“I Need My Space!”

2015 December 16
by Dr. Zachary White

You are stressed. Overwhelmed. Can’t sleep even though you are exhausted. Patience level is at an all-time low? So what do you want to do—get away from others, right? As caregivers, stress is a constant in our lives. It’s no surprise that, when under the influence of stress, our first “instinct” is to remove ourselves from others.

Sitting, I need my space

When stressed, many of us tell ourselves (and others), “I need my space.”  We dream of getting away. We find ourselves turning down opportunities to spend time with others.  We politely thank others for offering to come over to the house, but reject their offers, explaining, “Thanks so much for the offer but it’s just not a good time right now.”

“I need my space” is code for “I don’t want to be around other people.” This seems natural, doesn’t it, especially when we don’t feel we have enough energy to be around others. Well, this so-called instinct isn’t as natural as we might think.  If you’ve ever watched young children play on a crowded playground, you know what I’m talking about.

The more children there are playing together, the more they run and yell and hop and skip and laugh.  And the faster they go. The more energy they gain.  Even though the spaces between them are often no more than a few inches, they don’t step away. They don’t seem to mind the presence of others. Traffic jams of other children don’t frustrate them, they simply become parts of the playground to be navigated.  They bump into each other and keep going.  They move around and through. In other words, they adapt.

Us adults, on the other hand, we aren’t nearly as adept at adapting. We have a much harder time navigating around the landscapes of other people.  When under stress, many of us retreat away from others in an attempt to find solace in solitude. Affirmative solitude is necessary for thought and rest and contemplation, but too often, solitude is used as a type of retreat against the world.

As a caregiver, you can’t help but realize that much of everyday life is beyond control. So it’s no surprise that the desire to be alone, to separate ourselves from others, to get space, is an attempt to regain control in a world that sometimes seems out of control.  In saying we want space, we really are saying we want complete control. So we seek out our special room. Our favorite oasis. A television. A shut door. A darkened room.

This holiday season, think twice about saying no to others’ invitations to be social. Just remember, those children on a crowded playground can teach us something. Voices and bodies and movement don’t have to drain us of our energy or create anxiety. “Needing space” isn’t necessarily natural. Laughter is natural but it doesn’t happen alone in a darkened room. Comfort is natural but it rarely comes from the television.  And stress, well, it isn’t always caused by other people. Sometimes, it’s good to hear other voices mixing together simply to remind yourself that you, that we, aren’t alone. Sometimes, it’s okay to share the same playground, even when we feel crowded.

One Response leave one →
  1. Laurie Kelly permalink
    December 23, 2015

    I’ve often thought that the reason people go alone with their laptops to work at coffee shops is to experience the comfort of being around other people talking, moving, in close proximity– especially those who stay for hours.

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