I think I'm Alone Now – The Benefits of Solitude

  1. Summary: Nurses need alone time! In my last article, I talked about journaling, and discussed my plans for taking my 60 days of journaling out into the woods for my first solo overnight hike. This is a description of that adventure. I am including safety features, like what to do if you meet a bear in the woods, as well as a thoughtful discussion of the benefits of solitude.

    I think I'm Alone Now – The Benefits of Solitude

    "I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees" - Henry David Thoreau
    SELF-CARE

    How many times have you heard that nurses are bad at self-care? We don't go to the bathroom enough, we don't take lunch breaks, we don't exercise, we smoke cigarettes, we don't sleep enough, we eat our young...the list is seemingly endless. I'm going to add another one: we don't get enough alone time. In between 13-hour shifts and family/bank/school/grocery store, when do we have time? When was the last time you were actuallyalone? I'm going to guess: you were in your car driving to work, or running an errand. Am I right? When was the last time you were in nature? You know, with the tall green things and that bright, shiny orb in the sky? When was the last time you were alonein nature? As nurses, we are at risk for compassion fatigue, burnout, exposure to infectious diseases, and violence in the workplace. We deserve a break...we needa break. Keep reading to learn some of the mental and physical benefits of being alone in nature, and why solitude should be on ourself-care list.

    ADVENTURE IS OUT THERE

    I've done plenty of adventurous things, like traveling to Haiti for a medical mission trip, a mountain bike adventure race that lasted 16 hours, jumping out of an airplane, having children. I moved across the country to take up kayaking, and I bought my first house on my own. I went back to school to be a nurse when I was 36, quitting a good full-time job with benefits. I'm not afraid of much. I like to test myself, but lately, the most adventurous thing I've done is binge watch Stranger Things. Something about turning fifty, and being a (mostly) stay at home mom to four kids has slowed me down lately. I've been feeling antsy, less alive. I neededsome adventure.

    My mom did four nights on the Appalachian Trail when she was 50, so perhaps I got the idea, and the courage from her, but I could never seem to get a plan in place for my own adventure. Finally, my success with daily journaling inspired me to set myself a deadline. When I had completed 60 days, I would head out into the woods with my journal, read through the pages, take notes of anything useful or important, and then burn the rest. I planned a ceremony of sorts. I planned to release the inner demons that were trapped on my journal pages. I was hoping for some transformation, and I was looking forward to the hike - I love being in the woods. I was less excited about the sleeping alone part, but there's that pesky need to test myself...it's like an itch I just have to scratch once in a while.

    THE OVERNIGHT

    With a 20 mile round trip mapped out, I got underway. The day was gorgeous. I only saw one or two people, but no one tried to chat (whew!). I had a perfect moment where I laid on my back in the middle of the trail and just looked up at the sunlight streaming through the leaves of the Beech tree canopy. It was glorious. I was alone. I didn't get scared until I had settled into my hammock around 10 pm. That was when I started worrying about bears and the meth heads who've set up camp in our forest. I decided there was nothing I could do about it, said a prayer, and fell asleep... for nine hours! In retrospect, I would do it all again with a few changes. I think burning my journal was a good idea in theory, but not the transformation I was hoping for, and I will definitely not take another burrito, which didtransform into a soggy mess by dinnertime.

    While I was hiking I had some thoughts about this article. I am Safety Nurseafter all, so I feel compelled to discuss whether what I did was actually safe. I also want to talk about the benefits of solitude, and if they outweigh the risks of a solo venture.

    BEARS

    So what about bears? Just how dangerous are they? Here in Western North Carolina (WNC) they are as common as stray dogs. They wander into yards, open car doors, and even break into houses. Despite their prevalence, there are, on average, only three fatal attacks per year nationwide, though some years there are as few as zero1.

    Here is where "death by bear" falls on the CDC list for 2005.2

    Cause of death # dead
    Cardiovascular disease 856,030
    Transportation accidents 48,441
    Drowning 3,582
    Hypothermia 699
    West Nile virus 119
    Hornet/bee/wasp stings 48.5
    Snake bites 5.2
    Bear attacks 2

    So worrying about being killed by a bear seems a little far fetched, but what about getting injured? It turns out that in the outdoors, the primary way you get injured is the same as everywhere else-slips, trips and falls. Mainly, I need to watch out for roots and stray rocks.

