Intentional Down Time Saved Me Once

by Erin Sephel

Leaning into loneliness to restore a sense of self-worth

One year ago, I left a bad relationship. 

About two months prior, I entered into an intense period of intentional down time. It wasn’t pre-planned, by any means. It was more-so my way of coping with an otherwise out-of-control existence. I retreated into myself when I could, I was meditating regularly, practicing yoga regularly, saying “no” to social events that didn’t excite me.

And in that time, I fell in love with myself again.

When I look back at that time, I very easily could have spiraled. I could have numbed my feelings with distraction. Instead, I sat with my thoughts, came face-to-face with my feelings, and worked through the discomfort.

I have to credit intentional down time for helping me see myself and my reality from a clear vantage point. It helped me realize that the situation I was in was not me. It led me to leave.

I realize my case is a little extreme, but it speaks to the undeniable power of solitude when we spend it well. 

Research shows that giving our brains moments of respite restores our sense of self. And according to my therapist (*imaginary source link*), carving out time for ourselves does wonders for our sense of self-worth too.

I think our biggest hurdle when it comes to purposeful alone time nowadays is the little distraction device we keep on-hand at all times. In the “between” moments when our brains realize they’re doing nothing at all—when we’re sitting in traffic, cooking dinner, falling asleep, waking up, standing in line at the grocery store—we instinctively reach for our phones. It’s starting to feel less like a choice and more like a habitual tick. 

I don’t think it’s so much a sign of weakness as much as it is just our natural adaptation to our own inventions. This psychological phenomenon—or whatever you want to call it—was inevitable.

We’re social creatures. We crave connection. When we feel like we’re connecting with someone else, we basically take a hit of dopamine—our stress hormones level out, and our pleasure hormones bubble up in happy little bursts.

But when we feel lonely, our stress hormones elevate. And we experience an actual fight or flight response. To combat it, we try to create a sense of connection in the way that’s most available to us: through our phones.

In a sort of simulated way, our phones make us feel less lonely—even if only temporarily. They’re what we turn to when our melodramatic brains are yelling at us to connect with someone and threatening us with bouts of inexplicable sadness.

But what if instead of caving to that urge, we decided to do something else? What if we leaned into the time alone, using it to reconnect with ourselves, rather than piddle our time away scrolling our way to mild (if not faux) fulfillment? 

My talk below explores a reality in which we choose to spend our down time more deliberately. I share more about my personal experience with intentional down time. And I offer ways we can all use down time to live happier, more fulfilled lives.

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