WHY WE NEED IT
Exercise, nutritious food and plenty of sleep are the obvious building blocks for good health, but “me-time” is another essential. What works for you will be different to what works for someone else, but one thing is consistent: Failing to take that time will not only make you unpleasant to be around, but research shows it can also increase your risk of anxiety, depression and illness. The stress hormone cortisol helps maintain blood pressure, immune function and the body’s anti-inflammatory processes. As life throws us curve balls, our cortisol levels increase, but when we do something that slows us down or makes us feel good, these levels return to normal.
“When we don’t stop, our cortisol doesn’t go down and our bodies stop functioning properly,” Dr Claudia Lee, an integrative and preventative GP, says. “That’s when you start putting the milk in the cupboard, you can’t concentrate, your libido goes down and your irritability goes through the roof.”
Chronic stress is what results when the body consistently produces high levels of cortisol. This can lead to mood and anxiety disorders, depression and insomnia. It also weakens the immune system, making us more susceptible to disease and viruses, as well as putting us at an increased risk of chronic illness.
Starving your body of me-time usually goes hand-in-hand with lack of quality sleep or exercise and a poor diet, all of which have been linked to an increased risk of serious illnesses such as heart disease, obesity and diabetes. body+soul yoga expert Kate Kendall says. “We often say yes to everything and tend to spread ourselves too thinly.”
Men are better at fitting downtime into their day but sports psychologist Michael Inglis says they also often prefer to fly solo.
“Women tend to be more social beings so are more likely to enjoy me-time with other people,” he says. “Men can be more solitary so are less likely to call someone to share me-time with, especially as they get older. That’s a real shame and something to be aware of, as social interaction is a huge part of our existence and frequently brings its own health benefits.”
“As a society, we have increasingly lost the ability to stop and acknowledge the good things we’ve done because we feel a certain amount of pressure to move straight onto the next thing,” he says. “That small action of acknowledging, though, can be really satisfying and fulfilling.”
No matter what me-time is for you, it shouldn’t be at the bottom of your to-do list.
“A lot of people I meet do everything else they need to before they have me-time, which means it often doesn’t happen at all,” Inglis says. “But we need to prioritise it and be proactive about fitting it in. It’s not an indulgence – it’s an important part of life.”
Lee adds, “We should be having a bit of me-time every day, but it’s worth scheduling monthly and yearly me-time.”