Self-Care: Listening to Ourselves When We are Asking for a Rest

What’s On Your Plate

When I wake up in the morning from my night of rest, I know I’m usually going to have a pretty long list of things to do during the day. From my hour and fifteen minute commute, to the demands I have to meet at work. The workouts I like to get in, at least twice during the week. To the budgeting, cooking, cleaning and laundry I have to squeeze into my week. It gets pretty stressful.

Meditation and Slowing Down

I meditate everyday. For about fifteen minutes and it’s been invaluable for my mental and emotional wellbeing. It’s taught me patience and I feel at rest after a session. How to slow down what I’m doing and listen inwardly to what’s happening inside. I used to react immediately to my emotions. This lead to a lot of regrets and hurt feelings on either end of the relationship and was unconducive to feeling at ease. In fact, the more I sped up, the faster the reaction, the more likely I was to do or say something I would later regret.

So the faster I went, the more hurt I felt, which left me feeling tired, without rest and neglected as well. But I didn’t know any better. It was what was taught to me by my caregivers, who in turn didn’t know any better either. So we had just been passing down this hurt from generation to generation, not really knowing why we were or how to stop.

Patience, Patience, Patience

This is where patience with myself and learning when to rest really made a difference. Slowing down enough to feel the hurt I had been running from using whatever modality I could. I achieved this mostly by keeping myself busy and tired. This way I didn’t have to feel what I was neglecting. But turning it around and facing the feelings, while being vulnerable in what felt like an insurmountable pile of fear and hurt while finding the time to rest and recuperate, was one of the most difficult tasks I’ve ever had to endure. But I did and most importantly, I didn’t do it alone.

Running on Empty

I now have a long list of tools and resources I’m able to draw from. When I’m feeling tired or like I’m not enough, but that wasn’t always the case. I started with what felt like nothing. Running on empty. Mostly because I was using my old resources to fill myself back up again. I’d often feel that if I could just work hard enough, throw everything I had at how well I did my job without rest, then I could feel worth something. Then I would be accepted.

But that hasn’t work for me and I’m willing to bet a lot of people have tried finding similar results. This way of resourcing mostly left me feeling physically and emotionally exhausted. And it didn’t stop with work. I was trying to prove myself in all sorts of ways with the same outcome. I was just wearing myself down.

Finding the Resources

So I was left with what felt like nothing, on my own. Because I was too afraid and emotionally wounded to reach out for help. And even if I thought it sounded like a good idea, I didn’t know how. What helped me to wade through the fear and hurt, slow down and get the rest I so desperately needed was something I heard later on in my journey. Something that made immediate sense as soon as I heard it. “Start where you are, with what you have.”

I can’t remember where I was or who I heard it from, but before I did, I felt like I had nothing and nobody. Though what I realized I had was a phone, some headphones, hundreds of hours of podcasts and a handful of loving and supportive friends and family.

The podcasts (thanks again to Tara Brach who really put trauma into perspective for me) helped me to learn how to trust people when it felt like too much to reach out in person, while also reinforcing the positive messages that I was strong enough, that I could count on myself and that others were trustworthy. This helped to lighten the load of the negative thoughts that had taken up residency in my mind. Knowing that I could tune out the negative while listening to some positive reinforcements, and that it wasn’t just me feeling the weight of a life’s time worth of difficult emotions, actions and thoughts, but I was doing it with thousands of others for an hour at a time, helped me to feel a little more sane in an otherwise chaotic, emotional world.

Finding You’re Strong Enough

By the time I felt as though I was strong enough to reach out to others, when I had the resources to, the few friends and family I had that stuck with me were there to help build the relationships I needed to become stronger than when I was on my own. And this is where the load really started to lighten. Knowing I was enough as I was. Without having to reach some unachievable standard helped me to build strength. Instead of constantly tearing myself down, not feeling as though I was worth someone’s time or effort. Mostly my own.

