We All Need 'Me Time' During the Holidays. Here's How to Optimize It

woman taking me time and reading while enjoying a cup of coffee

Verywell / Amelia Manley

Key Takeaways

  • A recent study found that people who spent more time alone than usual on a given day experienced increased anxiety when interacting with others on the same day.
  • Researchers believe this response happens because people do not use their alone time in restorative or healthy ways; rather, they spend it ruminating, agonizing, or worrying.
  • Experts say you can gift yourself restorative alone time by doing an activity that you enjoy, such as reading, writing, or spending time in nature. No specific amount of solo time is recommended, as everyone has different needs.

In the midst of year-end deadlines and obligatory holiday parties, some people find relief and comfort in being able to spend some time alone. You may find that getting regular and uninterrupted “me time” provides an escape from busy schedules and helps you recharge your mind and body.

However, a recent small study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Development found that how you spend that alone time and why you seek it matters.

“Although many people find social interactions more enjoyable on days with increased alone time, those who tend to seek solitude in order to avoid social interactions do not,” Julie Bowker, PhD, co-author of the study and associate professor of psychology at the University at Buffalo College of Arts and Sciences, told Verywell. “[These] individuals tend to experience more anxiety during interactions with others on days when they have spent more time alone than usual.”

The study included 411 adults between the ages of 18 to 26. Participants used their smartphones to report how much time they spent alone daily as well as how they felt during social interactions that came after.

Bowker and her colleagues at the University at Buffalo think this happens because people do not use their alone time in ways that are therapeutic or helpful; rather, they might be spending their time alone ruminating, agonizing, or overthinking.

Luckily, there are straightforward steps you can take to make the most of any alone time you’re able to carve out for yourself this holiday season. Here’s what experts suggest.

How to Make Alone Time Restorative

What does productive, restorative me time look like? It could involve listening to your favorite music, meditating, or even getting caught up on work. This special time helps people feel restored, accomplished, and better prepared for social interaction.

Conversely, Bower said spending your alone time fretting makes it difficult to flip the switch when it’s time to meet the demands of social interaction again.

Joseph McGuire, PhD, MA, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, told Verywell that it’s important to be selective about how you spend time alone, especially if you’re feeling overwhelmed by work, finances, relationships, or other life circumstances.

“During the holidays and really throughout the year, it’s important to take care of your mental health and physical health,” said McGuire. “Recognize how different activities can have positive and negative effects on your mood and select participation or non-participation in those activities that are consistent with your goals and values.”

Keep these five things in mind to try and make your alone time restorative:

  • Plan ahead. Some people may not feel comfortable spending time alone, even if it’s necessary or circumstantial. If you feel this way, it can be beneficial to plan an activity ahead of time. For example, you can dedicate 10 minutes to meditation and the rest of your time reading a book.
  • Schedule a day and time. Block off your calendar. Whether it’s an hour over the weekend or 30 minutes after work during the week, scheduling a date in advance can help you determine your priorities and allow you to stay on track.
  • Communicate and set boundaries. Once you get me time on your to-do list, tell your friends and family so they don’t interrupt you. It’s healthy to set expectations and boundaries so you can minimize the exhausting effects of specific social activities or interactions. 
  • Put away your phone and avoid social media. Devices, especially phones, can be a distraction, especially if you’re constantly checking social media or work emails. Avoid using your phone during your scheduled me time to remove those distractions and to avoid the temptation to see what other people are doing.
  • Enjoy something old or try something new. Pick an activity that brings you joy or try a new one based on your interests.

“The key is to use extra me time in ways that are personally enjoyable,” Bowker said. “That might be taking a nap for one person, catching up on laundry for another, or playing video games for someone else. I’m not convinced that the specific type of activity matters as much as the activity being self-selected and enjoyable to the individual.”

If you’re short on time, know that me time doesn’t have to be an extended period of solitude. Bowker said that even a quick trip to the store or to your mailbox can count as restorative alone time—as long as you don’t spend that time stressing.

“Some deep breathing away from holiday chaos even for only a couple of minutes can be helpful, and might help when interacting with others later on,” she said.

How Do You Know If You Need Alone Time?

As a rule of thumb, everyone needs some alone time.

Karen Miller, PhD, a neuropsychologist, geropsychologist, and senior director of the Brain Wellness and Lifestyle Program at Pacific Neuroscience Institute, told Verywell that it’s important to carve out time for yourself to recharge your mind and body whether you’re introverted or extroverted.

“Since we are so cognitively and emotionally engaged when we’re at work, when we’re socializing, or when we’re taking care of family, we need a chance to reset much like we need sleep every night,” Miller said. “We need downtime and time to be alone with ourselves.”

This is especially true for people who work jobs that are particularly demanding and stressful, as well as for people who are overworked or over-scheduled (for example, caregivers, healthcare workers, and delivery drivers).

However, Miller said that it’s not always easy to figure out when you need alone time. There are a few signs that you might need some time away from other people—for example, if you’re feeling short-tempered, get irritated easily, have trouble concentrating, lack motivation, or lose interest in your work or hobbies.

How Much Alone Time Do You Need?

According to Miller, there’s no specific recommended amount of alone time. lt depends on your circumstances and needs.

McGuire added that since each person has different needs for alone time and social interaction, it’s more about finding the balance of activities throughout the day and week that works for you. For example, some people only need a few hours to reset while others need an entire weekend.

“It depends on how the individual wants to use the alone time,” McGuire said. “In terms of productively and effectively using alone time, it is always helpful to establish goals.”

Don’t know how to start? Set a goal of scheduling alone time at least once a week.

What This Means For You

Giving yourself the gift of “me time” is important for your well-being all year, but especially during the holiday season if you’re feeling particularly stressed out.

There’s no set amount of alone time that works for everyone, so you’ll need to check in with yourself about your needs and wants to figure out how much time on your own you need to feel recharged.

1 Source
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. White HI, Bowker JC, Coplan RJ. Solitude and affect during emerging adulthood: When, and for whom, spending time alone is related to positive and negative affect during social interactions. Int J Behav Dev. 2022;46(6):490-499. doi:10.1177/01650254221133296

By Alyssa Hui
Alyssa Hui is a St. Louis-based health and science news writer. She was the 2020 recipient of the Midwest Broadcast Journalists Association Jack Shelley Award.