How do we navigate solitude in a world that tells us we need other people around us in order to feel valuable, and, further, how do we manage this when our neurobiology screams at us that being alone is dangerous? The messages we get from society tell us that relationships, especially the intimate ones, are a large key to our lifelong happiness.  On top of that, brain research demonstrates that loneliness can trigger the brain’s fight/flight/freeze response (the nervous system’s way of telling us we are in a potentially dangerous situation) and need to be on alert in order to stay alive. It is no surprise then, that being alone can lead to strong feelings of loneliness.

All of us have felt lonely. It’s part of the human experience. Ironically, we can be surrounded by others and still feel alone.  Loneliness is fickle – one moment masquerading as depression, the next moment rushing in on a cloud of anxiety. It is a feeling that sinks into your whole being, down to your bones. It’s hollow, yet fills you completely with a vast emptiness. It may come in waves or always be present.  It is a whole-being experience, meaning it affects our emotions, our thoughts, our bodies, our unconscious, and of course, our relationships.

The way we form relationships stems from our attachment systems – these are the ways in which we can (or cannot) get close to others.  Our attachment systems are generally created in childhood, but have the ability to change. The way we attached to others can add to what is perhaps the greatest irony in human life: the fact that what takes away loneliness can also be the source of it. Human connection can be fleeting, unreliable, untrustworthy. And when it falls apart, it can leave us lonelier than before.  Being alone can be a choice or can happen outside our control.

“Loneliness is a sign that you are in desperate need of yourself.” Rupi Kaur

How can we survive this?

  • Perhaps we should start with addressing the stigma that surrounds being without a partner. Society tells us that we need to be in a relationships in order to be fulfilled, but this simply isn’t the case. Let’s start to reframe loneliness as solitude, so that when it occurs, it becomes a powerful and necessary experience leading to personal growth.
  • Acknowledge that you are sitting in solitude – and that you are human. When we validate our emotional experience, we are better able to move through those emotions.
  • We will never not have the experience of solitude when it is warranted. It’s wired within us to feel that kind of pain, and it’s all there for a reason. Accepting the grief, despair, pain, numbness, etc that comes with the feeling can often be the next step toward moving through these powerful emotions.

How do we move forward?

  • After facing solitude, we often level up and become better versions of ourselves. Reminding ourselves that this kind of growth may not have been able to occur while surrounded by others is important.
  • We become resilient – not in a way that makes us immune to solitude– but in a way that makes us better able to tolerate and perhaps even welcome the opportunity to become more intimate with ourselves.
  • We become woke – if we can figure out what we have just learned about ourselves through being alone. Reflecting, creating insight, and being creative are all ways we can find meaning in a situation.
  • We can use the opportunity to focus on the most important human connection and fall deeper into love and knowing with ourselves.

 If you find yourself alone, especially on a day like this one – full of hearts, cupids, chocolates, and materialistic love – it can be especially hard. Remember, though, that you are likely in a phase of intense personal growth, so remember to do the hard work of loving yourself each step of the way.


20181009_113447Erin Newman is a therapist by day, and a writer by night. She is also a parent, student, advocate, artist, and teacher.

In a productivity-centric society, busyness is not just a norm, it is almost practiced as a virtue. Keeping busy demonstrates dedication to productivity and efficiency, but it is ironically counter effective to genuinely fulfilling and meaningful productivity. Busyness is how we experience the route to shallow productivity: the accomplishment of multiple tasks in quick succession under pressure. Busyness looks, and initially may feel, like efficiency, but it is unsustainable. In a prolonged period of busyness, even the most adept multi-tasker becomes distracted, rushed, and unable to absorb information, ultimately leading to burn out.