It’s been a crazy journey that’s for sure. And it’s not over yet. But the weight doesn’t feel as heavy now. Now I go into my day knowing that even if I’m physically tired, or just not feeling up to it, I can rely on the resources and people to help me through the day. Or whatever situation I’m heading into. It doesn’t seem as difficult knowing I can count on the people and resources I’ve collected to be there for me when I need them.

Healthy Boundaries and Resourcing

But there’s another side to counting on people as resourcing that’s worth exploring. If the friends or family you do have close in, if they have poor or no boundaries, relying on people as support can feel uncomfortable. Sometimes it can feel like you’re a burden to them. Or they may tell you that you’re using them when asking for help, as was the case in my family. This is why it’s important to choose those you keep close to you carefully. If someone makes you feel as though you are constantly bothering them with your problems, or they ignore or disregard your own personal boundaries, it may be time to take a closer look at the relationship.

Taking a Closer Look at Your Boundaries and Your Relationships

For me, I had to evaluate all of my relationships because I had no idea what boundaries were. Salvaging some and severing many, I lost a lot of friends that I thought would be there with me through the tough times. I had to reevaluate these boundaries and friendships, because if you let someone with poor boundaries into your life, they can leave you feeling exhausted, empty.

I remember vividly getting together with an old friend at a local Whole Foods, to talk and catch up. As we settled into the conversation, I realized she was consistently saying hurtful comments and it seemed as though she wanted me to return with as much venom as she was spitting. This, I realized later, was the pattern of our old relationship. She was establishing the rules of engagement, to make sure things hadn’t changed. She was testing my boundaries.

Luckily for me, my boundaries had changed. I forgot how mean spirited I could be and it was a shock to see my old ways of connecting so clearly in action. I haven’t spoken much with my friend after that day which is sad. Sad because we had good times together and people are important. They aren’t objects you can just toss aside. But for me, it’s best to honor the good memories I have while keeping my distance and respecting my boundaries by not allowing myself to be treated with disrespect. Because if you don’t define your boundaries, somebody else will do it for you.

Using Resources to Help You Recharge

This all seems pretty abstract, but coming up with your own resource list can help you to manage difficulties that come up and help you to recharge. For me, I make a self-care dinner for myself once a week. I have a few friends I can reach out to when I’m feeling lonely, a few playlists of songs that remind me of the positive times in my life too. Running and yoga help to keep me feeling my best and I have a few types of teas on hand that I enjoy during the day. Sleep is another important one too when needing more rest. A no-brainer actually : ) Making sure you’re well rested and have healthy meals are all resources you can use that help to make you the healthiest version of yourself.

And there’s one more thing that’s worth mentioning, it’s not a race. When I was learning how to care for myself again, I threw everything I had at it. I was going to be the healthiest version of myself and do it in record time! But most of what makes us healthy takes time and patience. Building supportive relationships doesn’t happen in a weekend. You need to tend to them consistently and over time they will yield fruitful bonds. And rest often. There’s no sense in being the healthiest version of yourself if you’re too tired to enjoy it!

I hope this has been of some help. It can be difficult when you first start out looking to make things better for yourself. Just know that if you are consistent and show patience toward yourself, you will be alright in the end. Peace, and thanks for reading :]

Image Credits: “Exhausted Salaryman” by hiromy is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Updated: 7/30/22

Self-Care: Setting Healthy Boundaries and Finding Balance

Setting healthy boundaries and balance. This is a tough one for a lot of folks including myself. We’re taught from an early age that it is better to give than to receive and that being selfless is a virtue. And in some cases those are noble values. But when the list of people to please and of tasks to do mount, what was a value can become a drain of your energy, vitality and your willingness to engage with those around you. And depending on the veracity to which you hold to these values, the effects can be dramatic.

Step One: Find Out Where Your Boundaries Are

I used to have poorly defined boundaries, as did those who were closest in to me. If I had a grievance with somebody, I would hold it in and resentment would eventually take hold. Leaving me with a silent grudge that was left to fester. But it wasn’t just me. Most of the people I was in close contact with day to day acted the same way. Arguments would erupt because of the smallest infraction or mistaken intention. All of which could have been avoided if we had just spoken candidly about how we felt about whatever the issue was.

