Columns, Opinions

Renshaw ’20: The benefits of “Me Time”

By
Staff Columnist
Sunday, October 29, 2017

In the movie “Mean Girls,” Cady — played by Lindsay Lohan — eats alone in a bathroom stall on her first day of high school because she has no one to eat with. When I was in high school, if I didn’t have anyone to eat lunch with, I would skip the meal. Though I considered myself to be fiercely independent — and in many ways, I was — I could never muster the courage to eat alone.

When I started college, my reluctance to eat alone got stronger. I didn’t want to be the freshman in the dining hall who was eating alone because she hadn’t made any friends. I planned classes around meals and meals around people. I’d eat with people who I didn’t know very well just to have some company, and I would sleep late in order to skip breakfast. What I didn’t understand was that I was afraid of being alone with my thoughts, and this fear was manifesting itself through my eating habits. It can manifest in other ways for other people: some need to check Facebook and Instagram compulsively, while others just want to watch Netflix all day. A study published in Science Magazine found that people would rather give themselves electric shocks than be left alone with their thoughts. But I’ve now come to realize that college has proven to be an amazing place to embrace being alone.

It’s become a lot easier to be lonely in college. With the advent of social media, staying in good contact with high school friends is now easier than ever. Particularly for freshmen, it can seem like these high school friendships are better and more important than any potentially new friendships. We often feel closer to these friends because we’ve known them longer, and new college friendships can pale in comparison. College is also the first time away from home for many, which can be overwhelming and isolating. This emphasis on old friendships can make building new ones difficult or undesirable.

In reality, the experience of solitude is only a big deal if we’re unable to be happy alone. When I ate with people I wasn’t friends with just to avoid eating by myself, I was basically telling myself that I needed their company more than my own. But if I didn’t like hanging out with myself, or thinking my own thoughts, how could I expect anyone else to like hanging out with me? How could I expect to make any friends?

That realization was why I started making time for just myself: “Me Time.” At Brown, it can be easy to create an insanely busy schedule, and many of us often do. As if class, homework, midterms and other projects aren’t enough, we also have extracurricular activities and jobs. To top it all off, we sometimes feel a pressure to spend time with friends and go out to have typical “college” fun. But there is value in solitude, and we shouldn’t try to hide from it. The ability to savor alone time has been linked to increased happiness, and those who spend time alone experience less depression. Spending time alone is also extremely important for personal growth. Emotional development expert Reed W. Larson found that adolescents “who spent an intermediate amount of time alone were better adjusted than those who spent little or a great deal of time alone.”

Of course, “Me Time” can come in many forms. The key is that “Me Time” must be purposely created and deliberately pursued. Whatever activities you choose to pursue in your free time should be relaxing, invigorating and purely voluntary. The problem arises only when we feel the stigma of solitude, because we’re trained to think that solitude is a symptom of social ineptitude or personal weakness. We can’t give in to this unreasonable expectation — especially at the expense of our own well-being.

To anyone who is feeling overwhelmed, exhausted or in need of a change of pace, I recommend scheduling some “Me Time.” It’s not embarrassing — in truth, no one cares at all about seeing you do something alone. My personal favorite form of “Me Time” comes from preparing a full meal, sitting down and eating it alone. It’s amazing to be able to do this after years of struggling with it. What’s more amazing is knowing that I could do anything that I used to do with someone else completely alone. “Me Time” brings me joy and peace, and a chance to interact with someone I really love: myself.

Lena Renshaw ’20 can be reached at lena_renshaw@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.

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