    While bear attacks are relatively rare occurrences, if you ever make contact with a bear, you can either play dead or fight back. "If a bear is acting defensive, especially brown bears, it's a good idea to just play dead." according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G).3 When a bear perceives a human as food, the department says to fight back, "Concentrate on the bear's face or muzzle with anything you have on hand." The department warns people against running away from bears. "They will chase fleeing animals," according to ADF&G. "A charging bear might come within a few feet, before running off. It's important to stand your ground."

    So that covers that problem - being eaten by a bear is not likely to happen, and given the number of bears that are now entering human habitations4- just as likely to happen in your living room if you live in WNC.

    WHAT ABOUT PEOPLE?

    While 1 out of 5 people fears the possibility of being murdered, the odds that a person will be murdered in any given year are about 1 in 18,690.5 Safety is even higher if you are a woman. Teenaged black males are most likely to be victimized, whereas elderly white females (me) have the lowest chance of being a victim.6 Location is the biggest risk factor for a solo hike. The US had 17,250 homicides in 2016, which equals a rate of 5.35 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants. Though we are at a 30-year low for homicides in the US, I would rather go hiking in Monaco or Andorra where the homicide rate is 0.7

    ALONE TIME

    There are risks involved in a solo hike. While meeting a hungry bear, or a psychopath are not likely, they can still happen. Do the risks outweigh the benefits of being alone in the woods?

    Let's define the terms. When I talk about being alone, I'm not talking about social isolation, which is associated with alcohol and drug abuse, anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicide. Social isolation, an increasing problem in our society, is a state of complete, or near complete lack of contact between an individual and society, and can be caused by depression, illness, age or any number of factors over which people have little control.8Solitude is voluntary. Psychology Today defines solitude as a state of being alone without being lonely, and can lead to self-awareness.9Loneliness is a negative state, marked by a sense of isolation, a sense that something is missing. Solitude is a positive, constructive state of engagement with oneself.

    WHY SPEND TIME ALONE?

    Though western culture tends to equate a desire for alone time with people who are lonely, sad or "antisocial", seeking solitude can actually be quite healthy.10

    Some benefits of being alone:
    1. Rebooting your brain and unwinding - having time to think deeply can spark creativity
    2. Improved concentration and increased productivity - oh the thoughts you'll think when there's no TV!
    3. The opportunity to discover yourself and your voice - who are you when your friends and family aren't around?
    4. Working through problems more effectively - being alone can lead to solutions you didn't expect to find.
    5. Enhanced quality of relationships with others - solitude can increase empathy and compassion
    6. Building mental strength- your ability to tolerate alone time can increase your happiness
    7. Reduced behavior problems in kids - one study suggests that kids who learn to be by themselves are better behaved than other children.

    HOW TO BE ALONE

    An article I read from Psychology Today has five recommendations for getting some alone time11:
    1. Disconnect - set aside time each day to unplug. I'm now limiting myself to checking my email at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. I'm so pleased with how free I feel in between. Also, I removed Facebook from my phone.
    2. Get up early - I try to get up 30 minutes before my kids do, but sometimes I hit the snooze button. I will continue to try to make it a habit. When I do get up and journal alone on the back porch with some meditation music and coffee, I feel better able to face the day, and back-to-school tantrums.
    3. Close your door - since I work at home this isn't as much of a problem for me - when my kids are at school, I'm in heaven. When I used to work at a college of nursing, I would put a sign on my door for two hours each day: "Working on an important project, please only knock if you really need to interrupt."
    4. Use your lunchtime - what lunchtime? Does anyone eat lunch any more? And if you do eat lunch, aren't you doing it while doing three other things? Seriously though, try having a lunch date with YOU.
    5. Schedule solitude - again, since I work from home, I have had to be creative here. I am trying to put a regular "solitude date" on my calendar so I will actually do it. The problem? It's so easy to move the appointment. I'd love to hear your suggestions.

    BEING ALONE IN NATURE

    This article isn't just about solitude, it's about being alone in nature. In a literature review of the topic, Thomsen, Powell and Monz (2018) report that exposure to and engagement with natural environments can provide significant health benefits. Research supports that being in nature leads to higher rates of physical activity, reduced blood pressure, reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, as well as improved BMI. In addition, being in nature can give you an improved ability to cope with stress, improved mood and self-esteem, reduced anxiety and depression and increased attention levels.12

    TO BE ALONE, OR NOT TO BE ALONE?

