Regardless of how or why you think human beings exist on this planet the fact of the matter is that we are here and we are capable of much more than we give ourselves credit for. Our brains and bodies are fine-tuned to adapt, grow, build, create, change, and live until our unknown expiration dates. There are over seven billion of us trying to make sense of the universe, our planet, our species, and ourselves. From relationships to families, distractions to obsessions, passions to fears, we are constantly bombarded with information, energy, and the opinions and judgments of others. Sometimes we are even our own worst enemies. Time and time again, though, we find ourselves alone.
It didn’t take me too long to realize that being alone is different than being lonely. As an avid reader for over two decades, most of my alone time (and commuting time, and bar time, and party time, and just about all of my time not at work or school) has consisted of reading in the comfort of my own personal space. My favorite pastime is gifting books from my personal library to friends and strangers because I feel that anyone and everyone can benefit from using their imagination and brushing up on their reading comprehension skills. The most exciting thing about humans is the fact that due to about 100 billion neurons in each of our brains (combined with all of our unique phenomenological experiences as beings trying to cope with our confusing, and often upsetting, world) there are so many different strokes for different folks. Life can be overwhelming but it can also be overwhelmingly beautiful and offers us myriad opportunities to connect with not only the world but, also and most importantly, ourselves.
Sometimes, we spend so much getting to know other people and build relationships that we fail to build and strengthen our relationship with the mind and heart within us. After spilling a piping hot bowl of Ramen on my chest during a Netflix binge of Charmed this morning, I was forced to take a look at myself and what I was doing with my free time. While I don’t plan on quitting the sporadic Netflix binges, solo dance parties when my roommate isn’t home, or other not-so-intellectually-or-creatively-stimulating things I do while alone, I realized that there are some activities that me or you can do that will not only help us healthily pass the time but, also, stimulate our minds and, possibly, open doors to a more fulfilling future.
1. Write a poem
One of my first tattoos is a line from a Sylvia Plath poem entitled “Kindness”: the blood jet is poetry. For me, poetry is my way of reminding myself that I am present in the world and have a purpose that gives my life meaning. A lover of words and the rhythm of language, I started writing fragments of would-be poetry in elementary school and have kept poetry journals ever since. From sonnets to villanelles, haikus to free verse, poetry, quite literally, saved my life. It’s a simple as opening the Notes section of your smartphone or writing on a cocktail napkin at the bar. Anyone and everyone can write poetry.
Not only is poetry a great way to let your stream of consciousness thoughts flow, according to researchers at the University of Exeter, “emotionally charged writing activate[s] areas of the brain which are known to respond to music,” and that “regions of the brain associated with memory were stimulated more strongly than ‘reading areas.'” Picking up poetry as a new hobby to do while you’re alone (or just in general) would do your brain and yourself a favor. According to a study at Harvard: “Most studies have evaluated the impact of expressive writing on people with physical health conditions such as sleep apnea, asthma, migraine headaches, rheumatoid arthritis, HIV, and cancer. Likewise, most of the outcomes measured are physical, and the findings — such as blood pressure and heart rate — suggest that expressive writing initially may upset people but eventually helps them to relax.” So, maybe next time you’re trying to think of a way to kill time, try and write a poem.
Chances are you don’t sleep enough. If you’re lucky enough to get some alone time and you can take even a quick power nap, you’d be doing yourself some good. To be honest, I’m sure you already know the benefits of sleep and just haven’t had the chance to get any. We’re all tired and need more sleep. Next time you start that Netflix binge, promise yourself at least one episode’s worth of a nice nap. We could all use more sleep. Consider doing so the next time you’re thinking of something to do. Think about keeping some melatonin handy for the next time you’d like some rest.
