In search of “ME” time

I’ve been thinking a lot about “me” time lately—definitely wanting more of it and trying to figure out how to get it, without a whole lot of luck. It finally dawned on me that at least one of the reasons I was having so much difficulty was because I wasn’t clear in my own mind about what I really meant by “me” time, what specifically I wanted it to do for me, and how much of it I needed at any particular time.

I am certainly not alone in wanting more time for myself. Every survey that asks family caregivers what they want or need shows “time for myself” is high on everyone’s list. What we each do with the time we designate for ourselves is likely to be as different as we all are as human beings, but the fact that we all need it is without question.

Defining “Me” Time

Respite and “time for myself” are invariably linked in the survey data. We don’t get enough respite and we don’t have enough time for ourselves. If we had more time, we’d get more respite. But are they the same thing? Is “a usually short/temporary interval of rest or relief,” a common definition of respite, the same thing as “time for myself?” I don’t think it is. Look at these definitions of respite:

  • A reprieve or period of delay, as when there is a temporary suspension of punishment.

  • Relief from something that is uncomfortable, painful or otherwise negative.

These are pretty dark words and they are about stopping or putting off something that is unpleasant or not wanted for a time. “Me” time isn’t about the absence of something difficult or unpleasant; it is about doing something we perceive as positive and fulfilling.

I don’t know how “respite” got to be the term adopted by advocates for family caregivers, but, now that I know the negative connotations it can have, I for one am going to try not using it anymore. For me, “me” time isn’t about relief; rather, it is about relaxation, stress reduction, and, definitely, rejuvenation.

I turned to the Internet to try to find a definition for “me” time. I typed into Google “time for me.” The first thing that popped up was a link to the song “Me, Myself, and Time” by Demi Lavoto. It’s about having faith in yourself, even through dark times. The lyrics talk about understanding that having a positive attitude can eventually make the difference between winning and losing.

It was definitely in the right direction. Believing in yourself is a critical factor in making caregiving easier, and, in fact, it is the first of NFCA’s four core messages: Believe in Yourself, Protect Your Health, Reach Out for Help, and Speak Up for Your Rights. But it didn’t quite describe my sense of “me” time.

The next link led me to the Web site for the Time for Me Day Spa in upstate New York. As I read through the copy I was hooked. Yes, I thought, this is a good description of what “me” time should be about.

“[The spa’s] inviting atmosphere welcomes visitors to leave their stress at the door… You give so much to others, create time for YOU to whisk your worries away, soothe your stress and rejuvenate your life.”

Leaving my stress at the door, whisking my worries away, and rejuvenating my life, yes, that’s what I want to have happen during “me” time. Of course I’d love to go to a spa on a regular basis, but that isn’t realistic. If I am to have “me” time more than once or twice a year, I’ll need to find other, much less-expensive ways to achieve feelings of peace, relaxation, and rejuvenation.

But does “me” time have to be quiet and peaceful? For me, the answer is yes, but what about someone who is a skier, or a runner? Might they not consider an activity that energizes them, that gets their heart rate pumping, as “me” time? Although I see “me” time as being alone, for others it might be doing something with friends. “Me” time is how we define it. The words I’ve now come up with to define “me” time include:

  • A quiet place

  • Doing something I really enjoy

  • Doing something that fulfills me

  • Doing something that makes me happy, makes me smile

  • Not feeling pressure of any sort

  • Being aware that this, whatever it is, is “me” time

  • Doing something/being somewhere that takes me out of caregiving mentally and emotionally

  • Being alone

  • Being physically away from caregiving—out of the house

  • Being physically away from caregiving—unreachable, as on vacation.

With this list in front of me, I began to think specifically about what constitutes my “me” time. I was surprised with what I came up with. I realized that cooking often falls under the “me” time umbrella. For my friend Jan, that would never be the case; she hates cooking. But I enjoy it, and if it’s not about getting dinner on the table quickly and I can listen to music while I am cooking, it does fulfill and rejuvenate me.

Taking a bubble bath, reading in a quiet part of the house where I feel as if I am alone and won’t be disturbed, taking a nap: these are all small “me” time activities. When I go on a business trip, part of the time comprises “me” time, when I am alone in my hotel room and the work effort is complete. Being on a solo vacation, or with a friend even for a weekend, is “me” time.

So what is “me” time? I’ve decided it can be little snippets of time or extended ones, as long as what I am doing reduces stress, makes me feel good, and rejuvenates me. Now that I finished this article, I am going to take a short walk. Right now that will definitely qualify as “me” time.

By Suzanne Mintz with the National Family Caregivers Association

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