Coping in Isolation: Solitude vs Loneliness

By: Jessica Satya Graha

Edited by: Carolin Cao

We are currently living in an overpopulated world, and our societies are dense with people in constant interaction with others. We have invented gadgets that put us in contact with people from all corners of the globe at the drop of a hat. We can now hear the voices of others on the other side of the world the second we pick up our phone. We have phones that are constantly buzzing with notifications and reminders, promoting new curiosities and grappling for crumbs of our attention. Amongst the cacophony of technology, we are more connected than ever, but somehow lonelier than ever.

Our previous articles have highlighted the detriments of loneliness. One need only recall the last 2 years and we are easily reminded of the loneliness we all endured. However, in this article, we want to highlight the benefits of being alone. How experiencing moments of solitude may be the medicine for the stress that can come with living in a world in constant noise.

Firstly, we need to make a distinction between solitude and loneliness.

Solitude is the physical state of being alone. A choice.

Loneliness is a psychological state associated with negative emotions such as depression and distress.

The pandemic was not a choice. It was forced seclusion, one that turned into isolation and bred loneliness.

The pandemic has put a spotlight to the benefits of social media. It has allowed us to remain in contact with others. Alas, the marvels that social media brings to us in our time of need comes at a price: The wonderful moments of distraction evolve into boredom with a certain darkness. The mindless scrolling. The unrealistic expectations. The spreading of misinformation. In fact, a survey [1] recorded about 50–70 percent increase in internet use during the COVID-19 pandemic and of that 50 percent of the time was spent engaging on social media in 2020. Serious repercussions includes the propagation of racism and discrimination. For example, in a recent study [2], more than 80% of Asian Australian respondents reported having experienced COVID-19 related discrimination,28 and there have been several instances of physical and verbal abuse, as well as racist property damage since the outbreak. It may have been the only way to remain connected to the world, but social media could never replace human interaction.

We have been raised in a world where there are two ideas, that at times, contradict each other

  1. We need to learn more about ourselves by being alone

  2. That humans are built as social creatures

That to find happiness, we need to find it within ourselves ….but the pandemic has shown us we need human interaction to survive and thrive. While both are true, it is often hard to find the balance between finding time alone and taking the time to maintain our relationships with others.

Humans have long stigmatised solitude. Often seen as a form of punishment- a realm for the loners. Our culture has developed a certain bias against introverts. For instance, employment processes favour more loquacious personalities, with employers often viewing loquacious extroverts as more ambitious, proactive and competent in leadership. Alas, in the setting of social connection and building new friendships, extroverts naturally dominate with their innate ability and love for socialisation and ‘recharging’ in the company of people. There is no doubt that there are many pros to this, but let us also learn from the wisdom of the introverted mind. The importance of being alone. The individuals who are able to find comfort and resilience in their own company.

Below are three reasons as to why we need to learn to embrace solitude, despite the fears of isolation as we are slowly recovering from the effects of the pandemic.

  1. Being alone allows us to better interact with others

Jack Fong, a sociologist stated that ‘When people take these moments to explore their solitude’, not only will they be forced to confront who they are, they might learn a little bit about how to out-maneuver some of the toxicity that surrounds their social setting’. It allows us to build confidence making it easier to maintain our boundaries

  1. We become unshackled from the influence of others, free from what others may think of us

We can allow ourselves to be free from the pressure to socialise. The obligations to make plans and to be free from the incessant anxieties of life. Even the most social human beings need time to decompress. To allow ourselves to discover new interests and ideas without the worry of judgement and opinion of others

  1. When we are free from the constant noise, chatter and input, we can create meaningful output.

We live in a world full of distractions. A world filled with constant noise. There’s a reason why authors or artists go to a cabin in the woods or hide themselves in a private studio to do work. George Orwell travelled to a remote island to write his most famous and final work ‘1984' which he described to be ‘an extremely un-get-atable place’.

So maybe the next time you have a chance to go for a walk, maybe consider not plugging in your headphones. Maybe the next time you have to commute to work, maybe consider not scrolling through your social media feed. Maybe the next time you have lunch alone, maybe consider not texting and communicating with others on your phone.

We need to reframe our thoughts on being alone and learn to see the benefits of solitude to allow us to cultivate our sense of ‘self’. A person who is able to have the capacity to enjoy their company, rich in their own experience in solitary is less likely to feel lonely when alone.

So maybe we should enjoy being in solitary, to avoid loneliness.

[1] Beech, M. (2020). COVID-19 Pushes Up Internet Use 70% and Streaming More Than 12%, First Figures Reveal. Available at: streaming-more-than-12-first-figures-reveal/?sh=6ad814cb3104