Me time: extravagance or essential?

“Me” time. Just the name of it sounds selfish, doesn’t it?

Perhaps that’s why so many people feel so guilty taking it. But while it may sound like an extravagance, it is actually absolutely essential to our well being.

Life Is Hectic

Our lives today are filled with stressors, from bad ones, like busy schedules and micromanaging bosses, to good ones, like getting married and buying a house. When confronted with stress, the body’s defenses kick into high gear in a rapid, automatic process known as the “fight-or-flight” reaction. Your adrenal glands flood the system with adrenaline and cortisol, two hormones that help you prepare to take action (adrenaline) and then sustain it as long as needed (cortisol). It doesn’t matter if the danger is physical or psychological; your body reacts the same way when it encounters stressors of any kind.

This autonomic stress response isn’t bad in and of itself. It is what protects you from danger and is also the very thing that helps you perform well. It sharpens your concentration, helps you overcome procrastination, and keeps you alert while you’re performing.

The Downside of Stress

The problem comes when you have too much stress. When you are chronically stressed, your adrenal glands work overtime to pump out ever more adrenaline and cortisol. When that happens it impacts your body’s immunity, thyroid function, blood sugar levels, and even your ability to lose weight. The bottom line is: chronic stress causes major damage to your health, torpedoes your productivity, and generally diminishes your quality of life.
So, far from being selfish, “me” time is really about consciously turning down the volume on your stress reflex. Taking the time keeps you healthy, improves your creativity, your ability to be present, and is what enables you to “turn it on” again when you really need it.

Because we all have varying stress loads and thresholds, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to taking “me” time. Some people require more, others less. But here are four ideas for fitting it into a busy schedule.

1. Start Small.

If you are a hard-charging type who has never taken any “me time,” don’t try to become the paragon of balance overnight. If you do, it probably won’t stick. Try taking a fifteen-minute break once a week. Use the time to stretch, walk around the block, call a friend. Then gradually build up to fifteen minutes a day. We’ll bet you won’t want to stop there once you see how great it feels.

2. Schedule It In.

Most people we know who struggle to fit in the time for themselves don’t lock it into their schedule. Because life is full of proverbial fires, there is always something that will appear in the moment to be more important than recalibrating your stress levels. Don’t get caught in that trap. Set a time in your calendar and consider it as important as an appointment with your physician. Because it is.

3. Involve a Buddy.

Enlisting the help of a friend or loved one will help you on two levels, especially if you struggle with feelings of guilt for “selfishly” taking time to unwind. First, it adds a level of accountability. When you schedule something some down time with a friend, you are much less likely to cancel than you are just answering to yourself. Second, friends reduce our stress levels. A new study has shown that connecting with a good friend decreases your level of the stress hormone cortisol.

4. Turn off the Screens.

When the time to take your “me time” arrives, turn off your screens, phones, and the like. It’s counterproductive to try to decompress while things are binging and pinging at you and effectively reminding your adrenal glands that there are more important things to do (stress!).

Do you think me time is essential or extravagant? Do you take time for yourself? If so, how & when do you fit it in?