At some point in your life, you’ve probably been told to slow down. Or perhaps to “just relax”. As if that will instantly change everything. But maybe there’s some truth underlying those comments—a message to take time for self-care.
The problem is we often don’t. We’ve got too much to do and too many people depending on us. Besides, society prizes the over-worked, self-sacrificing type. Those long days and short nights, starting early and finishing late, or doing things for others can be worn like a badge of honour. We can’t afford to take care of ourselves.
Practicing Self-Care isn’t Selfish
Each of us can run down a list of the things we need to do and the people who need something from us. The reality is, you’re no good to yourself, or anyone for that matter, if you don’t take time for self-care to stay healthy and remain energized. I learned this the hard way. I was worn out, not sleeping well and (unknowingly) dealing with depression. I was regularly irritable and generally unhappy. And this affected the people around me. Looking back, I’m sure those people would have appreciated if I focused more on my own self-care.
It might sound selfish at first. But think of it like the airplane oxygen masks. You’re told to put on yours first before helping someone else. Because if the oxygen does get sucked out of the plane, you may go unconscious before you have the chance to help someone else. Then you’re no help to anyone.
A key aspect of self-care is spending time alone. It’s healthy to take time for yourself. And ideally every day. As little as 20 to 30 minutes alone can help clear your thoughts and refresh you. This time is for you, and no one else. It’s not for you to catch up on chores, go see that friend you’ve been trying to see for the past few months or use your phone to check Instagram. You need the time to be with your thoughts, not with someone else’s.
Focusing on Self-care Sharpens the Mind
Setting aside time to be alone isn’t the same as being lonely. Time alone allows you to relax your mind of thoughts of the people around you and not be concerned about what others are thinking. In a way, it can be liberating.
Your brain, like a muscle, needs time to rest and relax. In doing so, it comes back recharged and ready to go. How productive are you when you haven’t slept well? Or at the end of an eight-hour workday? Thoughts don’t come as easy when you have a million things going through your head, or you’re worn out and can’t think at all. And most people find that spending time alone is the best way to rest.
While humans are social, continually socializing and being around people can be tiring. There’s a trend for work environments to move to open-concept offices. While this is believed to enhance communication, it actually leads to decreased workplace satisfaction and productivity due to increased noise and reduced privacy.
Time alone is also one of the key elements to successful business leaders. Bill Gates goes as far as to spend a week alone in the forest twice each year he calls his think week. Many CEOs program this time into their calendars, or at least a regular practice that everyone around them knows about. It’s part of their work because they know ideas and thoughts don’t come to mind when you’re busy doing something. Spending purposeful time alone enhances creativity.
Making Time Alone a Routine
I try to spend the first few moments of the morning on my own. A time when I can gather my thoughts before the busyness of the day starts. Later in the day, I’ll go for a walk. Some of my best ideas come during this time. Yes, I spend other time during the day alone, exercising, reading and/or watching TV. But those times I’m focused on what I’m doing. The key is to spend the time in a way that you don’t have to think about anything.
But not everyone is quick to grab onto the idea of spending time alone. Some people would rather receive electrical shocks than be alone with their thoughts. For whatever reason, being alone scares some people. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Time alone can help you get to know yourself better. You become better able to listen to your own thoughts and concentrate. And choosing to spend time alone is associated with reduced stress. Together, this can help in your health and relationships.
To make it work, it’s important to set this time aside and make it a priority. If you wait until you have the time, it may never happen. Mentally commit to a time and book it into your calendar. This way it becomes something to look forward to. It may require giving something up, although I would argue the return on investment of that time will be more than worth it.
Lastly, if self-care is new to you, it will also be new to the people around you. You may no longer be accessible during that time. In that case, you should have a plan to communicate to others. Or you can fit it in at a time when no one else will really notice. Seeking support from those around you and letting them know this is important to you can be a big help.
Remember, to take care of the people around you, you need to take care of yourself.
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