Me, Myself, and I
Taking a bubble bath after dinner or ducking out for yoga during lunch sounds great in theory. But many of us simply, well, don't. We should: Getting “me time” has more benefits than just allowing us a reprieve from our to-do lists and everyday responsibilities.
Many of us believe we can’t fit these purposeful breaks into our schedules, but the data says otherwise. Americans spend an average of 45 to 60 minutes a day just waiting, Jessica Turner, author of The Fringe Hours: Making Time for You, says. Instead of scrolling through Facebook, we could be using that time to better unwind. (Try this tracker to understand where you spend your time and how you can carve out more moments just for you.)
Here’s why you need to make more time for yourself — and how.
It’s Essential for Your Body and Mind
Life is busy: Preparing your house for guests, planning trips, or attending a bunch of family or work events can drain your resources and increase your stress levels, cognitive behavioral therapist Alex Hedger, clinical director of Dynamic You: Psychological Therapy Clinics, says. Having time to yourself lets you conserve resources so you can handle your endless to-do list.
Beyond that, our bodies need time to recharge, says Dr. Katherine Puckett, chief of mind-body medicine at Cancer Treatment Centers of America, Midwestern Regional Medical Center. We have a physiological response to stress that can “compromise thinking, memory, and problem-solving, as well as increase fatigue and muscle tension,” she says.
To stay on your game, take some time for yourself whenever you can. And realize that me time looks different for everyone — it could be going on a hike with the dog, scrapbooking, or grabbing a drink with friends. What designates these activities as “me time” is that they are freely chosen. They’re things you want to do, rather than things you feel like you have to do.
You’ll Overindulge Less
When people don't take space for themselves, stress can give way to bad-for-you habits like overeating and drinking to excess. Overindulging is your way of replenishing lost energy reserves, Londin Angel Winters, author and co-founder of Metaphysical Fitness, says. But it usually has a reverse effect, making you feel much worse in the end. (Think hangovers and sugar comas.)
Find yourself overdoing it? Exercise to unwind instead. If hitting a spin class doesn’t seem remotely relaxing, a brisk morning walk will leave you feeling restored, and it has the added benefit of encouraging you to make better, healthier choices when you're faced with yet another buffet or open bar. Your body will thank you.
It Makes You a Better Worker
A study from London’s University of Birkbeck found that having consistent high-quality leisure time can make you more engaged at work. This shouldn’t come as a surprise: Maybe you do your best work after your weekly barre class, or feel most inspired after taking yourself to a movie. When we have the option to recharge, we come back more ready than ever.
And it doesn’t take much me time to make a difference: A Cornell University study showed that taking scheduled breaks from the computer improved participants' work accuracy by 13 percent. So the next time you have a big deadline, go to lunch and step away from your desk instead of working straight through. Your productivity levels might just shoot way up.
Your Relationships Will Improve
Because mental and physical breaks reduce overall stress, says business psychologist and director of Koru Development Gill Thackray, we're better equipped to handle stress when it inevitably arrives. Which, of course, helps us to be a little more pleasant to everyone in our lives, she says, from our mothers-in-law to our neighbors.
If you want to improve the quality of your relationships, try some literal me time — that is, time spent alone. It may help you cultivate more empathy, according to Harvard University psychologist Adam Waytz. His study found that spending time by ourselves actually makes us less closed-off and more understanding, while being too socially connected can make us less able to identify with others, as anyone feeling overwhelmed by a big social circle can attest.
Taking a break from other people lets us recharge our power to connect with them and make ourselves emotionally available again. Just another reason to sneak off before a big family meal to take a quick nap.
Your Sex Life Will Improve
"The impact of stress has debilitating effects on intimacy,” educator and coach Gina Kloes, who works with entrepreneurs about overcoming challenges and stress, says. By taking necessary time-outs for yourself, you'll decrease libido-lowering stress hormones and soon rediscover your sex drive.
This becomes a positive cycle since, as studies show, sex lowers stress to improve your overall emotional state. (Losing your mojo will only up your stress levels, given the constant societal pressure on couples to make sure they’re having “enough” sex.) So take some time for yourself to make sure you aren’t too frazzled to enjoy other recreational activities.
You’ll Build Stronger Memories
It may seem like the more you spend time with others, the more lasting memories you'll make, but this may not be the case. When people do tasks alone, rather than in a group, they're able to form more solid memories, according to Harvard professor and associate psychiatrist Ashwini Nadkarni, MD.
Practicing meditation or mindfulness, which is usually done solo, can also give your brain a break, she says, while allowing you to observe and process your thoughts and feelings, as well as reframe your expectations of others. This helps you to be more present when you are around other people and better able to enjoy those moments.