Being alone could make you physically sick
Fire up your social media accounts (or maybe just go outside) -- numerous studies have found that social isolation can actually lead you to an early grave. Lack of physical contact can result in higher stress levels and higher blood pressure, so find someone’s hand and hold it goddammit. A decade-long study about the correlation between loneliness and physical illness found that the production of white blood cells in people who self-reported higher levels of loneliness was affected due to the stress that comes with being alone. So? SO, it means that the more alone you are, the more susceptible you are to becoming ill. Start self-prescribing yourself long talks with your neighbor along with that daily multivitamin.
Being alone might cause you to utilize defense mechanisms like compartmentalization to survive
Instead of fixating on the giant, looming problem ahead, Kay chose to divide and conquer. “How do you eat a cow?” asks Kay (remember?). “One bite at a time.”
Whether he knew it or not, that defense mechanisms is compartmentalization, when one stores away emotions like anxieties and fears to focus energy on all the things that need to be done to ensure survival. Another, intellectualization, is demonstrated when rational thinking is used during times of stress to remove oneself emotionally from situation.
“Living in the moment was really important,” says Kay. “Instead of looking at all of the challenges and all of the things that could potentially go wrong, I would just focus on my most pressing need. That moment I was building a fire, I was 110% focused on building that fire.”
Being alone does not always have to be a negative experience
So in the end, what was it about Alan Kay that got him through this without a (mental) scratch?
“There’s a psychological co-dependency that people often have. They cannot be alone; they have to be in a relationship, they have to be with friends. says Dr. Maschi. But if a person has good internal resources, problem solving skills, and [the ability to] not let emotions get the best of them, he might be stronger and might be able to withstand [being alone].”
Solitude doesn’t always have to mean loneliness. Intrepid backpackers sojourn into the wilderness seeking enlightenment all the time. Monks take vows of silences. A teenage girl sailed around the world alone in a little boat for months at a time. Kay's experience, background, and preparation gave him distinct advantages.
“Obviously you miss family and friends, human interaction,” says Kay. "But for me, I rather enjoyed some of the solitude. It really gave you time to really look within yourself. And the longer that you’re out there, the more that process just goes deeper and deeper. Even the way the animals respond to you changes. They start to accept you as just another creature out there trying to survive.”
Check out season two of Alone on HISTORY on April 21st.