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.

Last week I made what might look like a reverse-resolution: to aim to go to the gym just twice a week instead of three times a week. I’m not a compulsive calorie-burner; in fact, my relationship with exercise is quite healthy and positive. I enjoy working out because it feels good and helps disperse mental stress and physical tension. I just don’t have time for all the self-care routines I’ve taken on to balance my life and keep myself happy, healthy and whole. At this point I’m managing stress that’s partly caused by the stress of stress-management routines.

The notion of self-care – that it is not just OK, but radical to take time to look after your own physical, mental and emotional needs in a world that is not always built for human well-being – originates in activist and mental health communities. The message was originally espoused by and directed at individuals most at risk of burn-out: people who daily navigate and resist heteropatriarchal, white supremacist , capitalist social structures designed to oppress, marginalize and stigmatize them. In the hands of white feminist social media personalities, self-care has morphed into a trendy aesthetic: a variety of the performative vulnerability that is so often rewarded on Instagram. Crying selfies, face masks, hydration, and unapologetically cancelling plans in favour of staying in bed are all #selfcare.

I don’t want to suggest that white privilege precludes the need for self-care or that selfies, face masks and napping are not legitimate tools of self-care. At its heart, self-care is about making a more loving world by starting with self-love and that is a worthy message for everyone. But as is its nature, social media has both contributed to the propagation of a positive idea and blunted its critical edge. Self-care contains an implied critique of the capitalist imperative of productivity, but it has been easily subverted to sell Band-Aid solutions for the symptoms of burn-out without addressing their root causes. It is a way to market everything from $5 face masks at the drugstore to expensive yoga retreats in Costa Rica.  Self-care is no longer about surviving and thriving despite capitalism, it is about maximizing one’s use of capitalism by maintaining productive functionality. And that is problematic for so many reasons.

Like a lot of millennials, I’m an overworked non-profit employee doing creative work on the side, but I’m also healthy, childless, dog-less and have a 15 minute commute to work. I have no reason to be as tired as I am, but maintaining an exercise routine to keep myself energized and relaxed, meal planning and packing lunch every night to stay healthy and on budget, tidying clutter to keep a pleasant space to come home to, pursuing hobbies for the satisfaction of making something, keeping a journal for mental clarity, etc., etc. is too much to fit in alongside a full-time job and basic domestic chores, let alone real leisure. When I inevitably fail to keep up with my checklist of self-care because I’ve been actually resting I get… stressed out! I’m driven by the feeling that if I don’t keep up on all these good habits, things will be much worse down the road. I’ll turn into one big knotted muscle or something. Worst of all, my time and energy for more fulfilling creative work dwindles as it is repeatedly postponed to the end of the night, and then the next day and the next.

Consumerist self-care is marketed at women (it meshes well with existing gendered complexes that marketing capitalizes on, such as body image) and women have been at the forefront of espousing self-care in all its varieties. There’s good reason for this. Women have historically been care givers, and that legacy continues to inform the expectations placed on women by themselves and others. Self-care can be an antidote to the toll of all that other-care. Real self-care as it was originally conceived is not pretty or cute. It can look like taking medication, or setting boundaries in relationships, or making genuinely difficult and rewarding life changes. But it is always work and the mainstreaming of #selfcare obscures the work and the mess and conflict that come when people who are routinely and systematically expected to care for or accommodate others center their own needs in a meaningful way.

As self-care eats into my leisure hours, becoming a source of pressure itself, I wonder if #selfcare is just another way that women are pressured to have it all, and be it all. As delayed (or foregone) parenthood, house ownership and career stability are increasingly accepted parts of millennial adulthood, perhaps the balanced lifestyle promised by self-care is just a new form of unrealistic feminine perfection that conveniently keeps us busy and keeps us buying.

In comparison “Treat yo’self”, a motto popularized by characters on Parks and Recreation, so transparently invites indulgence and consumption that it resists the same insidious subversion of message.  If not taken in moderation, “Treat yo’self” may lead to debt before balance but at least it promotes a self-love based on giving yourself permission to enjoy life, rather on grimly doing things for your own good.


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

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

I don’t think I need to explain the importance of critical thinking – every teacher you’ve come across since you were six years old has probably asked you to do it, and nearly every blog post floating around your Facebook feed is probably telling you why to do it. So instead, here are some ways you can learn how to do it, do it more frequently, or get better at doing something you already do all the time.