Different people can manage, or even thrive at, different paces and degrees of busyness. Most people, however, need room for their creativity to grow and be nurtured. Meaningful and fulfilling productivity, both in the sense of artistic output and more broadly in the sense of innovation, is driven by creativity. Creativity requires focus, depth of thought and practice, and room for simmering ideas to coalesce in seemingly spontaneous inspiration. Many people benefit creatively from high levels of stimulation or a certain amount of pressure, but shallow, urgent busyness is antithetical to the circumstances under which creativity grows.

As much as we may wish to prioritize our creativity, busy periods are inevitable in most lives. Most workplaces, school programs or even personal projects have certain crunch periods. Personal circumstances like moving home, or even celebrating a holiday season put greater demands on our time and attention. Most of these are relatively short periods, but some circumstances such as raising children or working multiple jobs can cause more long-term busy periods. Fostering and maintaining creativity through these periods is important. The fulfillment and meaning derived from creativity can even be an antidote to the mental and emotional tolls of being overly busy.

Keep practicing.

Keep doing what you do, even if just for thirty minutes a day or an hour a week. Lower your expectations and let yourself cut back the amount of time you spend on creative projects, but don’t abandon them. Recognize your creativity as a priority amidst life’s demands, but don’t turn “write every day” into yet another task on your busy list.

Take in others’ creativity.

Schedule time to visit an exhibition, see a performance, or just read a good book or watch a film. In a busy time, you may be tempted to use mindless distractions to wind down (and that has its place!) but choose to spend time with works that will feed you creatively.

Make space.

Whether you want to call it “mindfulness” or not, give yourself some mental peace. Do activities that engage your body but make limited demands on your mental focus, like walking the dog, attending an exercise class, or doing a familiar handcraft. If you’re really pressed for time, you can even use mundane, necessary tasks like doing the dishes as a chance to either let your mind rest and wander or practice more focused mindfulness.

Trust that it will end.

Remember that this busy period will end and you will have room to practice and focus again. When you again have time to engage with your creativity but are struggling with motivation, remember how you missed it when you were too busy with other things! If there is no foreseeable end to your busyness and it is causing you distress, it may be time to consider some bigger life changes.


IMG_20180718_115103_621Elisabeth Hill is an Edmonton-based writer and researcher who currently works as a Curatorial Assistant at the Art Gallery of Alberta.

 

 

 

 

 

This blog is an op-ed piece written by Rachael Heffernan, writer and researcher for The Drawing Board.

Everyone finds themselves in an uninspired funk every once and a while. Except, it seems, children. Children always seem to be discovering things, or trying out something new, or getting excited about mundane activities.

Well, part of that is obviously because everything beautiful and wonderful and fun in this world is new to children, and due to that small fact everything is way more exciting to them than it is to us dreary, old, done-everything 20-somethings.

Everyone thirty and older just scoffed at this post. And with good reason, because another part of why children get so excited about stuff all the time is because we give them stuff to be excited about.

Give adults some children to entertain and suddenly they’re off to the museum, or looking up crafts to do, or pulling out an old microscope to look at grass. Suddenly making cookies seems like a good idea, and before you know it you’re running around in a tutu talking about fairy circles and the magic of the universe.

“Well,” I thought. “I don’t need to have children around in order to put some effort into making my life interesting. I’m going to do some stuff!”

And the first thing I came up with was to grab a bunch of weird, random things – whisks, spatulas, sponges, a slinky – and try to paint with them, with the help of some of my lovely co-workers.

painting 4

We got together with some ultra-washable tempura paint in a room in which we had taped 6 large white Bristol boards to the walls and floor. Then we shoved some hors d’oeuvres in the oven and got right to it.

It was a fun night of sabotage and creativity. We all got covered in paint, which made eating tiny pizza-bagels more difficult, and succeeded in using every weird painting tool in one way or another. The Bristol boards are now lovingly hung on my wall in my living room, a little pop of colour and creativity to remind me of a great night.

If you find yourself bored of the same-old same-old, go to the dollar store, buy $3 worth of Bristol boards and let loose! You don’t need a lot of money, space, or expertise to have a good time and bring some much-needed creative energy to your life.

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