If there’s one thing that college students need, but don’t get enough of, it’s “me” time. “Me” time is obligation-free time to focus on whatever it is that makes you happy, even if that means vegging out on Netflix and focusing on nothing at all! It’s easy to get caught up in scheduling out every second of your free time in the name of productivity, but this can become emotionally taxing and lead to burnout. Our generation is so obsessed with the idea of having it all—with a full social calendar, stellar grades, an enviable internship and anything else that could be verifiably followed by the #goals tag—that we often glorify the exhausting pursuit of these goals by talking about how little sleep we’ve gotten or the fact that we haven’t had time to eat all day. Chronic sleep deprivation, a lack of free time and even neglecting our mental health have strangely become badges of “validation” in the competition to prove to ourselves and to others that we are trying hard enough. But it’s time for a reality check. Running ourselves ragged isn’t admirable—it’s unhealthy. We end up cheating ourselves of focus and efficiency, but more importantly, our self-love tends to suffer, too.
Related: 6 Things You’re Doing That are Jeopardizing Your Mental Health
It may seem counterproductive, but taking even an hour or two of the time you’re spending on everything but yourself each week and turning that into “me” time to improve your relationship with yourself can actually help you get more done during the rest of the week. These are just a few ways that practicing self-love will pay dividends in the rest of your life.
1. You’ll be more sure of yourself
Having some time to yourself gives you the chance to think over the week’s events and process your reactions to them. This can be hard to do in the presence of your roommate, your SO or your squad, who likely all have opinions about the goings-on in your life. When you’re constantly surrounded by people, you can sometimes end up letting their opinions of what’s best for you sway how you really feel. Or worse, you end up so consumed by talking your loved ones through what’s going on in their lives that you undermine the significance of what’s happening in yours. “Me” time is essential to figuring out what might be in your best interest when you’re feeling conflicted.
Catherine Lowe, a junior at Winthrop University, has spent the past four years purposefully staying out of serious relationships to get to know herself and to better be able to make decisions about what’s best for herself during tough times. “I strongly believe that having a relationship with yourself is the most important relationship anybody can have. If you don’t know who you are as your own person, who will you be when you’re dating someone? I’ve figured out what works best for me, and I have also grown as a person because of it,” she says.
While staying out of relationships may not be for everyone, there’s something to be said for taking the time to develop a strong sense of self and reaping the benefits of knowing you can “do you” when facing big decisions—like changing your major, accepting a job offer or even getting into a new relationship.
2. Your other relationships will improve
As counterintuitive as it sounds, we swear it’s true! Julie Zielinger, renowned feminist blogger and author of College 101: A Girl’s Guide to Freshman Year explains, “Self love is crucial because it (perhaps deceptively) improves one’s relationships with others. When you have a strong sense of who you are and your own value, you’re less likely to allow others to negatively influence you. Conversely, feeling that your self-conception is entirely at the mercy of others is completely disempowering and prohibits your ability to realize your full potential.”
Not taking “me” time can also inhibit your ability to manage stress and anxiety. If you don’t take the time to check in with yourself every now and then, these feelings can fester and you can end up lashing out at your loved ones when you don’t mean to.
Amber Layfield, a senior at Appalachian State, learned this the hard way when she realized that the effects of not making time for herself resulted in poor stress management, which was damaging to her relationship with her best friend. “There were a few months when my best friend and I didn’t speak because I had become so unpleasant towards her and towards myself, and until I was able to be alone for a while, I didn’t see how I was just ruminating and overthinking the bad things,” she says. While Amber was able to repair her friendship, making that time for yourself will help facilitate clearer communication with your loved ones and help you avoid putting your most important relationships at risk in the first place.
3. You’ll be more productive
We’ve all been on the end-of-the-semester struggle bus, when you can’t help but have an IDGAF outlook on everything from your grades to club meetings you used to look forward to. You don’t actually mean you don’t care, but the burnout is real. Instead of trying to force yourself to study for hours on end (only to inevitably end up browsing your Twitter feed absentmindedly), take one hour to nurture yourself and help you reset.
