There has never been a more important time to put yourself first. To check in, see how you’re feeling, think about what you need, and schedule in some time just for you.
‘Me time’ sounds so indulgent, doesn’t it? Time to do whatever it is you want to do. But in times like this, it can be a bit of a life saver.
So, what happens if you find it almost impossible to do? I can’t remember a time when my evenings and weekends were ever quite so free. Yet when they roll around, I don’t seem to be spending any precious moments slathering on face masks while luxuriating in a hot bubble bath. Or closing the curtains and cuddling up with a film I’ve been desperate to watch for yonks. Why is that?
“We think ‘me time’ needs to be grand or elaborate, so it overwhelms us and we don’t make a start,” says psychologist and wellbeing expert, Suzy Reading, whose book Self-care In Tough Times (£12.99, Aster) is out in paperback now.
“We get distracted by all the other things that need doing and our health doesn’t get a look in – after all, we’re worthy when we’re being productive, right?”
People often feel guilty about taking time out, or feel they have to earn it first, she continues: “We have to see our ‘to do’ list through to completion before we can stop – and our ‘to do’ list today is endless, so when is there ever a ‘good’ time to rest?”
Reading is right. How many of us have endless lists, which are genuinely impossible to tick off? Even when we feel exhausted and take some time out to rest, we often lay there agitated about the million and one things we should be doing around the house. It’s why holidays are so wonderful, because you’re not at home, so you can’t do all those things. Instead, you can actually take some time out to relax. But we’re holidaying at home right now, and all too often get our rewards from productivity.
“I think the pandemic has been a very difficult and disorienting experience for lots of us,” adds psychotherapist Toby Ingham (tobyingham.com). “In one way, we have more time at home, but in another, it becomes hard to enjoy that time. We can’t get together with friends, so can end up feeling guilty that we don’t spend enough quality time with others. Also, busy people tend to fixate on the things they should be doing and on accomplishing tasks. This mentality can be hard to shift. However, this is a learned behaviour – as children, ‘me time’ was usually play time – and was not associated with guilt. It was a time to have fun.”
So, it all comes down to habit, really? “Rest is not indulgent or lazy,” notes Reading. “We must prioritise our health and wellbeing. Sometimes, rest is the most productive thing possible.”
What is ‘me time’?
Not knowing where to start is a genuine barrier. “Relaxation is a bit of a lost art,” says Reading, “so people need easy and accessible inspiration on bringing me time back into everyday life – and not equating me time with screen time.”
Me time can be absolutely anything that makes you feel wonderful. Exercise or stretching, a walk in the woods, listening to a podcast, cooking while listening to your favourite songs, reading, journaling, creating any kind of art (without any pressure to make it impress anyone at all, including yourself), having a bath, doing some breathwork, singing – literally anything that makes you happy. Think about it – what makes you happy? Pretty sure it isn’t clearing up the house, doing an online shop or filing your nails.
How can I start?
Reading recommends beginning by recognising that me time is essential for coping with the stress and anxiety of daily life – and there’s a lot of that about at the moment. “It’s not just a ‘nice to have’, it’s vital; but to dial down guilt, we need to connect with what me time facilitates in our life.” Think of it as making you a better parent, a more productive colleague or a happier partner.
She also suggests choosing practices that don’t take up huge chunks of time. Try dotting little micro moments of me time into your day: “A single yoga pose, a few savoured sips of your cuppa, green gazing out the window, massaging in some hand balm after washing your hands, a few mountain breaths, one song to lift your mood…”
It doesn’t take a lot, but it can make a big difference. If it helps, make a plan for your me time. Set yourself a challenge to enjoy five minutes of me time every day, or 30 minutes three times a week – some people find it easier to stick to it that way. It’s similar to running a race – before you signed up to that race, you never found the time to do any running, but once it’s in the diary, suddenly the training plan is almost immovable.
“The more we prioritise it, the better we will become at it,” says Ingham. “It’s like any habit.”
Diarise white space, so you can fill it with an activity of your choosing – it rarely happens on its own, concludes Reading. “Don’t let a moment of peace pass you by unnoticed – choose how you spend it. Do it even if you feel guilty. The washing can wait.”