by Nicol David
Would you take more time for yourself if you were told it was mandatory?
Today, we use our time to work, study, commute, parent and more, but ask yourself this: do I take time out of my day to prioritise my needs, take a breather and spend some ‘Me Time’ without feeling guilty?
In my opinion, there are two stigmas attached to taking time off for some ‘Me Time’:
The first one probably sounds like this: “You’re too selfish and you’re always thinking about yourself”. The second one is: “You have to work harder and harder, show everyone you’re the best and do more than you have to”.
I want to assure you otherwise. You’re not selfish for thinking about yourself and you’re not lazy if you need time for yourself. You are, however, in control of your life, and it is completely up to you to make ‘Me Time’ your priority to lead a better lifestyle and develop better mental health and self-worth.
Unfortunately, in Malaysia, there seems to be a growing culture of overworking which sometimes stems from the glorification of ‘hustling’. The 2019 Malaysia's Healthiest Workplace Survey by AIA Vitality reported that 51% of employees suffer from at least one dimension of work-related stress, which can affect our mental wellbeing, clinical health, and even our sleep. It is also worrying to see that 2.3% of Malaysian adults, or about half a million people, suffer from depression, based on the 2019 National Health and Morbidity Survey.
Eager to find out more about the benefits of ‘Me Time’, the AIA What Matters team and I checked in with Professor Dr Alvin Ng Lai Oon, a clinical psychologist and Professor of Psychology at the Department of Psychology in Sunway University. Dr Ng shared that there were some deep-rooted beliefs in our tendency to equate being busy with being successful.
“I think especially in the Asian setting, the idea of being busy equals successful comes from the concept coined as Confucian Dynamism where hard work and diligence are seen as valued characteristics in a person. There's this belief that being "busy" is a good thing, and that it shows you are occupied with meaningful activities, rather than staying idle and rotting away with unproductivity. Idling is sometimes seen as being 'lazy' and 'unproductive',” said Dr Ng.
I can understand this train of thought as I myself used to approach self-care with some trepidation – it has always been ingrained in me that being on top of my game, meant hard work and discipline. Every minute spent away from the gym and court was time lost to improve myself. At that time, ‘Me Time’ seemed to be a luxury that I could not afford.
Yet, I learnt very quickly through my own experience just how important ‘Me Time’ was.
Let me share a personal story with you: 2008 was an amazing year. I won absolutely every tournament and was unbeatable, and I thought to myself: “I’ll keep to this and push even harder.” Not long after, I started to feel very exhausted, began to have a few niggles on my body, was mentally exhausted and started to lose matches. My body was telling me, STOP!
By December 2009, I was reflecting with my family and friends over Christmas and shared with them that I had felt unusually tired after that particular season. Someone then asked me: “When did you last take a week off?” To be honest, I couldn’t remember the last time I had taken time off. I just didn’t remember. I was over-exhausted and neared an injury, and truly hadn’t even realised it.
And so, what did I learn? I learnt that resting and investing time in myself is just as crucial as training. Just like how our bodies need rest to recover and build strength, so do our minds. My best tip is to take a moment to map out your year and plan your time to disconnect. People believe that in order to relax you need to travel, but in reality, there are so many things you can do to reconnect with yourself.
How to kick off a self-care journey :
- Make it a daily practice
- Do something that you like. I like to listen to music with a nice hot coffee while sketching
- Meditate or practice simple breathing techniques
- If you’re sociable, spend your Me Time with your friends and family
- Break your rhythm of work by inserting little bouts of personal time
- Have a good night’s sleep – it helps you feel more positive to take on the day – and if you achieve 7 hours of sleep a night, AIA Vitality rewards you with points for getting enough rest!
But don’t just take my word for it – when asked about the mental benefits of ‘Me Time’, Dr. Ng also shared “By taking a break, you allow your mental faculties to rest and recuperate, just like how your physical body does when it gets adequate rest. In short, 'Me Time' is essential for mental health and is part of a growth mindset.”
“The brain gets to rest from processing all kinds of information that it does daily from cognitive activities. When the brain is actively and consciously used, it gets tired after a while and affects your cognitive ability, emotions, and social skills. These psychological components become impaired over time when there is no rest and you become mentally unhealthy,” he added.
There you have it: ‘Me Time’ is crucial for our lives. It shouldn’t be the exception in the things we do, and we shouldn’t wait until we’re about to collapse to make it a priority. Just as we have to work hard to reach a goal, we need to have a healthy body to be able to achieve them. We should be able to dedicate time for ourselves without feeling guilty. Self-care is essential to avoid burnout and for us to unwind and reset our bodies and minds.
I encourage everyone to take a step back at the hard work you’ve put in each day and spend some time working just as hard to love yourselves. I truly believe, ‘Me Time’ is not an option, but is mandatory for our everyday lives. Make it count!
Nicol David – AIA Malaysia Ambassador
Nicol David is AIA Malaysia’s Ambassador. Nicol has an impressive 19-year squash career under her belt, where she dominated global rankings by winning eight World Titles and held the World Number 1 position for a total of 109 consecutive months.
Nicol retired in 2019 and currently focuses on empowering a younger generation of Malaysians to stay fit and active through various initiatives.