The importance of me time
My latest blog on taking care of your mental health
For many of us, a trip to the gym is ticked off as good for the body and good for the mind. And indeed exercise has undoubted benefits for both. But in this series of blog posts, I am arguing that a simple exercise regime, while it is an important cornerstone of mental health, is not enough on its own.
It requires more thought and commitment than that.
Not more thought and commitment, you are probably groaning. And I hear your pain. I know I have talked a lot in my last few posts about the emotional heavy lifting required to keep yourself mentally healthy, and you’re probably thinking you’ve heard enough. Well the good news is, that it’s not all hard work.
Indeed, taking care of your emotional health can be a joyful and deeply rewarding experience. Think of it as the trip to the steam room after you’ve lifted weights for an hour.
In my last post, I talked about reaching out to others. But another corner-stone of good mental health is, ironically, creating space for yourself or as I call it “me time”.
When I talk to clients in the therapy room about this, I am often met with a barrage of responses: I’m too busy, there is too much to do, or simply, isn’t that a bit selfish?
I know that most of us lead busy, over-stretched lives. There is the constant social media connectedness, the long work hours, the 24-hour nature of our modern society. We put pressure on ourselves to be doting parents, loving partners, loyal and sociable friends and hard working employees.
Well, I’m arguing that for some time each week we should just stop. Pause. Breathe. And spend time with ourselves.
Because if we don’t, we risk getting overwhelmed, frazzled – and ultimately burnt out.
And then we are no use to anyone.
It can help to remember this when we feel that “me time” is self-indulgent. If we are burnt-out, exhausted and miserable we are not in the best position to support and care for others. If we feel healthy, happy and energised, we have so much more to give.
One of the reasons we avoid “me time” is that we can find it really hard to sit with our own thoughts and feelings:
Do you compulsively check your phone rather than sit with thoughts or feelings that are uncomfortable?
Do you turn on the TV and tune out rather than tune in to your emotional world?
Would you rather pour a glass of wine than deal with the stresses of the day?
In an earlier post, I wrote about how learning to sit with our thoughts and feelings is rather like going to the gym: we need to start with the smallest weights, and build up over time. So it is with “me time”.
At first, it can feel uncomfortable and difficult. You may be berated by a critical inner voice, or troubled by a gnawing sense of sadness. In my last post, I talked about the relationship we have with ourselves, and how the quality of that relationship is the most important one we have in our lives.
When you spend time in “me time”, it is the ideal time to learn to befriend that inner critic, to be gentle, nurturing, loving and kind to that part of yourself, as well as to all the other aspects of yourself that you find hard to love.
Not only that, but by prioritising “me time”, you learn to just sit and “be”. You can learn – just for half an hour or so -- to leave behind the compulsive “doing” that drives our society: the compulsion to check your emails, tick off another thing on the to do list, climb the corporate ladder or drive your children to another after school activity.
In the silence of alone time, you can get to know yourself better. You can tune into your emotional world. You become more self-aware, and more open to self-growth.
So how do you go about creating “me time”?
There is no one-size-fits-all for this: some people find that yoga or meditation nurture them, for others it is walking in a wood, reading or writing poetry, or listening to relaxing music.
The most important thing is not what you do: but the intent with which you do it.
And that intent is to be open to finding something that nurtures you, something that lifts your heart and makes you feel good inside.