Graphics by Sukaina Imam

By: Jackie McNeill

When I had friends over as a kid, I would pull my mom aside after a few hours and ask, “When are they going to leave?” It’s not that I wasn’t having fun — I loved seeing my friends, but this time with others never failed to become draining and leave me with a need for some alone time.

While I once thought this desire to be alone was abnormal and unhealthy, as I got older I learned to take advantage of it to promote self-improvement. Left alone with just my thoughts, I’ve had the opportunity to think critically about who I am as a person, what I like about myself and what I want to do better.

Learning about who I was, both outside and inside of my relationships with others, and working to better myself has helped to increase my self-esteem exponentially over years of self-reflection.

I’ve experienced how this increase in self-esteem has aided my relationship with myself, but studies show that it can also benefit the way we interact with others.

Megan McCarthy, a professor in the department of psychology at the University of Waterloo, suggests that people with low self-esteem are more likely to stay in unhappy relationships with others, resulting from their resistance to recognize and address problems.

“People with a more negative self-concept often have doubts and anxieties about the extent to which other people care about them,” explained McCarthy.

The self-concept is our idea of self, constructed through a combination of our own beliefs about ourselves and how others respond to us. A negative self-concept, then, can cause someone to assume negative reactions towards them and therefore avoid confrontation or conflict as a defense against these assumptions being actualized.

So, an increase in self-esteem can certainly improve romantic relationships, but those are not the only relationships we experience. Every interaction we have, be it with friends, family, or even our co-workers, can benefit from the practice of self-love and self-care.

Time alone also increases communication with the self through self-awareness. When I spend time alone, my own thoughts, feelings and desires become my priority. This has helped me realize that communicating with myself should remain a priority throughout my life, including when I interact with others, paving the way for honest and open relationships.

In addition, being self-aware has allowed me to be more receptive of others’ thoughts, feelings and desires, which may reflect similar concerns or insecurities that I possess. By reflecting upon the self, we can become more sensitive and considerate towards the people we build relationships with.  

It is important to note that my idea of alone is not one size fits all. Spending time alone can simply mean loneliness for some people, and as a Psychology Today article explains this can lead to anxieties, depression, or reminders of loss and abandonment.

McMaster University’s Prof. Tara Marshall illustrates this idea through the example of a breakup.

After a breakup, people who are more secure in relationships and have higher self-esteem are more likely to desire some time alone,” explained Marshall.

“They may engage in some personal growth-enhancing experiences. People high in anxious attachment, on the other hand, desire to go on the rebound after a breakup,” she added.

Marshall went on to explain that humans are social by nature and we have a need to belong to social groups as our survival has depended on it throughout history. So it is important to balance time spent alone with socialization, just as it’s important to get to know yourself and what will work well for your own self-esteem.

The point of this time spent alone is to improve your feelings about yourself, but also to use this to positively affect your relationships with others. What works for me won’t work for everyone, but maybe by sharing my experience others will venture to learn more about themselves and how they interact with others.

Of course, when trying to self-reflect as a student several issues present themselves. Our days are packed with studying, interactions with peers everywhere on campus, trying to balance friends, a job, finishing that essay and visiting family; our minds never get a break.

So how do you get some quiet time in a busy day? Try the silent study in Mills— it’s a great way to ease yourself into being alone because you’re surrounded by other students, but everyone is focused on their own work. There’s no opportunity for socialization to distract you from yourself.

Sitting still can be difficult, so go for a walk alone in a quiet neighbourhood. No phone calls or music, just reflect on that day or what’s to come and make an effort to think positively.

If these options take too much time, go to bed 20 minutes earlier than usual and let your mind wander while trying some deep breathing. This can help ease stress and relax your mind, leaving it open for reflection.

This time alone allows you to drop what Psychology Today calls your “social guard.” Pay attention to how you behave alone and compare it to how you behave around others, and maybe work to let some of your “alone” self bleed into your public persona.

Whether you crave alone time like me or not, we can all benefit from a bit of self-reflection to better our relationship with ourselves and others. Self-awareness and the resulting higher self-esteem make an impact on the way we interact with others, and can keep our relationships open, honest and healthy.


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Photo C/O Madeline Neumann

By: Ran Ren

It is strange how moving from a high school with 1000 students to a university populating over 30,000 can feel far lonelier. For how much high school is negatively tied with cliques and social hierarchies, there exists a certain stability in its tribalism in sharing classes and cafeteria tables with the same people every day.

The fact that you can choose your friends in university is liberating. But there is an inherent hurdle to tackle: an increased difficulty in meeting new people. In a lecture hall of hundreds, friends are no longer whom you sit beside. Gone are the arranged seating plans that forced friendships throughout high school. It is disheartening when after all the handshakes and exchanges of names, your newly-made friends are nowhere to be found the next lecture.

A 2016 survey by the National College Health Assessment found that 68 per cent of Ontario students felt “very lonely” within the past year.

