Spending Time Alone And Spending Time Around People
Good mental health means finding a healthy balance between spending time alone and spending time around people. But actually it’s not the presence or absence of people that counts as much as that we interpret being alone as solitude rather than existential isolation and that we interpret being around others as community rather than existential isolation.
Existential isolation is the real problem. What happens to a lot of us is that we can’t stand to spend too much time in either zone of life because we feel existential isolation in both. We unconsciously hope that switching from one zone to the other will relieve that painful anxiety.
In this sense it’s like we’re constantly running on empty. We think either escaping people to be by ourselves or escaping ourselves to be around people will fill up the tank. But the strategy doesn’t work precisely because the underlying problem is felt existential isolation. And you can feel existential isolation in the middle of a crowded room, just as you can feel connected in the middle of a vast wilderness.
It’s not just people we connect to in life. It’s also ideas, passions, projects, nature, art, music, spirituality, the universe. When we realize that existential isolation is not about being alone or not but about feeling disconnected or not the path opens up to focus in on developing the feeling of connection in both spheres of life, to people when we’re around people and to other objects when we’re not. Then being alone starts to feel like solitude rather than existential isolation and being around people starts to feel like community rather than existential isolation. We no longer feel compelled to escape either sphere as a means of anxiety reduction but move from one to the other because we want to.