You describe yourself as outgoing, an extrovert, perhaps even the life of the party. You feel happy, alive, and excited about life when you are surrounded by others! Sure, you recognize that you prefer to be around other people, but if you go from happy to depressed when the party is over like a light switch was just flipped off, it’s time to look within and find out what’s going on.
First let me start by saying, I am not a doctor, I am not a shrink, I am not a counselor.
I am a yoga teacher, a business owner, a mother, and I also experience depression and anxiety when I am alone. I am not here to provide you with a cure for clinical depression. I would like to share with you what I have learned from my experiences with feeling depressed when I am alone and how I have learned to change my outlook and literally change my entire life!
The reason for any of the unpleasant and pleasant feelings that we experience as human beings are usually not as complex as we like to sometimes conjure up. Unpleasant feelings are a very normal part of being alive. And if we can learn to sit with those unpleasant feelings, instead of pushing them away because they feel uncomfortable, we can begin to change our experience, feel ok with being alone, and begin living a more fulfilled life.
I remember from a very young age, noticing that I was a very social being! I have always loved being around other people. I felt happiest when I was communicating, creating, playing and laughing with others. I also noticed that when others were not around I felt a sharp decline in my energy. I quickly became unmotivated, uninspired, sad, uncomfortable, anxious, worried and sometimes very depressed. So naturally, I wanted to avoid those icky feelings at all costs! I needed my people. I needed my fix. My energy boost. People are what would make me feel better! And they did! Until I was inevitably alone again. Years of this roller coaster of feeling high on life and then low energy had me feeling out of control of my own emotions and caused me to become very worried. I became deeply concerned about my emotional well-being. I began to wonder if something was wrong with me. I was convinced that my feelings we not normal. And I definitely did not want to tell people that I was feeling having dark and uncomfortable feelings. I didn’t want anyone to think something was wrong me with. So I stuffed it down. I ignored the bad feelings and covered them up with things that would temporarily make me feel better and I continued to surround myself with people so I could ignore the problem.
But sometimes, you gotta be alone! I eventually became tired of depending on others for my boost of energy, for my fix to feel good about life. I knew I needed to learn how to be ok when I am alone. And it is time for you to learn how to be ok when you are alone, too! It’s time to change the way that you react to feelings of discomfort, loneliness and boredom. Here’s how!
Welcome in the feelings that you are feeling! Do you feel shitty and depressed when you are alone? Embrace it! When you push down your feelings and cover them up with things that temporarily make you feel good, those uncomfortable feelings don’t go away. It’s time to stop avoiding discomfort! Your feelings are your teachers. They are revealing to you important things about yourself! It’s time to pay attention. It’s time to spend some time alone. Intentionally. Not because there are not any other options to fill your time, but because you are making time to be alone to observe your
feelings as they are.
After you welcome and define how you are feeling, it’s time to sit with those feelings. This is different from wallowing in our “bad” feelings. Because we have already decided that we are ok with them. Become curious about your feelings as you notice them. Ask yourself, why am I feeling this way? What sensations do I notice in my body when I am feeling this way? Observe your breath. Observe tension in your body. Observe your posture. Observe your thoughts. What stories are you telling yourself about how you are feeling? Try tweaking those stories, not to push them down, but to change the way you react to them.
Instead of this :
“I am depressed. I feel sad. I don’t like being alone because it makes me feel worthless.”
Try adjusting how you view your feelings :
“I am observing that I feel depressed and low energy when I am in solitude. And it’s normal and ok to feel this way. The way that I feel has nothing to do with my worth or value as a human being. I have feelings, but I am not my feelings.”
Now repeat this mantra:
“I have feelings, but I am not my feelings. I have feelings, but I am not my feelings.”
Often when we feel uncomfortable, depressed or anxious, our breath is poor. It’s time to focus on improving the quality of your breath! As a yoga teacher, I tell people all the time, the poses that we do in class are great tools to help improve the quality of your life, but it takes time and consistency to notice those changes. But your breath is so powerful, that by taking just a short amount of time to intentionally deepen your breath, you will notice changes in how you are feeling almost instantly!
Sit up really tall.
Close your eyes.
Relax your tongue to your lower palette
Take a deep breath in and fill your lungs completely. Hold your breath at the top of your inhale for 3 counts.
Exhale slowly. Empty your lungs completely and pause at the bottom of your breath for 3 counts before taking your next inhale.
Repeat for 4 (or more) more full cycles of breath, pausing at the top of the inhale and the bottom of the exhale.
Observe how you feel.
Do this exercise every day when you are alone and observe how you feel after your intentional breath. All feelings are welcome.
4. Positive reinforcement.
You have accepted that you don’t always feel great when you are alone. We are now ok with this. You have detached yourself from these icky feelings by realizing that “I have feelings, but I am not my feelings.” You have drawn your senses inward by intentionally improving that quality of your breath, and you have observed how you are able to affect how you feel in certain ways by practicing breath control. Now it’s time to transform your energy and create new feelings that are associated with being alone. This is different from the old habit of stuffing down and avoiding the uncomfortable feelings. Because now we have made peace with those “bad” feelings. In fact, we have welcomed them in! Now that we are becoming more comfortable with being uncomfortable, it’s time to get busy! Alone! This is the perfect time to do something that is enjoyable and productive on your own. This is called positive reinforcement! It’s kind of like a reward, BUT I am not talking about rewarding yourself with a glass of wine, or rewarding yourself with a Netflix binge sesh. Now is the time to reinforce with productive and creative activities that will help you to feel like a more fulfilled human being when you are not surrounded by people and distractions. Here are some ideas for you!
Yoga. Yoga is great for your body and mind. Yoga is an activity that can boost your confidence and is fun to work on alone! Going to a studio is also great, but this is about being ok with being alone today. So I’m talking about a home practice here.
Journal. Journaling is an amazing tool to improve your self-awareness and to explore a little creative writing also. Journal without a plan. If you don’t know what to write about start by writing how you feel in this moment.
Read. An actual book. Not on your phone or tablet where notifications and distractions will pop up. Pick up a book that seems interesting (NOT DEPRESSING. This is not the time for sad stories. We are molding our minds and intentionally choosing something that is a positive reinforcement) and dive in!
Go for a walk. Without headphones. Without your phone. Connect with nature. Alone. Observe the sounds, smells, colors and anything else you notice. The point is to be present.
Pot a plant. There is something about getting your hands dirty and connecting with a living plant that is satisfying and fulfilling.
There are many more activities that you can use as positive reinforcement. I want you to pick something that you are doing in solitude. Being alone and scrolling through IG does not count as your positive reinforcement activity in case you were wondering!
What have we learned?
It’s ok to feel a little depressed. It’s ok to feel bored. It’s important to explore those feelings that you are feeling and to learn how to accept them and to observe what they are trying to show you. It is so liberating to be able to spend time alone and to use that time for positive activities that will improve your confidence and your mood. When you do not rely on others to lift you up you will be able to not only appreciate your alone time more, but you will find that you are able to appreciate your social time more as well. You become a better friend when you are not dependent upon them for your mood boost. And you will appreciate your time with you friends more when there are breaks in-between those times. And your friends will appreciate and respect your new found confidence and how fulfilled you are becoming.
*I would like to mention that sometimes our feelings are too big to tackle on our own and that seeking help from a professional is brave and important to do if you feel that you need support. If you ever feel like hurting yourself, please seek help immediately.