Even if you don’t own any books, you’re reading this article right now so you have access to-the internet and-millions of free PDF books online for free! All you have to do is Google “Book Title PDF” and you’re bound to find it! If not, you’ll find a related book or journal article that could be just as exciting. Not only can your vocabulary improve the more you read but, according to an article from the National Center for Biotechnology Information, “If “smarter” means having a larger vocabulary and more world knowledge in addition to the abstract reasoning skills encompassed within the concept of intelligence, as it does in most laymen’s definitions of intelligence (Stanovich, 1989; Sternberg, 1990), then reading may well make people smarter. Certainly our data demonstrate time and again that print exposure is associated with vocabulary, general knowledge, and verbal skills even after controlling for abstract reasoning abilities.” Countless studies have shown these same findings and make a great case for reading. Be it a novel, magazine article, book, or article online, reading gives your brain a great workout and, if you choose to read fiction, can help you learn how to empathize better!
Thiser article details findings from a study at Emory University that reports that “researchers found heightened connectivity in the left temporal cortex, part of the brain typically associated with understanding language. The researchers also found increased connectivity in the central sulcus of the brain, the primary sensory region, which helps the brain visualize movement. When you visualize yourself scoring a touchdown while playing football, you can actually somewhat feel yourself in the action. A similar process happens when you envision yourself as a character in a book: You can take on the emotions they are feeling.” Empathy is something that is lacking in the world today and any and every step that can be taken to learn how to empathize better should be taken. Reading is one great way to start! Take out the Harry Potter series and relive that story or head to Science Daily and learn about what’s going on in the worlds of health and science! You can start, literally, anywhere!
4. Start learning a new language
There are countless apps, books, and websites available for anyone interested in starting a new language. This article details the many reasons why learning a new language is a great exercise for your brain! (But don’t forget the myriad anthropological and social benefits of doing so, too!) According to Penn State researchers, “the process of learning a second language as an adult can in fact lead to both behavioral and physical changes that may approximate the patterns of learning a language as a child.” It could be as easy as downloading an app to start learning the Russian alphabet or doing some writing exercises to try and learn some French phrases. Those baby steps could lead to a great foundation for new language acquisition that gives your brain a healthy workout. Maybe you could even color up some flashcards to workout even more parts of your brain!
As a kid, coloring was one of my favorite things to do. Colors are fun, especially for someone with synesthesia (but that’s a whole other story). Recent studies have shown that coloring is a great way to relieve stress in adults! A recent article on Huffington Post expanded on reasons why coloring is an activity we should all pick back up again. According to psychologist Gloria Martínez Ayala, “The action involves both logic, by which we color forms, and creativity, when mixing and matching colors. This incorporates the areas of the cerebral cortex involved in vision and fine motor skills [coordination necessary to make small, precise movements]. The relaxation that it provides lowers the activity of the amygdala, a basic part of our brain involved in controlling emotion that is affected by stress.” That’s reason enough for me! Here’s the perfect thing to get you started.
The benefits of integrating meditation into your daily life are abundant. Be it concentrative, nondirective, or transcendental meditation, your mind and body will be affected on molecular levels that can change your life positively in numerous ways. The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), the University of Oslo and the University of Sydney divide meditation techniques into two distinct types for a study on how the brain works during meditation: “One type is concentrative meditation, where the meditating person focuses attention on his or her breathing or on specific thoughts, and in doing so, suppresses other thoughts. The other type may be called nondirective meditation, where the person who is meditating effortlessly focuses on his or her breathing or on a meditation sound, but beyond that the mind is allowed to wander as it pleases.”
“The study indicates that nondirective meditation allows for more room to process memories and emotions than during concentrated meditation,” says Svend Davanger, a neuroscientist at the University of Oslo, and co-author of the study.
“This area of the brain has its highest activity when we rest. It represents a kind of basic operating system, a resting network that takes over when external tasks do not require our attention. It is remarkable that a mental task like nondirective meditation results in even higher activity in this network than regular rest,” says Davanger.
