Most women are too busy being mothers, wives, daughters and employees to find much time for themselves. But tuning in to your own emotions, interests and goals is vital to a fulfilling life. "Solitary time can help you have a better understanding of yourself, your thoughts and your emotions," says Katherine L. Muller, PsyD, associate director at Center for Integrative Psychotherapy. But not only does alone time help you get in touch with yourself, it can also have unexpected benefits, such as helping you make better decisions, sleep more soundly and even find more joy in the company of others. Read on to learn all the beneficial reasons you should spend more time alone, plus get tips for how best to reap the rewards of your "me time."
1. It teaches you to enjoy your own company
Many people relate being alone with being lonely, but that's just not the case, especially if you do fun activities you’d normally do with other people — like catching a movie or lazing at the beach — by yourself. People forget that they can have just as much fun alone as they can in a group, and should make time to do so, says Muller. Engaging in solitary experiences that are enjoyable puts us back in touch with our own interests and reminds us that we have the ability to make ourselves happy, creating a stronger sense of self, she explains. So pencil in a standing weekly date with yourself, and be as much of a stickler for keeping your "me time" appointment as you are with your child's soccer practice.
2. It helps you see the glass as half full
When we're overwhelmed, stressed or sad, we tend to focus on the negative side of things, Muller says. In fact, even the day-to-day hustle and bustle has a tendency to get us down. But by taking the time to actively process your emotions, you can head off emotional overload before it starts. Every once in awhile, whether you feel the blues coming on or not, find a quiet spot to sit at a coffee shop or local park, and write down — but don't try to make sense of — what you're thinking. "By putting your thoughts on paper, you're simply bringing them to your own attention before they have a chance to pile up and tumble out of control," says Muller. By making yourself aware of certain overwhelming feelings, you’ll be better able to identify and avoid the situations that created them.
3. It makes you a better decision maker
Sometimes the best thing to do when you're struggling to make a difficult decision is to shelve it and channel your angst creatively. Picking up a sketch pad, working with clay, gardening or writing may be the best antidote, says Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD, author of "A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness."
"Doing something creative, whatever it may be, is the best way to facilitate brainstorming," she says. The act alone — not the end product — flexes and recharges your "idea muscles," which can help you think differently as you continue working through the challenge, she explains.
4. It helps you get a better night's sleep
Each night when we're sleeping, our minds process the day's events, consolidate our memories and digest emotions, according to Shelby Freedman Harris, PsyD, director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program Sleep-Wake Disorders Center at Montefiore Medical Center in New York. But not only is it tough to fall asleep when your mind is running rampant, but, according to Harris, many people who are stressed or anxious "report spending most of their night physically sleeping, but feeling like their minds never fully turned off." To improve your sleep (and the healing process that goes with it), Harris suggests taking an hour before bed to engage in a "gentle" and "single-focus" activity, like painting your nails or reading a book, which will eliminate multi-tasking or otherwise stress-inducing conversations (even if they're just about who will pick up the kids tomorrow) and prepare your mind for deep rest.
5. It improves your focus
We hear a lot of talk about the importance of "being mindful," but what does that mean? Quite simply, it means thinking only about what you're doing as you're doing it. For example, the next time you go for a manicure, read a book on the beach or take a walk, instead of letting your mind race through the day's to-do list as you relax, focus on what's happening right in front of you — whether that's how the manicurist is polishing your nails or how the waves at the beach sound as they crash on to the shore. But because maintaining a single focus goes against our natural inclinations, Harris says to practice by starting small. "Tell yourself to focus for 30 seconds and, over time, work your way up to five minutes. If your mind starts to wander, accept it and refocus." The theory is that not only will focusing during calming, relaxing situations help you savor life's small pleasures, but it will also prepare you to do so in times of anxiety — i.e. driving with three screaming kids in the car — when you need it most.
6. It can give you a sense of accomplishment
If you've had a particularly rough day at work or derailed your diet and need a little confidence boost, Muller recommends taking time out to do the one thing that all humans are naturally good at — using your senses, which we can best do when we're focusing inward rather than, say, chatting on the phone about a friend's unbearable mother-in-law. Says Muller, "Whether you go get a pedicure to enjoy the feeling of the massage or buy yourself a bouquet of flowers to sniff in the wonderful fragrance, successfully connecting with your senses can give you, even if small, a sense of accomplishment." And that feeling of "mastery," or accomplishment, is intrinsically tied to boosting self-worth.
7. It can help you achieve your goals
You might relish in helping other people achieve their own goals, whether you're sewing a costume for your child's play or planning your sister's baby shower. But what about your goals? By designating daily "me time" to cross something off your own bucket list — like spending an hour a day training for a marathon or planting a vegetable garden — you're not only setting yourself up to reap a confidence boost from achieving the end result, but you'll also feel a daily sense of accomplishment as you work in small doses towards the larger goal.
8. It broadens your intellectual horizons
According to a recent survey, most women spend the little down time that they do have browsing the Web — so Muller recommends putting that time to good use. "A lot of people discourage using the computer for 'me time,'" she says, but explains that if you use it to address your daily intellectual curiosities — like the meaning of a word you've never heard before, or a deeper dive into current world affairs — it can provide mental stimulation, which boosts feel-good hormones, like serotonin. "It's not the same as watching TV," she says. Next time you sign on to check your email, take an extra 10 minutes for yourself to look up something that you're curious about and reap the rewards of your increased knowledge.
This article originally appeared on WomansDay.com and is republished here with permission.
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