School drop off, family doctor's appointments, sports practices for the kids, your book club meetup ... in the midst of it all, finding time to simply be alone with ourselves can be difficult. However, that doesn't mean you shouldn't work to ensure your alone time stays among the top priorities on your list. In fact, it's essential.
Lindsey Zaskiewicz, LMSW, Psychotherapist at Mindful Counseling GR, says that we often use productivity and other quantitative methods to measure our worth.
"We are living in a culture that is obsessed with the 'hustle.' By implementing intentional rest, we are giving ourselves permission to have value beyond what we can produce," Zaskiewicz said. "An object in motion stays in motion, so how do we actually know how we're doing until we engage in purposeful time to ourselves? It's important that we slow down and become comfortable with that quiet."
There's a common misconception that the amount of alone time someone might need varies depending on whether they're more extroverted or introverted. Zaskiewicz explained that regardless of personality type, it's important to first acknowledge that we all need to listen to ourselves and engage in restful behaviors.
"In general, I think introverts are perhaps more aware of their need for down time, and are more comfortable with it for longer periods," she said. "Also, the introvert/extrovert distinction isn't about whether or not you can be social. It's more about the cost and toll that socialization has on our energy supply."
For those living in a full house, retreating to have some "me time" might seem like an impossibility or an action associated with a level of guilt when you could be spending it with loved ones. But one of the greatest things we can do for ourselves and family, Zaskiewicz emphasized, is to simply ask for what we need.
"If what you need is to exercise alone, take a bath or go to bed early, say, 'Here is how you can help me: XYZ,'" she said. "Similarly, we need to allow space for others to ask us for what they need. This mutually open, honest and gentle communication is a huge part of feeling both seen and heard."
You may need to set a boundary and stress the importance of honoring that boundary by establishing the belief that rest is deserved.
"There's a great deal of empowerment in unlearning and pushing back against what we've been conditioned, particularly as women, to believe: Don't be a burden, don't take up too much space, don't disappoint, always be available," Zaskiewicz said. "It's important to confront those values and beliefs and ask, 'Does that really work for me?' Just because it feels difficult to say no, doesn't mean you have to say yes."
Another concept worth exploring? Looking at what "alone" really means.
"You can be physically alone, but if you're connected to social media, then it's not really alone time. However, you can also be in physical proximity to someone (i.e. sharing the same couch), but engaging in independent time by reading a book, and that can feel profoundly helpful and restorative," Zaskiewicz said.
Well-spent alone time can look different for everyone, and is anything that fills your cup, brings you actual joy or feels restorative.
"It might mean walking alone instead of calling a friend, putting the phone down to read a book, or engaging in artistic or creative outlets," Zaskiewicz said. "If we look, we can always find something to do for something else—but that doesn't mean we need to do it."
Lastly, Zaskiewicz reminds us that rest isn't restorative if we're worrying or guilting ourselves the whole time. When choosing to rest, we must choose it completely.
"If we're preoccupied with a mental to-do list, then the rest really does become a waste of our time. Allow yourself to shut off the noise, turn away from the clutter, and fully lean into being caring and gentle with yourself."
ZASKIEWICZ'S FAVORITE SELF-CARE ANALOGY
'Give of your light, not of your oil.'
"If we give away all our oil to our job, spouse, children and friends, then that light goes out. And often, that leads to resentment and burnout. So instead, we engage in activities that keep our oil full, and allow others to benefit from the light we cast."
Written by Sarah Suydam, Managing Editor for West Michigan Woman.
This article originally appeared in the Apr/May '22 issue of West Michigan Woman.