The health benefits you miss when you don't spend time alone
I'm 31, and this is the first year of my life I've actually set out to spend time with myself. It's sad to admit it has taken me this long to get to know myself one-on-one. But, it's no coincidence this is shaping up to be the best year of my life.
For more than three decades, I have been desperately afraid of being alone. I grew up in a divorced home with a mentally ill parent. Even as an adult, my child-brain keeps telling me, "If you let go, if you spend time alone, if you take anything for yourself, everyone is going to leave you."
It's happened before. Why wouldn't it happen again? But something interesting happened as I began to carve out alone time for myself, amidst my busy life as a working mom with two kids at home. I'm not going to lie — at first, I was scared s***less. Then, I got more comfortable. Then, I actually started to feel at peace with myself and craved that special solo time several days a week (daily, if possible).
I can confidently say that 99 percent of us aren't getting enough alone time. Setting aside even a few extra hours for myself a week dramatically changed my life and put me back in touch with who I am. There are at least four good reasons why you need to schedule a solo date with yourself, stat.
1. You'll discover that gratitude gives you a totally new perspective
Here's a sure sign I need a few hours of R and R to myself, like yesterday: Every little thing annoys me. Nothing I do feels right. No one around me seems to want to help or understands where I'm coming from. This frustrated, "woe is me" attitude is an all-too-common sign of a bigger problem for many women — life is getting the best of us, and joy is just a pipe dream.
An attitude of gratitude sounds cliché, but it is one of the best habits you can cultivate through alone time. Think of this time spent reflecting on all you have as fueling up your tank until the next pit stop. Abby Rodman, psychotherapist and relationship expert, says learning how to dip into your own personal gratitude well can be powerful — powerful enough to carry you through a major hump in life, like a breakup. Rodman explains, "Take this time to focus on yourself rather than on your ex-partner. Even relationships that end badly have some good takeaway. A positive focus will lift you up rather than keep you trapped in pain."
I have found that making myself a priority not only helps me cope with painful issues, but it improves my outlook and interactions with those around me. Sexologist Megan Stubbs explains this phenomenon of love and gratitude that comes from within, "We as women are often selfless do-ers and givers and always seem to forget who is number one. Just as you would apply your own oxygen mask before assisting others, take some time to celebrate yourself so you can feel good, and in turn, be able to make those around you feel good as well!"
2. You'll learn what you truly want in life
I hate to point out the obvious, but you are the person you are going to be stuck with for the rest of your life — might as well get to know her and appreciate her while you can. As all the chatter and outside influences begin to fall away, you'll find you are only left with you.
For Kim Hollingdale, psychotherapist and owner of Head First Counseling in Los Angeles, "self-care dates" are one of the first things she prescribes to struggling clients. Hollingdale says, "When we set aside some quiet time to be by ourselves and bring our attention inwards — even just briefly — we learn who we really are, what we really feel and what we really want."
3. You'll attract healthy relationships and improve your existing ones
I know — we're all busy, especially as moms and working women. If you're anything like me, when you have a spare moment, you spend it on your kids, your significant other or those friends you used to hang out with every weekend. Dr. Jess, Astroglide's resident sexologist, understands the plight of the busy modern woman, but she says what most of us are unwilling to admit: If you don't take time for number one, you're not going to be able to give much to your relationships. "Enjoying a few hours on your own is good practice and learning to acknowledge your own needs in your daily routine pays off in your intimate relationship too," says Dr. Jess. "Spending time alone to learn more about yourself only serves to strengthen connections with others."
Investing time and even money in yourself builds confidence, according to dating expert Polina Solda. Solda asserts that the regular practice of solo self-love could break you out of toxic patterns and quite possibly improve your love life: "One reason why a woman, especially single, should make the time and treat herself to something special is to break a pattern of waiting for something to happen. Thinking like, 'I would love to check that new restaurant out, but I'll wait until I meet someone and he takes me out there.' No! Take yourself on a date there. If a guy sitting next to you at the bar notices how attractive, happy and confident you are and starts a conversation with you, respond positively. It's a bonus! Give yourself some love and appreciation so that you can attract the kind of man who will do that too."
4. You'll learn to slow down to move ahead
I don't know about you, but I'm sick of life moving so fast I can't keep up with it. This is my life, and these are my moments. I'm the only one to blame if I keep my plate so full I don't have a minute to myself by the end of the day — a concept Buddhists call "active laziness." Dr. Donna Stoneham, author of The Thriver’s Edge: Seven Keys to Transform the Way You Live, Love, and Lead, says this constant activity isn't doing us any favors. The only way to grow in life is to understand a critical paradox: Slowing down can help you move ahead.
Dr. Stoneham says in her book, "We need to know when to set and honor our own boundaries. Sometimes it's necessary to slow down, to detach or even to withdraw from people or situations that are toxic or unhealthy, so we can grow into the person we are seeking to become. And sometimes we have to be willing to leave the world we know in order to discover the one we want."
But even after all this, with the world spinning so furiously around you, how can you possibly slow down and squeeze self-love into your packed schedule? Dr. Fran Walfish, Beverly Hills relationship psychotherapist, advises, "After leaving the office, take a 20-minute break before going home to your significant other and family. Pop by a Starbucks and sip a cup of tea or take a short, brisk walk around the block and clear your head of daytime stress."