For all the glitz and glamour of constant parties and freedom from parents, the reality of university can be lonely and depressing. With the known links between isolation and other health problems, it is unsurprising then that 61 per cent of students also reported feeling “things are hopeless” and a greater 89 per cent feeling “overwhelmed”.

Social isolation is fundamentally a personal struggle. But so long as it results in mental health issues within students and a resultant strain on campus healthcare resources, it is McMaster University’s struggle as well. With the amount of money McMaster spends on fixing what’s already a problem on counselors or therapy can they afford to ignore the root cause of social isolation?

Implementing stronger support networks can help students. Friends can aid with studying, edit assignments or share notes for missed lectures. Socializing also provides a much-needed outlet for feelings of stress, frustration and sadness. Students who take care of their relationships also take better care of themselves: they exercise more often, eat healthier and sleep better.

Above all, McMaster as a higher education institution has a vested interest in creating students who will become the next generation’s politicians, doctors, engineers, artists, teachers and many more careers which require soft skills, especially social skills. In our current market, workers need to be effective in dynamic group settings. And no one ever became charismatic by spending months studying alone in their dorm.

Of course, words are easier than actions, especially with such a difficult, pervasive issue. It’s not as though McMaster can hunt down lonely students and give them a pep talk.

So what can students do to expand their social circles? The easiest way to make friends is to be around people who share common interests. Every McMaster student automatically pays fees that support the McMaster Students Union, which hosts hundreds of diverse clubs across a wide range of topics including culture, recreation, academics or social issues. Finding new friends can be as easy as finding a club that matches your passion. Even outside of clubs, there are opportunities to meet others through athletics or volunteering.

McMaster has a responsibility to support, advertise and encourage new students to become involved in their community. They ultimately reap the benefits by creating students who are more engaged and with stronger soft skills. Most importantly, they’ll have a student body who are happy and healthy throughout their time at university.

Failing everything else, the simplest solution on the individual basis might be to merely introduce yourself to those sitting beside you during lecture or tutorial. In the end, we all need somebody to lean on.

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Graphic C/O Robin Lamarr

When yoga instructor Christopher Bourke began a queer and trans yoga class at Andrea Soos Yoga Studio in Dundas, a consistent piece of feedback he kept hearing was that it wasn’t accessible due to its location. Many current and prospective attendees were hoping for a yoga series downtown.

Bourke began to think about solving this problem and that’s when he crossed paths with Robin Lamarr of movement and wellness collective Ritual Island. Together they collaborated to bring his queer and trans yoga classes to the most bustling part of the city.

The result was Q+T Solidarity Moves, a beginner friendly queer and trans strength, mobility and restorative movement series at Redchurch Café and Gallery on King Street East. The $15 one-hour class — or $40 for all four classes — is taking place at 3 p.m. every Sunday from Nov. 18 to Dec. 9.

Like with other Ritual Island classes, Q+T Solidarity Moves intends to be enjoyable and inclusive. By taking the practice outside of a yoga studio and promoting an accepting environment, the class attracts individuals who don’t feel represented in traditional yoga spaces.

“There is just a vulnerability around… yoga wear or… being in those spaces and not feeling comfortable to be in your body… I've had people come to me in previous classes who aren't out at work in terms of their gender presentation or their sexual identity. So it's just nice for them to come to a space where they can actually be who they want to be,” Bourke explained.

As the name suggests, solidarity is a pillar upon which the class is built. Attending provides participants with a free coffee or tea after the class or a 25 per cent off discount to a lunch up to $10. Bourke intends to hang around at the cafe after the classes to mingle with any participants who would like to socialize and meet new people.

Bourke likes that the class is providing another venue and opportunity for socialization following the closing of Hamilton’s LBGTQ2S+ bar, Embassy. On the other hand, socialization is not expected or obligatory and Bourke welcomes people to come even if they want to leave right after the class.

[spacer height="20px"]Bourke believes in the healing power of being and moving together as a community. The strength built during the class will be connected to the strength needed to face one’s day-to-day challenges.

I wanted it to be very purposeful from the beginning that we're coming together and the intention behind what we're doing isn't just to do movement, it’s to integrate the skill that you get from movement to build our solidarity as a community… and then… actually use the resources that we get in that space to do work outside,” Bourke explained.

Bourke is leading the charge on this work by donating his proceeds from the classes to Rainbow Railroad, a charity that helps LGBTQ2S+ individuals escape persecution and violence in one of the 71 countries around the world where being LGBTQ2S+ is still criminalized.

Bourke chose the charity in light of the recent crackdown of LGBTQ2S+ individuals in Tanzania, which is personal to him as he has friends living there. He also wanted to donate to Rainbow Railroad as they are in the midst of their #60in60 Campaign to raise $600 000 to save 60 lives in the final 60 days of 2018.

In this way, Q+T Solidarity Moves aims to stand in solidarity with people all over the world. Yet despite those heavy undertones, the movement series will definitely be light-hearted and fun, with a dash of Bourke’s humour and Robyn’s dance-pop tracks playing in the background.

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