A new appreciation for “me” time

I consider myself quite a social person. I love surrounding myself with my friends, I have no fear of crowds or meeting new people, I maintain a pretty busy schedule.

A big part of that is probably college, which is constant social interaction. Because of that atmosphere, I’m often deterred from spending a weekend night in even if I really want it — or need it.

However, what I have discovered recently is that I really enjoy time by myself. More than I’ve ever really acknowledged or appreciated. I think a big part of it has to do with how calming spending time alone can be. For someone with a constantly buzzing brain, that’s crucial. After all, through all my elementary struggles to fall asleep, my mom’s catch phrase was “Turn your brain off” — and that was easier said than done.

I’ve never been someone who feels the need to be around others all the time. I’m comfortable watching a movie alone; I don’t need to tell someone everything that happens to me. But that’s how I’ve always approached it: I’m ok with “me” time, rather than realizing that I probably need it.

This week I skipped a few runs because I was tired and it was cold, and it reminded me just how much running does for my head. Other workouts might engage my mind more or distract me from what I’m doing, but running let’s me think. On days that I don’t run, I feel so much more distracted and scatterbrained, and I know that’s because while I run I process … everything. I think through what happened the days before, what’s coming up, what I need to get done, interactions I had with others, problems going on in my life. Whether I pay attention to it or not, the wheels in my head are turning that entire hour every morning, and it is so helpful.

I think that effect is also a contributor to why I love cooking and baking. Obviously, I also love food, and I’ve realized I love being a provider. And cooking with others is super fun, but I also enjoy doing it alone. Again, I think it’s because it’s not something that takes too much mental effort, so it gives me a chance to slow down a bit. I listen to music and let my brain wander as I measure and mix, stir and saute. It’s time by myself to let my mind filter things while it gets a rare break from a strenuous mental task. An additional perk is something tasty as the end result.

And today I raked leaves, something I have an odd obsession with. Even while I’ve been at college, my dad saves the leaves for the weekend I come home because he knows I love raking and my fall doesn’t feel complete without doing so. Lucky me, I know have a house with a big tree out front, so I got to rake my own front yard. And what did I do while raking? I listened to music and I just thought. About anything and everything. It’s soothing, it’s calming, it’s decompressing.

All three of these things are, in their own way. All three also involve physical engagement and exertion, which is definitely a stress release (although cooking isn’t a workout, it involves constant moving and working with my hands). Running and raking also mean being outside, hearing things, smelling things, breathing in the fresh air; cooking doesn’t let me be in nature, but it does stimulate the senses.

So this is me rambling about similarities between these diverse activities that I love — and realizing that they’re different, but they have a lot in common. This time by myself, letting my mind process, my body work and my senses absorb, is probably more important for my well-being than I’ve ever acknowledged. However, I’m finding this year that as much as I want to stay a busy social butterfly, it’s so nice to give myself a few hours now and then to just do my own thing, refresh in my own way and, maybe not turn my brain off, but at least let it settle down.

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