    I've argued that being alone in the woods isn't any more dangerous than sitting on your couch eating a pizza. I've provided some evidence that women can safely be alone in the woods.13 I've even suggested that going out into the woods might improve your health. Ultimately, however, it's up to you. Schedule yourself for some alone time. Take a walk on that trail near your house after work today, get up early and sit on your back porch and listen to the world come alive. Your body and mind will thank you.


    "I can't believe you are going to sleep outside in the woods by yourself, aren't you scared?" Said my good friend, Anna.
    "Well yes, of course, I'm afraid, but I am more afraid not to go."


    REFERENCES
    1. Bear Attacks - Killer Statistic That May Surprise You - The Alaska Life
    2. FastStats - Deaths and Mortality
    3. Bear Attacks - Killer Statistic That May Surprise You - The Alaska Life
    4. 2 bears break through window while family inside home | CBC News
    5. Dicing with death - The odds of being murdered
    6. https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/VIOCRM.PDF
    7. List of countries by intentional homicide rate - Wikipedia
    8. Social isolation - Wikipedia
    9. What Is Solitude? | Psychology Today
    10. https://www.forbes.com/sites/amymori.../#7291cbfb1b7e
    11. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/b...ore-time-alone
    12. Thomsen, J. M., Powell, R. B. & Monz, C. 2018. A systematic review of the physical and mental health benefits of wildland recreation. Journal of Park and Recreation Administration, 36. 123-148.
    13. https://www.adventuresportsnetwork.c...-hiking-alone/
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  2. Poll: Which of the following best describes your relationship with solitude?

    • I hate being alone! Solitude is not for me. Give me crowds any day.

      0% 0
    • I'm interested in trying this "alone time" business, it's just so hard to fit everything in.

      18.18% 2
    • It's important to me, but I haven't taken the time to be by myself in a while.

      9.09% 1
    • I schedule alone time as often as I can.

      45.45% 5
    • My dream job is working in one of those fire towers in the woods.

      27.27% 3
    11 Votes

  3. Visit SafetyNurse1968 profile page

    About SafetyNurse1968, PhD, RN

    BIO: Dr. Kristi Miller is a mother of four who loves to write so much that she would probably starve if her phone didn’t remind her to take a break. Her work experiences as a hospital nurse make it easy to skip using the bathroom to get in just a few more minutes at the word processor. Please read her blog, Safety Rules! on allnurses.com, and listen to her podcast on iTunes or Stitcher. You can also get free Continuing Education at www.safetyfirstnursing.com. In the guise of Safety Nurse, she is sending a young Haitian woman to nursing school and you can learn more about that adventure: https://www.youcaring.com/rosekatianalucien-1181936

    Joined: Jun '11; Posts: 142; Likes: 371
    Nurse Entrepreneur; from NC , US
    Specialty: Oncology, Home Health, Patient Safety

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    8 Comments

  4. by   vintagemother
    I, too, enjoy alone time in nature. I've gone camping with friends and family and then ventured off for 30 mins or so just to sit in awe of nature. I've also gone to the River with my young teen child and just sat and stared at the water. He didn't get it. But it was like a spiritual experience for me. I fantasize about camping alone and simply enjoying nature. Maybe one day, I'll be brave enough to camp alone. It's so serene and good for me.
  5. by   Leader25
    While in fantasy mode,being,doing things alone seems like a wonderful idea,I find it risky and dangerous.The comparisons with other stats seem underestimating what humans do to one another.This all brings forth the jogger murdered last year as she jogged in a lonely path.Her father was a police officer and I am sure she had been taught how to be alert and safe,but it was not enough.
  6. by   Davey Do
    Great article on alone time, SafetyNurse1968! I had a recent situation that reminded me of how much I enjoy my own alone time:

    I met my old mentor, Blayne Kielbasa, in the grocery store last week after not seeing him for ten years. Blayne is a retired instructor at the local community college and, 35 to 40 years ago, I took every class he taught: Sociology II, Marriage & Family, Anthropology. We were great chums outside of class and for years I would stop by his office, from time to time, while on bike rides to sit and chat.

    Blayne and I shared a lot of interests- the outdoors, bicycling, philosophy- namely transcendentalism, Emerson and Thoreau.

    It was the fall of 1981 when I took Anthro with Blayne and informed him that I had moved into a cabin where I planned to stay the winter.

    When I got home from the grocery store, I found a pic of the cabin and made a postcard to mail to Blayne with a quote said at the time I informed him of my winter plans:

    cabin-blayne-jpg

    I got laid off from my job as a Weatherizer in December, spent the next three months drawing unemployment and "never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude".

