding this it will make you more conscious of what you eat, the portion size and allow you to enjoy every bite you take. This is one of the strategies that nutritionists have recommended to aid weight loss.
3. Devoting more time to rewarding activities
It was narrated from Ibn Mas’ood (RA) that the Prophet (SAW) said: ‘The son of Adam will not be dismissed from before his Lord on the Day of Resurrection until he has been questioned about five things: his life and how he spent it, his youth and how he used it, his wealth and how he earned it, how he disposed of it and how he acted upon what he acquired of knowledge.’
Furthermore, Ibn Abbas (RA) reported: The Prophet (SAW) said, ‘There are two blessings which many people waste: health and free time.’
So instead of staying on the phone for hours or watching a re-run of your favourite TV programme, how about spending the valuable time that we have engaging in more rewarding activities such as:
• Helping your parents – even if it means just washing up the dishes after you eat or doing the food shopping.
• Engaging in charity work – are there any that you could become involved in, such as your local elderly care home, hospital or community centre?
• Doing acts of worship including reciting dhikr, reading Qur’an and hadith and fasting
• Learning how to cook your favourite dishes and teaching others how to make your own signature dishes!
• Exercising – we have a duty to maintain the health that Allah (SWT) has blessed us with.
• Travelling (if you have the means to do so), which will allow you to understand and appreciate other cultures.
The above are just a few suggestions of how we can better spend our time. But the real take home message is that we should aim to maintain a healthy balance and divide our time fairly between both our worldly affairs and our souls. Do not forget to replenish your soul and purify your heart.
So embrace the time that you spend alone. Designate even just a few minutes a day to switching off from the world. Spend some of that time which you use to watch TV or replying to countless emails more productively. And remember; don’t be afraid to spend time alone regardless of society’s negative perception of it because you are never truly alone – Allah (SWT) is always by our side.
Sophia Khan is a Junior Doctor working in the West Midlands, with a specialist interest in Public Health and General Practice.