POP QUIZ: When you find that you are alone, for example, when you are stopped in traffic, waiting on a elevator or a friend, or you are in the bathroom, what is the first thing you do?
You check your cell phone.
If this sounds familiar, then guess what? Even though you hate being alone, you're not alone.
A new study published in the journal Science looked at results from 11 different experiments involving over 700 subjects and found that the majority of participants reported that it was "unpleasant" to be alone in a room with their thoughts for as few as six minutes. The researchers discovered that most people would rather administer painful electric shocks to themselves than be left alone with their thoughts. This effect was particularly strong for men, who overwhelmingly preferred the shock (64 percent of male participants as compared to 15 percent of female participants).
Why do most people hate being alone with their thoughts? Pain. When you feel physical or psychological pain you instinctively move away from it. However, when you feel emotional pain there's nowhere to go. Instead you may try to escape by distracting yourself with your cellphone.
Pain is an inevitable part of life. In fact, in many ways, pain is good for you. Plus, there is no avoiding it, and trying to escape from it can lead to other problems. Besides the obvious danger of texting while driving and the tragedy of missing out on the life that is going on outside of your three-inch screen, new evidence is emerging that avoiding being alone can hinder your capacity for empathy and creativity.
So what can you do to avoid avoiding your fear of being alone?
The way to wean yourself fear of being alone is to gradually expose yourself to being present with yourself. You can cultivate a sense of presence in just a few minutes a day, either through meditation, prayer or just taking time each day to be silent. This can also be achieved by practicing yoga a few times per week.
In order to endure and grow from pain you must be able to experience it. Avoiding it makes it worse. No one wants to be in pain, but remember that pain is also an opportunity. When you take the time to slow down and experience what is bothering you, you can grow and change from the pain so you can experience the pleasure that is out there for you as well.
Dr. Ben Michaelis is a clinical psychologist in full-time private practice in Manhattan. Dr. Michaelis writes and speaks regularly about mental health, creativity, spirituality and motivation. He is the author of numerous popular and scholarly articles and is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post. Dr. Michaelis is a frequent guest on nationally syndicated TV shows such as, NBC's The Today Show, The Hallmark Channel's Home & Family, and MSNBC's Your Business. Dr. Michaelis is the author of Your Next Big Thing: 10 Small Steps to Get Moving and Get Happy.