I had a sort of falling out with a loved one recently who won’t talk to me because I asked them a question about a shared experience from our past. The question was benign enough. I asked if they had something from our youth that smelled of jasmine. They responded with, “I love you, but I just need time.” Time from what I’m not sure, but I know this person has a good heart. They just give more than they have to give and the result is, in this case anyway, a loss of a friend who could be a source of support.

We’ve all been in this person’s shoes. Too much to do and too many people and things to keep track of with not enough time to do it all in. The stress mounts until it feels like it’s all just too much to keep in. This is where setting healthy boundaries and finding balance by offsetting some of life’s stressors is most important. Ideally we would have some resources to fall back on before we get to this level of stress. But it’s never too late to take a break and give yourself the time and space needed to recover from the constant inflow of life stressors, whatever they may be.

Defining What Our Healthy Boundaries Look Like

One of the first steps in psychological self care is prevention. If the above scenario feels all too familiar, difficulty saying no to added responsibility, then setting healthy boundaries around saying no to added responsibility, will help to prevent some stress. It’s healthy to want to do for others. It’s one of the ways we create tight bonds and close relationships with one another and is one of the five love languages. But when we take on so much that the tasks we agree to do become a source of distress or breeds resentment, then we’re tearing apart the connections we were trying to build when we agreed to take them on in the first place.

Journaling

Alternately when stress does mount, journalling can be a way to put some distance between yourself and the situation. Giving yourself the time and space needed to gain a new perspective. Coming up with a resource list can be helpful as well. Something I’ve added to my journal for times when you feel as though you’ve run out of ideas or are just too tired to think. Check, been there 😀

I bullet journal. This is a mix of scrap booking/journaling/budgeting/day dreaming/daily planner, and whatever else you can put on a blank page. The possibilities are only limited to your imagination and it is a wonderful outlet for organizing life as it comes. I have a link to it over on my community page if you’re interested in starting one of your own. And don’t be intimidated either. You can start one regardless of whether or not you feel you’re artistic enough for such a project. It’s only for you anyways, unless you want to share it : )

Laughter Really is the Best Medicine

Laughter is another obvious, though sometimes elusive resource and release from stress. It seems funny because at any given moment if I were asked if I’d like to have a good laugh, I would most likely be happy to. But I’m usually too preoccupied or engaged in what I’m doing to relax enough. If you’re uptight like I am, not to worry. Humor is something that can be cultivated. One way is by searching for shows or comedians that strike a chord with you. Or by finding an author who speaks to your sense of humor.

And don’t forget conversations with friends, family or co-workers that you are able to be comfortable with can also be a great comedic interlude to your day. We all have a friend who is funny regardless of what they’re doing or saying. Text them and see what they’re up to. Maybe start a conversation around a funny thing that happened to you in the past. And asking about others’ funny stories can be the start of a great conversation. From my experience there are some gems out there just waiting to be told!

Though, stressful times are often when it’s most difficult to focus on cultivating a relaxed state. Being mindful of the times we are stressed can be a powerful tool in helping us to come back to the mindset that can help cultivate a relaxed way of being, while aiding in developing a sense of humor. By recognizing we are stressed, we can then realize that it is a passing emotional state and allow it to flow through us. Rather than tighten our focus on how to stop, avoid or get rid of the stress.

Relax, You’ll Be Alright : )

Exploring and cultivating interests and hobbies. Saying no to stressful situations and responsibilities when you know you’ve taken too much on. Journaling or spending time with friends and family communicating and laughing, are all ways to help cultivate a relaxed state of being. They also allow us the time and space necessary to create the healthy boundaries and balance that are so important in caring for our mental health and well being.

So whether it’s asking a co-worker to pick up a task that you know you just won’t have the time to do. Writing about the emotions that come up during the day in your journal. Or finding a new comic or author to immerse yourself in. Taking time to recognize when you’re stressed and how to bring yourself back to a more relaxed version of you is a skill worth cultivating. And one that will bring you peace and balance. Peace and thanks for reading : )

“Finding balance” by James Jordan is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Updated: 2/13/2022

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