Have you ever wondered what ‘me time’ means? In my view it should be about individuals making space to do something just for them. Something that will make that person feel better. Happier. Relaxed. It’s a fairly universal definition.
But what if I now said that my ‘me time’ is time on the track or in the gym. Training. That pushing myself to stay fit enough to compete in athletic events (despite the years ticking by!) is also what also helps relax me. Does the label ‘me time’ still apply?
Not according to most. Because, so the argument goes, if you are going to make an effort to claim some minutes back for yourself it should be used for chilling out - not exerting yourself and getting a sweat on. Exercise is very commendable. But it isn’t really ‘me time’ is it?
Going back to the earlier definition, why not? Here’s why. The concept has become distorted, inextricably linked to ‘activities’ such as laying on the sofa, enjoying a glass of wine, or maybe lounging in the bath. We are conditioned to believe that, when leading lives where finding even a spare five minutes can seem an uphill struggle, ‘me time’ has to involve…well…doing as little as possible. The term has significant ‘baggage’ in terms of how it is perceived and what it is associated with. Baggage which affects our behaviour.
So much so that according to an Office of National Statistics (ONS) report, most of us spend our spare ‘me time’ time watching TV, reading, or listening to music. Not much else makes the list.
Let me be clear. I’m not saying ‘me time’ can’t be these things. Sometimes a little sofa R&R action is exactly what’s needed. But isn’t it time to start promoting exercise as a valid option? More than that, a valid option with benefits in terms of both short term happiness and long term health.
And sadly the perception issues don’t stop there, a fact made clear when I read another article recently. Laura, the author, works for the NHS and is a champion of workplace wellness. In the piece she recounts a story where she took advantage of an initiative offered at her own place of employment, where staff are given 10 hours to put towards health and wellbeing ‘me time’ activities. The idea being that ultimately this leads to more productive staff. A happier workforce.
Yet when she chose to be proactive and take up the offer, making time in her busy schedule to attend a Yogalates class, she felt criticised for it. In Laura’s words “The view clearly was that I wasn’t busy enough”. Remember this is a scheme that is actively ‘encouraged’. I wonder if Laura would have faced the same criticism if she’d simply sat in a staff room reading a magazine over her lunch break for an hour. I bet not.
Enough is enough, we really need to give ‘me time’ a makeover. If not for our sake, certainly for the sake of future generations. Especially when you consider another shocking statistic announced recently – that children today spend on average just 16 minutes a day outside, preferring to stay indoors playing on their phones or computers in order to relax. This shift from outdoor, active play to an indoor, sedentary life at such a young age has serious consequences, not least obesity. Children today face an epidemic of ill health in adulthood if we don’t change the way they view activity.
And how we think of ‘me time’ is the perfect place to start. Firstly, we need to make sure people (like Laura) never have to feel guilty about taking personal time; it is important for our overall wellbeing. Secondly, we need to stop mentally relegating exercise and activity to ‘must do’ or ‘should do’; automatically categorizing it as a chore rather than something that we might actually enjoy.
Let’s not forget, being active doesn’t have to equate to following a strict gym regime three times a week – unless that’s what you like of course. It might mean dancing, taking a brisk walk in a park (even if just to see a bit of sunshine or get a bit of fresh air in your working day), or even just playing a game of catch with the kids...’me time’ doesn’t have to be a solitary affair.
Being more active is unlikely to be how any of us choose to spend ‘me time’ time all of the time. But if we just changed our mindset a little to at least view physical activity as a contender, I think we’d start to see a big difference. It’s a simple shift in attitude that could alter the path of public health for the better.