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MSU students, CAPS counselor weigh in on alone time, mental health

September 17, 2020
Kristina Katilius poses for a portrait with her ukulele during the coronavirus quarantine on March 24, 2020.
Kristina Katilius poses for a portrait with her ukulele during the coronavirus quarantine on March 24, 2020. —
Photo by Alyte Katilius | The State News

Alone time looks different for every single student. For humanities pre-law sophomore Madison Hales, alone time includes reading motivational books. For chemical engineering sophomore Joshua Krueger, it’s playing games or listening to music. For mechanical engineering sophomore Lucy Kiloustian it’s watching Netflix. 

But, whatever your form of alone time looks like, it’s necessary for your mental health to schedule that into your day.

Hales  likes to spend time alone because it allows her to check-in with herself and take a break from the real world. 

“Being alone, I’m really kind of in-tune to how I’m feeling. If I’m sad, or if I’m stressed, I can take care of myself,” Hales said. “That can be hard, to find a balance of helping yourself and helping others.”

Whether it is going on walks, listening to music or just taking some time to reflect on life, Hales thinks that alone time should be normalized because of the benefits it offers.

“For some people alone time is the opportunity to re-energize themselves from going out and seeing people," Hales said. "I think it should be normalized because you get to be there for yourself and kind of like hype yourself up for going out and going to school and seeing people and you can be in the best state possible.”

Krueger mirrors Hales when he thinks about alone time. Krueger said that alone time allows him to recharge.

“Sometimes being alone just helps me process things better,” Krueger said. "I flip-flop between wanting to see people and wanting to be alone."

Sometimes though, being alone can feel like a void. 

Kiloustian is a people-person; While alone, she feels bored and, well, lonely, so she tries to surround herself with people when she can.

“I feel like it’s just more stimulation because when I’m alone, I’m just lonely and kind of bored and I really don’t know what to do with myself,” Kiloustian said. “I’m more of a person who is negatively impacted by being alone because my friends are some of the most important people in my life and without them, I feel sad or empty or there is a void I need to fill.”

While she prefers company, Kiloustian acknowledged some perks to alone time. Sometimes you don’t need to fill the void and Kiloustian believes if alone time was more normalized she might be able to invest in it more.

“I love to read by myself because there are no distractions and I also always watch Netflix alone because I’m more focused on my shows,” Kiloustian said. “I feel like if it was more normalized I could be more comfortable being alone and not feel like I don’t know what to do with myself.”

Michigan State’s Counseling and Psychiatric Services, or CAPS, counselor Caitlin Riley said she sees both sides of the spectrum. While too much alone time can feel empty, the right amount can feel like an oasis. Riley said that alone time is good for mental health, but only to a certain extent. 

“I think of alone time on a spectrum. Having some alone time can be an opportunity to connect with yourself and unplug from the outside world which can often feel overstimulating,” Riley said. “I do think that alone time to the point of isolation can become unhealthy. It is also important to distinguish too that someone can feel alone or isolated even when surrounded by others.”

When Riley looks at college students she sees busy bees. Surrounded by school, fear of missing out and social pressures, Riley said she thinks that college students may not get enough alone time.

“We live in a world of constant stimulation, with our smartphones feeling like another body part,” Riley said. “Social media plays a big part in this too, whether it creates a sense of pressure or comparison to others or fear of missing out. The realities of college life can also be challenging if someone is managing multiple roles and responsibilities like if they're a student and working through college and also maybe caretaking for a family member, etc.”

Riley also said she thinks alone time could also be considered in a different, less daunting way.

“I think the word ‘alone’ can feel scary or heavy," she said. "Another way to frame that would be ‘How can I connect with myself and also try and be present?’ This will look different for everyone.” 

At work, Riley encourages her clients to connect with hobbies or things that brought them joy in the past or during their childhood to put an emphasis on the importance of alone time.

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"If being alone is new for yourself, I would definitely start small,” Riley said. "Meditation is a great way to start to connect to yourself and that can be as simple as focusing on your breathing for 10-20 seconds. It is important also to be intentional with connecting with yourself and scheduling it into your day or making time for it.”

Riley said studies show  the positive impact that alone time can have on someone, including increasing productivity, creativity and overall stress management.

In a society where interaction and stimulation is at the click of a button, alone time isn’t normalized. However, Riley said she thinks it is an important aspect of life to connect with yourself and can lead to many positive impacts.

“I think sometimes people are afraid to be alone with themselves. I think we have to approach this process with self-compassion,” Riley said. “If we think about the amount of time it takes to build a friendship with another person, we also can know that it will take time to get to know ourselves on our own especially if we’re so used to being surrounded by different forms of stimulation.”   

This article is part of our Living a Remote Life print edition. View the entire issue here.


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