The tenth and eleventh of my 52 Ways to Well-Being* are a pair. Two sides of a coin. Both equally important.
(*I’ve got to start writing wellbeing as well-being now, as that’s what’s been decided for both Positively Teenage and The Teenage Guide to Life Online.)
#10 Spend Enough Time Alone
This is much more important for some people than for others. For some – extroverts – it may not seem very necessary at all. And perhaps it isn’t, most of the time. On the other hand, there may well be times in your life when you have to be alone and I think it’s an extremely important skill to be able to be. Sometimes we can’t be with friends or family – sometimes they just aren’t available; or we might be living on our own; or everyone else is just busy. So it’s important to be unafraid of being alone and I think it’s good to practise, even just for an hour every now and then.
For others – introverts – being alone enough of the time is vital for well-being. Without that space to breathe, and not to have to talk or be talked to, an introvert becomes exhausted, stressed and overwhelmed by external stimuli – and then spends the next period of time processing all that chatter.
So, start to be aware and respectful of your need for time alone. If you need more, ask for it. Tell your friends and adults that you’re absolutely fine but you just want to relax your brain for a bit. Explain that it’s not an insult to them – you love them but your brain is buzzing and you need time on your own. Get them to read The Teenage Guide to Friends, which has a whole section on this, and also Positively Teenage, which covers that and more. Or take a look at the Quiet Revolution website for lots more ways to understand this.
And if you’re that extrovert who hates being alone, think about whether it would be useful to practise. It’s good to spare time to think, to daydream, to work things out. It’s good to pause and breathe – you might find you make better decisions sometimes, if you do. If you have friends who are more introverted, don’t be offended if they don’t want to spend every day with you. Especially school days – school days are exhausting, and can be especially so for introverts. They just need a break, as much as you need your buzzing noise!
#11 Spend Enough Time With Other People
The other side of the coin is that humans need human contact. We are social creatures who rely on our groups. We don’t do very well emotionally and out mental health suffers if we don’t spend any or enough time with other people. As I say, everyone’s needs for this are different but even a strong introvert (like me!) needs human company sometimes. I work on my own and my husband works away all week so I’m on my own a lot. And I love it. But I also, as people around me know, quite often have friends round for a meal. I blogged here about what happened when I was cut off in the snow recently.
It’s all about balance. Extroverts mustn’t fall into the trap of not being able to cope with being alone and introverts must avoid the trap of hiding away and cutting themselves off from people.
This needs to include face-to-face interaction, too. Online social media are great – there are huge benefits to all the contacts we can make there and certainly true friendships can be built online – but it’s not enough. We miss things in online interaction; it doesn’t require enough effort; and it often hides the truth of a person’s feelings. Online, you can pretend to be OK when you’re not. Face-to-face the other person will know. So you’ll get real, true, honest, caring support face-to-face on a level you can’t guarantee online. (I talk about this more in The Teenage Guide to Life Online – June 7th.)
Face-to-face forces us to dedicate a bit of time to another person or people. We are wholly “there”; it means more. And that’s good for both the giver and receiver of support. One person who has researched and written about relationships and contact is Martin Seligman. Seligman came up with the PERMA concept, in which the R stands for Relationships. And psychologist John Suler (creator of the term “online disinhibition effect”) has written about his work in face-to-face vs online relationships in The Final Showdown Between In-Person and Cyberspace Relationships.
So, when I say spend enough time with other people, I mean in real life. Online as well, if you want, but not to the exclusion of face-to-face.
If you’re shy, it’s very tempting to hide away and to just use online interaction. But it’s not a healthy thing to do it too much. You’re risking your mental wellbeing and weakening the networks with people who will help you when you need it.
TIPS for BOTH:
- Try to do something on your own each day, even if you find it hard
- Try to do something with other people each day, even if you find it hard
- Value introversion and extroversion equally
- At school, if you want time alone, go to the library at lunch or break – tell the librarian you’re totally fine but your brain is too noisy and you want to read on your own
- Talk to a stranger each day – even saying hello to someone serving you in a shop
- Ask someone about their day or how they’re feeling
- Meet some friends to go to the cinema – not much talking there but you’re with people!
- Work out whether you prefer large groups or just one or two other people – and create suitable situations
- In a group, it doesn’t matter if you don’t have much to say. If everyone had lots to say, it would be chaos!
For all the previous 52 Ways to Wellbeing, put “52 Ways” in the search box at the top of the page.