As my first year of college comes to a close, I often find myself reflecting on the experiences and the lessons that I learned. College is a place where you not only learn about science and math, but also a place where you learn a lot about yourself.
As many college freshmen do, I lived in the dorms for my first year. Although it comes with many challenges — communal bathrooms definitely included — it is still something that I believe everybody should experience. The dorms are a residence like no other. You are living in a tiny little room with a person that you either just met or knew very little about, learning how to coexist with another human and never quite getting used to the feeling of fear that your roommate is going to just walk in when you are changing after the shower. You also are living in a building filled with teenagers experiencing their first taste of freedom. Forget about having any privacy or space; it simply does not exist in a dorm.
My first semester was filled with new people and new places. Every little scrap of free time I had was spent in a friend's room with a bunch of people, socializing every second of every day. At first, I loved this. There is nothing quite like living with your best friends, and I know that I would not be as close with my friends as I am now if it wasn't for this constant togetherness.
But as time went on, I started to find myself getting burnt out — mentally and socially. I started to struggle a lot more with my anxiety, and depression started to sink in. I just did not feel like myself anymore. I felt like somewhere along the way, I had gotten lost.
And I had absolutely no clue how to find myself again.
It felt like spending all my time with other people had somehow stolen my identity as an individual. I couldn't understand why I felt so wrong all the time, and I felt crazy for feeling it. It took me some time to figure out that sometimes being alone can help you find yourself. Knowing who you are and loving who that is is a big part of being happy in life.
After all, if you don’t enjoy spending time with yourself, how do you expect other people to?
My main intent is to tell you how being alone with myself has helped me better understand who I am as a person, and hopefully it can help you too. Because guess what? College is hard. No, I am not just talking about the stress from classes and trying to figure out what you want to do with your life. I am talking about the mental toll that being away from home, being independent, trying to find your place in the world, understanding yourself and so many other things can have on you.
Okay, so I know this whole thing may sound strange. You may be thinking, “How the heck is being alone going to help me? I like being around people and learning from them.” I felt the same way at first too.
Nobody said that you need to just cut every person in your life off and become some lone wolf who never socializes with anybody anymore — that would just be sad. But sometimes being alone can be a good thing. Thanks to an article by author Amy Morin called “5 Ways Solitude Can Make You More Successful,” here are a few examples:
- It makes your interests a priority
Being alone is an important part of self-development. It allows you to get to know yourself. When you are surrounded by other people, you might start to set aside your own ideas or passions to please your friends and family. Taking time on your own allows you to make choices and focus your attention without worrying about what other people may think.
- It improves your relationships
This one may seem like it is counterintuitive since it doesn't make sense that not being with people could strengthen your relationships with them. However, relationships are often strongest when each person takes time to take care of themselves. Even when it comes to friendships, the adage may be true — a little absence might really make the heart grow fonder. It is really important to have healthy friendships and a strong support system for your mental health, but sometimes taking a break can be equally as beneficial.
- Helps you regulate your emotions
In a culture where we often confuse being alone for loneliness, the ability to appreciate time by ourselves prevents us from processing the experience as a negative thing. This alone time is also helpful for us to understand what we are feeling, since we often suppress our feelings around others because we don’t want to “bring down the mood.” One big mistake that a lot of people make is confusing much-needed “me-time” with isolation. When depression starts to sink in we often want to be alone, when that is actually the worst thing that you can do. Isolating yourself at this time can cause you to fall deeper into depression and prevent you from still being a functioning human. Knowing the difference between these two types of alone is critical in this whole idea.
As with everything in life, changing your usual routine does come with some challenges. Humans are very social creatures, so the concept of being alone feels uncomfortable. We feel the need to constantly be in communication with others, although it is not as necessary as it once was. Back in the early days of humans, we used group mentality to stay alive. We needed each other to get food or stay safe from predators. That is simply not the case anymore. We can get food from the grocery store and the only predator to humans is other humans.
So, although solitude may be uncomfortable, it is incredibly beneficial to self-improvement. You need this time to free up your mind and focus on the bigger picture and future goals. It is actually okay for you to forget about the needs of others. It is not selfish to put yourself first.
Learning to love being alone isn’t something you jump into headfirst. You have to take baby steps. Otherwise, you might end up isolating yourself instead of enjoying some much-needed solitude. Some small ways that I started was simply just going on a walk by myself. I would walk around campus and listen to a podcast or some music, or I would just be there with my thoughts. This really helped me get away for a short amount of time just to be with myself and kind of unpack how I was feeling that day, all while getting some exercise — and those much-needed endorphins.
Another practice that I relied on heavily was simply just not going on social media for the first 30 to 45 minutes after I woke up. This really helped me focus on myself in the mornings. I wasn't bombarded by images of girls living lives I will never live and looking how I will never look. It was nice to not hold myself up to the impossible standards I have in my head for a little while.
As I come to a close, I realize that there is no reason for you to follow my advice. I am not a professional; I’m simply a college freshman. However, I can use my own experiences as a student and a person to help others. If you follow this advice and it helps you as much as it has helped me, that is fantastic — that is the goal. But even if you just read this and realize that you are not alone in what you are feeling, that still is a win for me.
It may seem embarrassing or selfish to focus on yourself so much, as it is not what society teaches us to do. But, if practiced effectively, self-reflection and being alone can result in a happier, more efficient YOU.