Health and wellness expert and lifestyle coach Peggy Hall agrees that setting boundaries for your personal time empowers you to do more and be more successful without sacrificing your well-being. “Instead of just studying or writing that paper ‘until you finish,’ set a stopping time—and trust me, you will be more productive! Set your own boundaries in terms of what you are willing to do. Decide how much of your life you’re willing to give away to those things.”
Remember that just because you’re limiting how much of yourself you give, does not mean you’re limiting your potential, you’re actually enhancing it! You can do more by doing less and that’s nothing to feel guilty about.
4. You’ll learn to prioritize
If you already have a number of obligations that are stressing you out, you may be wondering how to not feel exceedingly overwhelmed each time a deadline creeps closer on the calendar. The first step is to distance yourself from the situation that’s stressing you out, even if only for a half hour. When you come back you’ll be able to evaluate the situation with much more clarity.
Erica Maybaum, a junior at Boston University, couldn’t agree more. “I am a huge proponent of ‘me’ time, especially because I have way too many things going on and sometimes forget to even breathe,” she says.
Once you’re in a better frame of mind, Hall describes how you can shift your perspective and take control of the deadlines you feel are running you into the ground. “Instead of saying, ‘I HAVE to do x, y, z’ think and say the words, ‘I get to …’. What happens when you use these words is you go from being helpless to powerful, because in fact you have chosen [what] you are spending your precious time and energy on.” Even though it sometimes feels like your schedule runs you, use Hall’s advice to remind yourself that you are, in fact, in charge.
Zielinger also stresses the importance of choosing to spend your time and energy on a select number of commitments that really matter to you, rather than overwhelming yourself by trying to have it all. “I think it’s more beneficial personally, professionally and academically to focus on doing one or a few things well rather than trying to do everything. So many women feel that ‘success’ is about quantity rather than quality, but I’ve always found the opposite and would advise young women to prioritize what makes them happiest and most fulfilled,” she says.
Sometimes we end up taking on responsibilities that we don’t even want, just out of concern for what other people will think of us. Take a few minutes of “me” time right now to think about if you’re really, truly happy with all of your commitments and if you’re in them for the right reasons (trust us, this article isn’t going anywhere!). If it’s not making you happy, you should probably think about ditching it ASAP.
5. You’ll be happier
All of these little improvements that practicing self-love will make in your life add up to one big one: your happiness! Making time to love yourself will keep you grounded and in touch with what really matters the most in your life.
Not quite sure how to find your happy place? Zielinger has a few suggestions. “I think stress release is a different experience for everyone, but should revolve around regularly doing something that feels indulgent—whether that’s shirking all responsibilities to binge-watch a TV show, to bake something delicious or have a night out with your friends,” she says.
Like Zielinger says, stress release is different for everyone. Erica, for example, finds her happy place alone. “On Sundays I actually do something where I take myself on a little date. As silly as it sounds, it is the absolute best part of my week! I basically go [out] and explore the city, eat at a fun restaurant or even have an at-home spa day. I have a habit of getting lost in relationships, so this is a great way to keep myself grounded and, more importantly, a great reminder that I must always love myself first.”
It’s so easy to get wrapped up in your friend group, your SO, grades or a new job, and taking time for yourself can seem frivolous (if not impossible). But it’s important to remember that college is a time for finding yourself. How can you do that if you don’t make the time? Maybe give up some of the bragging rights of doing it all and having it all in favor of doing what makes you happy.
“Risk being ordinary,” says Hall. “Perfectionism is one of the fastest ways to keep you from living a full, balanced life. Sometimes good is good enough, and if you are spending time trying to prepare your meals so they are Instagram worthy, or redoing your hairstyle and makeup until it’s ‘just right’ before you leave the house, or dissing yourself because you did only 20 minutes on the treadmill instead of 45, then you are creating a recipe for disaster. Cut yourself some slack and take on this mantra: ‘I don’t have to be perfect to be a success.’ Take it from someone who could not sleep until all her clothes were hanging (color-coded) in the closet in the same direction. Good is often good enough.”
If you’re unhappy, chances are you’re living by someone else’s idea of having it all. Think about what it really means for you to love yourself, and remember: you are good enough.