When it comes to good mental health, hopefully by now you know the importance of looking after yourself. This will look different for everyone, but I believe it’s a key element to staying on top of your sanity and being able to give your best in all areas of life. But as I was having conversations with friends and family over Christmas the question dawned upon me: is me-time selfish? Spoiler alert! In my opinion: absolutely not. Me-time is of utmost importance and is practically sacred.
My experience has been that younger generations (read millennials and below) are better at making time for themselves and generally putting themselves first. But a lot of people from older generations (and the media) interpret this as being selfish. I for one, think that this new focus on self realization is good, as we learn to put ourselves first and ask ourselves questions about what we want from life.
Why might me-time be considered selfish?
Think about it, turning down an invitation from friends to spend time with yourself: sounds crazy, right? We spend a lot if not the majority of our time in social obligations. Be it work meetings, presence in the office or meeting with friends.
For extroverts this is great news because we recharge and gain energy from being around others. But the fact of the matter is, there is also an expectation of us to be always-on and out and about, before, during and after work (and sharing our exhilarating lives on social media). This is how it ends up being expected of us to constantly be around people, sometimes resulting in us putting others first at our own expense.
This is exactly how me-time starts to be perceived as selfish. When people expect you to always be out and attend social gatherings, suddenly it becomes hard for you to turn down offers. Even more so if people are used to you being socially active (though arguably introverts also struggle with this). And that increases again if other people are neglecting themselves at the expense of others: it becomes even harder for them to understand why you would prefer to stay in. Turning down a night out or a dinner to spend time alone, you might worry that people won’t ask you out again or perceive you as anti-social, which makes it difficult to carve out the time.
It can be hard to explain why you’re choosing quality time with yourself over spending time with others, and that’s part of the problem.
The importance of me time
Me-time is essential for maintaining good mental health and gaining clarity of mind. At the beginning of 2020 I went on a solo holiday to the Bassin d’Arcachon in France. It was time to be spent in nature on a digital detox, to allow myself to be confronted with my own thoughts and face the big questions I had to ask myself.
The fact is, when we are in an always-on world running with our busy lives and schedules, it’s easy to ignore the difficult questions. It’s easy to put off things to tomorrow and stick your head in the sand. But that’s when the deep thinking is stalled, and it’s harder to move forward with purpose.
I think we can all recognize that sometimes in life we have to make difficult or big decisions in order to ensure we’re happy and following our path. And it’s much harder to make those when we are stuck head down, running to catch-up with life and putting out fires on a daily basis. How will you be able to feel in touch with yourself? How will you be able to read the signs your mind and body are sending you? You won’t.
Me time and mental health
This becomes even more important when it comes to our mental health. If I think back to the times when I was burned out or stressed, I didn’t have the head space for anything. I was stuck feeling shit and desperate to get out of my situation. I would have taken any kind of out I was given and that’s precisely what you should avoid.
Often when we are feeling burned out or stressed, our minds are overwhelmed. We don’t have time to process the situation or emotions, we are exhausted. At work this is often coupled with the fact that we are working long hours and cannot manage the situation well. This has an impact on our overall quality of life: poor sleep, lack of energy, lack of exercise, bad diet… the list goes on.
In order to figure out how to get out of the situation or what we should do next we need the magical head space, clarity of mind. And how else do we get it? Through me-time. Allowing yourself time to do nothing: not running through your adult to-do list (groceries, bills, post office, etc.), not meeting friends, not cleaning your apartment. And most importantly, not feeling guilty about it either.
Me-time could be anything you do to make yourself feel better, rested and recharged. A yoga class in the middle of the day, sleeping in, treating yourself to a nice meal… It should be a moment for you to disconnect and recharge, step out of the rat race and give yourself time to slow down.
You may have experienced the power of me-time after coming back from a long holiday. You feel disconnected, rested and re-energized. The great thing is, you don’t have to wait to go on a 2 week holiday to get that feeling. You just need to carve in regular me-time moments for yourself.
Guilt free me time
It can be difficult to allow yourself me-time. If you are worried about letting your friends down or people thinking you’re selfish, the best thing you can do is explain it to them. Particularly with your close friends, they should understand why you need to take a break.
Remember, you don’t have to go into the details of what’s wrong, it can be as simple as telling someone you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed and want to take some time to recover.