Make Up Alternate Stories: This is my personal favourite thing to do with pop songs. Remember that “Rude” song by Magick? Well, listen to that song and imagine that the man singing is brutally abusive to his partner. Now, erase that story, and imagine that he’s actually part of an interracial relationship. Are you finding your opinion about the song changing as you go along? Good.

Be aware of power language: Have you ever heard of “THE feminists”? As if there is only one type of feminist? Have you ever heard people make big blanket statements, saying that “Organic food is better” without allowing for nuance, exceptions, or different experiences? How about claims of things being ancient, or being first? What about subtle ways of discrediting someone, such as mentioning their age, appearance, or their hygiene? These things are important to notice, because they are tiny ways that voices can be eliminated, people can be silenced, and audiences can be convinced. This is also a really excellent way to look at your own biases. Change the person in the news story to a different gender, a different age, a different race. Does your opinion change? If it does, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it might be fruitful to examine why it changes.thinking-science-3-e1377719468944

Look for what’s not necessary. I recently saw a post saying that a 12-year old girl had scored higher on a Mensa test than Albert Einstein. Does it matter that she’s a girl? I think, to be totally honest, that I would be impressed just that any human could score that well on a Mensa test, because I can’t figure out those little flash cards to save my life. If that person is particularly young, then perhaps that adds to the impressiveness of the achievement. But the gender? I don’t think so. If men and women are expected to perform equally on tests, then that shouldn’t matter at all

Put yourself in their shoes. Something I see a lot when people discuss children is that the perspectives presented are often those of the parents, or the adults, but not often of the children themselves. Try to think about these issues from all angles – what if you were the child? What if you were the parent? What if you were the teacher? What if you were a casual observer?

ZA'ATARI, JORDAN - FEBRUARY 01: Children pose for a picture as Syrian refugees go about their daily business in the Za'atari refugee camp on February 1, 2013 in Za'atari, Jordan. Record numbers of refugees are fleeing the violence and bombings in Syria to cross the borders to safety in northern Jordan and overwhelming the Za'atari camp. The Jordanian government are appealing for help with the influx of refugees as they struggle to cope with the sheer numbers arriving in the country. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 160600686

In the case of the Syrian refugees, put yourself in their shoes and think about the decisions they are making in incremental steps. What would it take for you to sell your home and move to another country? Probably a solid job, at least, and the reassurance that you could come back for frequent visits. Now what would it take for you to move to a non-English speaking country and learn the new language? What would they have to pay you? What demands would you have? Now think about what would cause you to leave your home and most of your belongings to pack yourself and your children onto a tiny boat to sail for the first available country with no reassurance that you’ll arrive alive, let alone cross the border, get a job, and learn the language. How would you feel if you had managed to grab and keep track of your iPhone, only to be penalized for owning such a piece of luxury when you’re supposedly in need? How would it feel to have someone scorn your child for having a DS when it’s their one comfort in their new life of sleeping on mats in school gymnasiums?

Look for differing opinions. It doesn’t do anything to just talk to people you agree with all the time, and you can easily get only one side of the story when you only read one article. When you feel strongly about something, learn all that you can about it. Read the work of people that disagree with you. Try to find holes in your own argument and then try to fill those holes. Look for reliable sources and then challenge them.Critical-Thinking-Skills-Tuition-and-Courses-London

Give credit where credit is due. Being critical can cause a lot of stress, so it’s important to appreciate good work and solid opinions when you find them. Stay skeptical but be careful not to fall into cynicism – it’s not good for your own well being to doubt integrity regardless of any evidence presented. shutterstock_208347706

Be willing to change your mind. If you love science, or love debate, or love learning, or just want to be a conscientious individual, this is crucial. If someone presents you with good evidence, or if you’re shown how your views are hypocritical, you have to be able to admit you’re wrong, and change your mind. I’m not saying go out without a fight – challenging views and debating things is a wonderful way to learn – but there’s a point where that fight ends, and you say, “Oops. I’m completely wrong.”

I know it’s hard at first, and it can feel humiliating, but just keep picturing it from the other side – if you convinced someone to reconsider, you wouldn’t be embarrassed for that person, you’d probably respect them for being open-minded. Plus, the more often you change your mind, admit you’re wrong, and ask people to teach you more, the easier it gets, and the more it feels graceful and enlightening.