Whether we're juggling multiple projects at work or simply trying to get dinner on the table, we all know what it's like to feel frazzled. According to the American Institute of Stress, more than three-quarters of Americans routinely experience physical symptoms as a result of their stress, everything from muscle tension to fatigue. In fact, many researchers say that taking time to relax and recharge is crucial for fighting the toxic effects of stress. Typically called “me time,” time spent relaxing rather than working on something for another person, can help reduce stress and improve overall health.
In a 2014 meta-analysis, researchers from Johns Hopkins University uncovered that taking time out from a busy day to meditate reduced participants' anxiety levels and even helped with pain management. Another 2011 study found that regular yoga practice — wherein a person takes time from their day to purposefully focus on the present moment, stretch and slow down breathing — helped improve anxiety, depression and general stress.
So, how exactly does “me time” help decrease your stress and anxiety? To understand this, we have to look at the body's nervous system, which is split into two parts: sympathetic and parasympathetic. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for kicking your heart rate into gear when things get stressful, and the parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for lowering your heart rate to a normal level. Activities such as yoga and meditation activate the parasympathetic nervous system, reducing heart rate and generally flooding the body with feel-good chemicals.
Of course, what counts as “me time” looks different for everyone. For some, it means a quiet, mindful practice like yoga or meditation, but for others, it may be hiking, exercising, reading a book, playing video games or watching TV. Whatever your activity, researchers agree that anything that feels like a pleasure — rather than an obligation — is beneficial. And that's something we can all get behind.
This post was sponsored by thinkThin®.