These days, we’re almost always connected, and lockdown has, for many, cemented that fact. We spend hours on video calls or conversing via personal and professional communication platforms, meaning that we never really disconnect or switch off.
We’ve been so connected, in fact, that we might have forgotten just how important alone time can be. Crucially, ‘being alone’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘being lonely.’ Spending time by yourself is an essential element of self-care and gives us an opportunity to recharge and reconnect with ourselves.
In Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark, personal space, private time and time alone is highly valued, and seen as an essential part of the day-to-day. Whether this is for reflection, to switch off from the stressors of life or to simply relax, the Scandinavians don’t see being alone as a bad thing.
In fact, Swedes have even got an expression, ‘ensam är stark’, which means “alone is strong.” That’s not to say that the Scandinavians are not socially inclined; they just tend to develop friendships and spend time with the people with whom they deem as most important.
‘Ensam är stark’ reflects how important the value of independence is, in Sweden. Striving for financial independence from the age of 18 and moving out of your parents home, making your own living and not being dependent on a spouse as another adult, nor children as you grow old, are principally all part of this Swedish concept.
The motto is embodied in a high percentage of the nation’s single households (40%), with one in five people living by themselves, the highest number in Europe.
While actively choosing to take time for yourself is a typically Swedish trait, doing so, or living alone doesn’t mean that you’re totally constrained to not meeting friends or family. It’s more that the option to spend time alone it’s not frowned upon, which may be the case in different cultures.
With various mental health benefits, being just with yourself can provide relief from social pressures, increase mental happiness and improve stress management. With social isolation on the rise in Sweden however, and four out of ten reporting involuntary loneliness, it’s perhaps best to live by the wise proverb, “Lagom är bäst (the middle ground is the best), to reap the full benefits of ‘Ensam är stark.’
Another practice to build into your routine could be the other Swedish concept of, Lagom, a word that means both “a moderate amount” and “just the right amount”. Adopting a lagom lifestyle can enable us to let go of the unnecessary excesses and focus more on the most important aspects of life. During the lockdown, self-reflection is undeniable, but it can also be a time to step away from the aspects of our lives that cause more harm than good.
Stepping away from life’s little stressors
David Brudö of mental wellbeing and self-development platform Remente echoes the importance of alone time
As a social species, we actively seek a sense of belonging, this is often found through strong friendships and family bonds. Research from the London School of Economics found that the key to happiness lies in good mental health and happy friendships.
Without good relationships, we can, instead, begin to feel lonely, which can then develop into depression and anxiety. Lockdown has seen many of us spending prolonged periods of time alone, connecting with friends in different ways, and has offered the opportunity to lean on some relationships more and move away from others, which are, perhaps, not all that healthy for us.
Toxic friendships can have an adverse effect on our mental health, leaving us feeling stressed, anxious, and even depressed. But how do you recognise if a friend is having a negative effect on our mental wellbeing?
If you think that there is a toxic friendship in your inner-circle, consider the following; does this friend only speak about themselves, even if it is clear that you need a moment to speak? Do they criticise you? Do you find yourself feeling calmer when you are away from this person than when you are together? Answering these questions could help you to spot toxic relationships with your friends.
A few years ago, we were all hearing about Hygge, and the concept of getting cosy indoors and enjoying some much-needed alone time to rebalance and recentre.
New lifestyle trends and concepts such as gemütlichkeit, in Germany and Austria, which refers to a feeling of comfort and cosiness that you get from a welcoming environment, or koselig, in Norway, referring to the cosiness of intangible things like warmth, conviviality, contentment; but ‘ensam är stark’ teaches us that taking much needed time alone gives us the opportunity to withdraw and reflect.
This practice can give greater clarity in our actions but also in our goals, using it to our advantage by lightening the load of life, stepping away from life’s little stressors and enabling us to enjoy some solitude, by getting rid of the excess baggage that we carry around with us in the day to day.
Whatever you are doing with your lockdown, adopting new lifestyle trends from around the world, recentering, reassessing and readdressing friendships and relationships and utilising the newfound time alone means that you can come out of this a stronger, better person in many different ways.