In the past year, there has been much discussion involving the effects of people spending much time alone. While the benefits of socializing are well known and have been thoroughly researched, no one has been able to predict the lasting effects of the pandemic on mental health. However, more recent research is being conducted on the effects of solitary or quiet time on mental health. Although there are some mixed results, many studies claim that quiet time can have a variety of beneficial effects on an individual’s mental state. In order to best understand this concept, it is important to distinguish between the concepts of alone or time and loneliness. It is important to note that alone time is the literal state of not being with other people, while loneliness is an emotion or emotional state. Loneliness, for this reason, is quite different from being alone. It is possible for one to experience feelings of loneliness while being physically surrounded by people. There is evidence, however, that quiet time has positive effects on mental health, including lowering stress levels and increasing mental happiness and peace.
One of the most common benefits of regular quiet or alone time on mental health has been found to be lower stress levels. Taking some time to get away from or escape the regular demands of everyday life allows for a chance allows for one to decompress and recharge. In her book Life Falls Apart But You Don’t Have To: Mindful Methods for Staying Calm in the Midst of Chaos, Julie Potiker, an expert of the concept of mindfulness, says, “‘Silence can benefit us if we use it wisely. If we allow the quiet to slow us down and open us up to what is there in our environment—a dog barking, a bird chirping—it means focusing attention on what you are hearing, which can stop your mind from ruminating and worrying’” (Bilbray par 2). Being intentional about slowing down and focusing on something other than what is causing the stress or anxiety allows one’s mind to reset and relieves the pressure of day to day responsibilities. Quieting one’s mind removes the constant, nagging presence of the stressors and creates space for new thinking. Potiker goes on to claim that this practice of quieting one’s mind “‘greatly enhances emotional well-being. It boosts happiness, reduces anxiety and depression’” (Bilbray par 7). Making this practice of finding time to be quiet and alone a regular habit leads to reduced levels of stress and anxiety, which in turn helps to improve one’s mental health overall.
In order to test this claim about quiet time reducing stress, different organizations have conducted a variety of studies. One such study, conducted by the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses and published in the American Journal of Critical Care, evaluated the effects of implementing regular quiet time in the workplace of intensive care nurses. This study consisted of measuring the stress levels of the participating nurses at specific intervals around their quiet time. The nurses stress was measured half an hour before and after the designated quiet time, as well as an hour and two hours after (Riemer par 3). The results provide solid evidence for Potiker’s claim that the quiet time would reduce stress. Throughout the study, the nurses’ stress levels were significantly lower after experiencing the quiet time than they were before they did (Riemer par 5). The lower stress levels of the nurses led to reduced levels anxiety and worry and were very beneficial for their general mental health.
Many people, however, find the idea of spending quiet time alone to be scary or uncomfortable. In fact, a survey conducted by AOL reported that one in every three adults (40% of women and 35% of men) will admit to being afraid at the thought of being alone (Hillin par 3). One issue that this stems from is a prevailing fear of being alone with one’s thoughts. There are those who find it easier to just block out what is in their heads than make peace with it. These people tend to push away difficult realities rather than address them. However, often the best and healthiest thing to do is to face those thoughts and spend some time in quiet reflection. In his journal article, “The Emergence of Solitude as a Constructive Domain of Experience in Early Adolescence,” which focuses on the benefits of quiet time in adolescence, Reed W. Larson claims, “Solitude can be used for coping, emotional release, and self-renewal” (80). Taking the time to work through the thoughts that cause the most fear strengthens one’s mental state and allows for a more peaceful, happy mind. Being able to sit alone with one’s thoughts, emotions, worries, and dreams and be at peace with them produces a stronger mind, greater happiness, and improved mental health (Laderer). .
The David Lynch Foundation, an organization with the purpose of implementing quiet times in schools, conducted a study to analyze the effectiveness of their quiet times. This study consisted of 194 high school freshmen, 141 of which took part in the quiet times, while 53 did not. Each student spent two fifteen-minute periods in quiet time throughout the course of their school day for eight weeks. The results of this study showed that those who took part in the quiet times experienced lower levels of anxiety, better attendance in class, and improved academic performance. They also reported better sleep, more happiness and confidence, and better mental health in general, while the students who did not take part in the quiet time did not experience any of these changes (Goyanes). Those who regularly spent time to reflect on their thoughts were the ones who reported that they were more at peace with themselves and their minds. Therefore, this study supports the idea that regular alone or quiet time reduces anxiety, strengthens the mental state and happiness, and improves the overall mental health of the participants.
As similar studies to that of the David Lynch Foundation are being conducted in a wide range of schools, neuroscientist Sara Lazar, PhD from Cambridge discovered changes in the brains of the participants. After just eight weeks of regular quiet times, different regions of the brain tended to change size. The posterior cingulate, left hippocampus, temporal parietal junction, and the brain stem – all of which control such things as the regulation of emotions, empathy, learning, memory, and more – each enlarged throughout the study, leading to improved abilities in the areas they controlled. There were also cases where this practice caused the amygdala: the area of the brain that controls anxiety, stress, and fear, to change its size. However, instead of growing, it actually became smaller, reducing the levels of these negative emotions that the participants had been experiencing before beginning the study (Goyanes). This research shows that even just as small an amount as thirty minutes a day for two months can reduce negative mental health levels and promote the positive emotions such as happiness and peace.
As more and more people are struggling with their mental health, it is more important than ever to find solutions that could help to improve the situations. Taking part in regular quiet times is one simple thing that has been shown to have significant positive effects on the mental health of those who practice it. From less stress, worry, and anxiety to more mental strength and happiness from self-reflection, I argue that spending some quiet time alone helps to foster peace with oneself, mind, and thoughts.
Libby Trudeau is in her freshman year at Gordon and is studying as an English major. From a young age, she has always loved to read and write. She also enjoys learning about a wide variety of topics through the researching process and writing about what she learns. As well as reading and writing, she enjoys learning about grammar and editing as well and is interested in pursuing a career in editing in the future. So, she is excited to be able to be on the staff of the Princemere Academic Journal in order to help foster and develop her editing skills.