A quarter of us admit to feeling lonely – and the problem is particularly heightened at this time of year.
But there’s a big distinction between feeling lonely and being alone. People commonly describe feeling dreadfully lonely in the middle of a huge crowd. Others say they feel perfectly content by themselves – and the key to this could be that they fully embrace flying solo.
Claire Jenkins, 40, owns a HR and recruitment business. Here, she opens up about how she overcame the crushing loneliness that was triggered through a family tragedy by enjoying time alone…
"In my early twenties, my mum died in a car crash and it had an extreme impact on me. I threw myself into crazy activities, such as climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.
I looked like I was thriving, but I had a deep sense of loneliness within my heart, even in a big group of people. That empty feeling came back during the pandemic, when I was living alone in London. I’d watch TV until late and the lack of sleep led to crazy thoughts like, “Everyone hates me.” Christmas was particularly hard as others seemed to be having fun, despite the circumstances. It made me feel lonelier.
I had to change, which meant completely shifting my mindset. I needed to rejoice in being alone, rather than feel lonely. I’d go for long walks. I started to tackle the stack of books I’d planned to read. I did online courses and filled in a daily gratitude journal.
In July 2020, I moved back to Gloucestershire to live with my dad. That’s when I started a Google Excel document listing everything I wanted to do, including walking on hot coals and walking 300 miles in two weeks – both of which I’ve done.
Now, I see it as an honour to spend time alone. It’s empowering. I can clear my mind and come up with my best ideas. If I want to do something, I don’t wait for anyone to join me, I just do it! If I want to go paddleboarding tomorrow, I will. The world has become my playground, I’m living life to the optimum. You can waste so much time thinking about what you haven’t got and who you should be hanging out with. I’m on my own path. I don’t have to fit in with society.
I don’t recall much of my twenties, because the darkness overcame me. Now, I appreciate every minute, whether I’m alone or not."
We could all benefit from the “K-Wellbeing” practice of Honjok and eliminate the stigma of spending time alone, according to Isa Kujawski, the author of The Book Of Korean Self-Care…
Honjok signifies someone “who willingly undertakes typical group or couples-oriented activities alone, such as dining and travelling”, explains Isa.
“It embraces the idea that it’s normal to enjoy time alone and that being alone or single isn’t lonely or pitiful. It relieves people from the social expectation of having to get married, or maintain needless, superficial relationships in an already high-demand life.”
How to incorporate Honjok into your life
Normalise the act of doing things by yourself
“Try to abandon the perceived awkwardness of being alone in public, says Isa. “Accept that most people are too busy living their own lives to judge you for being by yourself.
“Feel liberated knowing you can still do everything you feel like doing by yourself. You don’t have to wait for anyone to experience life on your own terms. If you want to take yourself out on a date, or celebrate a holiday by yourself, that’s OK.”
Use alone-time to reflect
“If you find yourself alone against your own wishes, use it as valuable time to look within and develop a deeper understanding of yourself. “Once you push past the discomfort of loneliness, you may find that your true thoughts and feelings come to the surface and help you pave a path towards beautifying your inner world.”
Let go of the pressure to fit in with society’s expectations
“Society has built expectations of how we should conduct our time – get married, have a family, balance a social life and exhibit extroversion.
“These may be great goalposts for many, but it’s OK to want to do things on your own terms. Honour your unique self – and if that means spending most of your time alone, then so be it.”
“Spending time alone can recharge your batteries and give you space to get a valuable perspective on life,” explains Robin Hewings, Programme Director of the Campaign to End Loneliness. “It’s a vital part of self-care and can improve your mental health. having things to look forward to can help.”
But he adds, “We need to talk about loneliness to reduce the stigma. If it’s not a choice, or you don’t have support, it can feel very isolating.” If you’re unhappy or struggling, he advises seeking help from medical professionals or charities such as Mind and samaritans.
Read more in The Book Of Korean Self-Care by Isa Kujawski (CICO Books, £14.99)
For support, visit CampaignToEndLoneliness, Mind and Samaritans. You can speak to someone at Samaritans, 24 hours a day on 116 123
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