Aside from the relaxing benefits of meditation, cognitive psychologists at Universiteit Leiden have done studies that show that meditation can not only make you more creative, but utilizing your brain and thought processes with meditation can have lasting, positive effects on cognition and other important mental processes.
There are several ways to meditate. Find a method that works for you and give it a try! The results could change your life for the better.
7. Clean your room
Personally, I prefer a neat work space and a not-so-organized living space. I’m not a slob but my little bit of clutter on my side of the bed, for some reason, makes me feel at home. I’m one of those people who knows exactly where everything is even in a mess. That being typed, I still find a strange sense of pleasure when I’m home alone and can give my room a nice cleaning every once in a while. According to Juliette Siegfried MPH, “It is possible, given other research done on activities such as doing crossword puzzles or taking up ballroom dancing, and those activities’ proven ability to stave off the effects of Alzheimer’s dementia, that the same mechanism comes into play when cleaning house. That is, activity that forces the person to do new things, and make new decisions helps to form new neural pathways in the brain. The more neural pathways in your brain, the greater your access to the information stored in it. Whatever the mechanism, the experience of hundreds of Alzheimer’s caregivers seems to be the same as my former teachers’ – clean your house, clean your mind.”
8. Check your body for abnormal skin discolorations or bumps
This is a great guide to giving yourself a self-check for any skin diseases or possible problems. Better safe than sorry; better late than never. Consider the following statistics (provided by the Skin Cancer Foundation):
- One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in the course of a lifetime.
- Over the past three decades, more people have had skin cancer than all other cancers combined.
- Women aged 39 and under have a higher probability of developing melanoma than any other cancer except breast cancer.
- More than 419,000 cases of skin cancer in the US each year are linked to indoor tanning, including about 245,000 basal cell carcinomas, 168,000 squamous cell carcinomas, and 6,200 melanomas.
It only takes a few minutes in front of the mirror and you could possibly save your own life.
There are so many different brands of floss and, chances are, they won’t break your bank. Assuming you’re brushing your teeth at least once a day, adding flossing to your routine (or even just once in awhile) has several benefits from catching gum disease early to removing old food particles that could cause infections. According to Humana, “Brushing cleans the surface of your teeth. You need to floss in order to clean out the gaps between your teeth, where bacteria often reside. If you don’t floss, you’re more likely to have plaque build-up, which can lead to cavities, tooth decay, and gum disease. If left untreated, gum disease can be a risk factor for heart disease, diabetes, and a high body mass index. In addition, bacteria can cause bad breath and having food or debris between your teeth can make them look less clean or white. Thus, flossing can help improve the appearance of your mouth as well as your dental hygiene and overall health.” Such a simple activity could greatly improve your dental health and your breath!
10. Sing your favorite song out loud
My personal favorite way to unwind and feel all of the feels. Hairbrush microphone (Or Swiffer) in hand, when I’m home alone my apartment becomes one giant stage. Aside from the fact that it’s fun, singing has been proven to relieve anxiety, elevate endorphins, and lower stress. If you’re NOT like me, feel free to sing Shakira style…whenever, wherever. If you are like me, though, and have crippling social anxiety that makes even karaoke difficult unless in the company of close friends, take advantage of your home alone time to belt out every word to your favorite song or, if you’re like me, an hour’s worth of music on your iPod. According to studies found in this article, “Doctors believe that singing is valuable aerobic exercise, encouraging better posture and deeper breathing. It is also thought that singing releases endorphins in the body, which relieve pain and reduce stress. Using singing as a therapy for relaxation, overcoming depression and anxiety, and even treating clinically serious mental-health problems, is a growing movement.” Clearly, that means that it’s time for you to grab that random, microphone-esque object and sing your heart out. The benefits are endless and the fun is worth it.
So, there you have it. Ten random but helpful (and beneficial) things to do when you’re alone or just need a way to kill some time. Different strokes for different folks that can help relieve stress, lower anxiety, and/or possibly save your life. I’m off to go sing the Grease soundtrack. There are worse things I could do…