Women have come a long way in the workforce and family life, but Pew Research shows that women are still more likely to adjust their careers and work schedule to meet the needs of family and children. While men’s involvement at home has gone up significantly since the 60s, research reports that women are still giving more time to housework and childcare on average. As a result, it’s no surprise that women appear to receive less leisure time.
Or, at least, it shouldn’t be. When the To Do List grows longer, our downtime gets shorter. In fact, it’s the first thing to go, as if it’s not a priority, but rather a luxury. What really is leisure? It’s freedom from “coerced” or obligatory tasks. It’s time to enjoy something for yourself.
Leisure, also known as “Me Time,” is necessary to one’s emotional and physical well-being. Lack of time to rest and relax directly affects one’s ability to cope and thrive in life. It’s the whole, “take care of yourself in order to take care of others” thing. Chronic stress eventually becomes a symptom of no downtime, as do other conditions, such as anxiety, depression, heart disease, digestive disorders, and sleep problems. Think about it. Someone who is sleep deprived, depressed, anxious, and stressed isn’t going to function optimally for their family, boss, friends, or spouse, are they?
Nope. But we’re expected to.
As women, we are much less likely to take time to nurture ourselves or partake in hobbies. In fact, some of us lose sight of what we even love to do, between helping others do what they love to do and helping them survive. Putting family first is great, but what happens when we over-function for them? As a result, we start to under-function for ourselves, which will eventually affect our quality of life, relationships, and the very ones we love.
…It doesn’t have to mean “Me Time.” Sure, you may not see your friends very often, and when you get a minute, it could be the best opportunity for it. After all, socializing with friends and family is one key to a happy and healthy life. All I ask is that you look inward at these rare moments. When was the last time you did nothing? When was the last time you painted or watched a movie just on your own? If there’s a craving in you for an emotional and social breather, do it. Don’t feel obligated to fill every minute of your time with an action, like finally getting to the gym or running that errand. You’ll drain yourself emotionally, mentally, and physically.
Feeling selfish about taking some alone time for yourself results from unearned guilt. Many of us believe that, if we have any free time, it should be spent doing things for others. It’s important at these times to remind ourselves that simply taking a moment to ourselves isn’t narcissistic; it’s necessary. Cherilynn Veland, MSW, author of Stop Giving It Away: How to Stop Self-Sacrificing and Start Claiming Your Space, Power and Happiness suggests that we tell ourselves this phrase: “Life isn’t all about me, but it is about me too.”
Alone time allows personal reflection, an opportunity to unwind, increases productivity, allows self-discovery, encourages deep thinking, and improves relationships. There are a lot of ways you can spend your “Me Time,” whether it’s watching a movie, buying something nice you wouldn’t otherwise buy, reading a book, or just taking a nap. It’s easier said than done, though.
To help you prioritize time for yourself, make a list of things you love (or used to love) to do and use it next time you have a free hour. In fact, schedule your free time before setting any other appointments or events for the week. Then, set alarms for the Day Of to remind you to stop, unwind, and reboot. Try for twice a week, at least. Ultimately, shift your view of your downtime from being “disposable” to being “valuable,” and make sure to keep whatever activity you choose positive. That way, you’re more likely to associate healthy feelings with your “Me Time,” instead of guilt or restlessness.
It’s high time we start making alone time, even if it’s in small amounts, to heal ourselves and maintain our personal health and happiness. It doesn’t mean we don’t love others; it just means we love ourselves too.