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'Me time': the golden rules of de-stressing

Me time the golden rules of de-stressingWe live in a stressful world, and family, work and a host of other responsibilities can leave us little time for the fun things in life. So how can we recover some precious time for ourselves? Behaviour expert Judi James offers some valuable tips.

‘Me time’ often appears to be something of a fantasy: that mirage that waits at the end of the day when your business ‘to do’ list has been dealt with, the household chores done and the kids are finally asleep in their beds. Only by then, you're probably asleep yourself, as well!

The problem with ‘me time’ is that we tend to see it as indulgent, and therefore flexible and negotiable, either packing it with last-minute jobs or allowing what seem like more urgent tasks to take priority and eat into those precious hours or days we'd set aside.

Planning to do nothing makes us feel guilty, so we swap what should be high-priority goals like resting, planning or de-stressing for jobs that tend to be urgent, but not really important.

Seven golden rules of de-stressing

To get the best out of your ‘me time’, follow these seven golden rules of de-stressing:

Recognise the value of ‘me time’. ‘Me time’ should be something to prioritise and plan without guilt. Being constantly busy is linked to both stress and low rates of task achievement.

Your brain needs to take time out to re-evaluate, rest and re-group. During a packed day, it's doing low-level, survival thinking, but you should also allow it moments of deeper reflection and a chance to take stock.

You need to take a long look at your life, checking you're on track with your overall goals and strategies - and enjoying achieving them. Without ‘me time’, you could find you're running round like a hamster in a wheel!
Plan your ‘me time’ in your diary. Never allow gaps - it's too easy to be passive and let those gaps be filled. Create a fictional name and write it as an appointment in your own diary, so the gap looks like it's filled.
Protect those gaps! Only genuine emergencies should take priority.
Make those gaps regular. If you book yourself out for too long, too infrequently, you'll find it hard to relax and de-stress. Instead, you'll spend the time thinking about all the jobs you feel you should be doing.

Regular time-gaps fit into your life more easily, and you'll find that the people around you will cope with them better. If people know you're always available, they'll complain if you disappear for five minutes. But if you vanish regularly once a week, they'll soon get used to the new routine.
Plan how to spend your ‘me time’. It doesn't have to mean lazing on the sofa with a dish of peeled grapes. Are there books you've wanted to read? Walks you'd like to take? Courses you'd like to do? As long as you're taking a break from your usual routines and tasks, any way of spending your time can help you de-stress.
If you struggle to make gaps, think about trading. Are there other friends/colleagues in the same boat? Could you take it in turns to take time out while the others stand in on a rota system?
Plan where you will spend your ‘me time’. . Ideally, you should be out of sight of the people who normally create demands on your time. Sitting at your desk telling people you're ‘on a break’ won't work - and neither will sitting in your bedroom for a couple of hours while the kids try to make their own tea.

Leaving your Blackberry or mobile phone on will mean you're expecting, and allowing yourself, to be disturbed, which is why de-stressing business types would traditionally disappear to the golf course, as it signalled a set period of time-out when they were not to be interrupted.

The power of thought!

Once you're locked into the concept of ‘me time’, try using some of it to do the one thing we've almost deleted from our lives: think!

Our aversion to boredom means we over-fill every moment, leading to our sleep being interrupted by worried and anxious thoughts. Having thinking breaks during the day means your brain doesn't have to store up thoughts to escape during the night.

It allows you to do ‘Eureka’ thinking too: high-level, high-quality thoughts that help you come up with the really great ideas, plans and solutions.

So plan some ‘me time’ in your diary now - and start thinking again!

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