    The winter of 1981 was cold with lots of snow and I would go as long as a week without seeing or talking to another person. My sister Cat got so concerned that she drove her Bronco out the the cabin in deep snow just to make sure I was okay. 4WD were not as prolific in those days as they are now.

    I could go on and on, but suffice it to say that I still spend most of my time with my most favorite companion- solitude.
  7. by   Susie2310
    While I think that solitude is beneficial when one is in a safe place, I have no hesitation in saying from my own experience and those of others, that (for a woman especially), venturing into an isolated or sparsely populated area by oneself is a very foolish and risky, even reckless thing to do. Unfortunately, there is a real chance that while one may be seeking solitude for oneself, one will encounter a person (in a place that is isolated or where there are few other people around) who has psychopathic tendencies and is looking for a victim. This is not a situation one wants to find oneself in.
  8. by   SafetyNurse1968
    Quote from Leader25
    While in fantasy mode,being,doing things alone seems like a wonderful idea,I find it risky and dangerous.The comparisons with other stats seem underestimating what humans do to one another.This all brings forth the jogger murdered last year as she jogged in a lonely path.Her father was a police officer and I am sure she had been taught how to be alert and safe,but it was not enough.
    We all have different comfort levels for being alone. While I am willing to take a risk and hike alone myself, the thought of one of my daughters doing it gives me pause. I hope you enjoyed the article, and thank you so much for reading.
  9. by   SafetyNurse1968
    Quote from Susie2310
    While I think that solitude is beneficial when one is in a safe place, I have no hesitation in saying from my own experience and those of others, that (for a woman especially), venturing into an isolated or sparsely populated area by oneself is a very foolish and risky, even reckless thing to do. Unfortunately, there is a real chance that while one may be seeking solitude for oneself, one will encounter a person (in a place that is isolated or where there are few other people around) who has psychopathic tendencies and is looking for a victim. This is not a situation one wants to find oneself in.
    It sounds like we have different opinions on the risks involved. I so appreciate that you took the time to read my article and provide your perspective. I wonder how much of our perception of our actual danger is related to the way the news channels seem to highlight only the bad things that happen to people?
  10. by   Susie2310
    Quote from SafetyNurse1968
    It sounds like we have different opinions on the risks involved. I so appreciate that you took the time to read my article and provide your perspective. I wonder how much of our perception of our actual danger is related to the way the news channels seem to highlight only the bad things that happen to people?
    I am glad that you had a good/safe experience alone in the outdoors.

    My perception of my actual danger when alone in the outdoors in an isolated/sparsely populated area is based partly on my life experience, which has been that the majority of the time/with the majority of people, I will be safe, while a small proportion of the time, with a small proportion of people I have encountered, I have not been safe. I am old enough to have a decent amount of life experience. It is also based on the experiences that other people have told me have happened to them, or that I have heard of and have reason to believe, and on what I read in the news media.

    As a result of the above, today I don't put myself in harm's way unnecessarily.

    If, while alone in the outdoors, you have never experienced harm from a stranger, or have never experienced a stranger intending to harm you or cause you to feel afraid for your safety, I am very happy for you, but I strongly advise against becoming complacent that this couldn't happen to you. Something else to keep in mind is that statistics show that violence towards women in particular is greatly underreported.
    Last edit by Susie2310 on Sep 5
  11. by   SafetyNurse1968
    Quote from Susie2310
    I am glad that you had a good/safe experience alone in the outdoors.

    My perception of my actual danger when alone in the outdoors in an isolated/sparsely populated area is based partly on my life experience, which has been that the majority of the time/with the majority of people, I will be safe, while a small proportion of the time, with a small proportion of people I have encountered, I have not been safe. I am old enough to have a decent amount of life experience. It is also based on the experiences that other people have told me have happened to them, or that I have heard of and have reason to believe, and on what I read in the news media.

    As a result of the above, today I don't put myself in harm's way unnecessarily.

    If, while alone in the outdoors, you have never experienced harm from a stranger, or have never experienced a stranger intending to harm you or cause you to feel afraid for your safety, I am very happy for you, but I strongly advise against becoming complacent that this couldn't happen to you. Something else to keep in mind is that statistics show that violence towards women in particular is greatly underreported.
    A well reasoned argument. Thank you. You make some good points. For me, the risk is worth the rewards.

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