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

When I wake up in the morning, 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 all the budgeting, cooking, cleaning and laundry I have to squeeze in during the week, it gets pretty stressful.

I meditate everyday, for about fifteen minutes, and it’s been invaluable for my mental and emotional wellbeing. It’s taught me patients, how to slow down what I’m doing and listen inwardly to what’s happening inside. I used to react immediately to my emotions, which 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 and neglected. And I didn’t know any better, it was what was taught to me by my caregivers. And they in turn didn’t know any better either. So we had just been passing down this hurt from generation to generation not really know why we were, or how to stop.

This is where patients with myself made all the difference. Slowing down enough to feel the hurt I had been running from using whatever I could, but mostly keeping myself busy and tired, so I didn’t have to feel what was being neglected. But turning around and feeling so vulnerable in front of what felt like an insurmountable pile of fear and hurt was one of the most difficult tasks I’ve ever had to endure. But I did it, and most importantly, I didn’t do it alone.

I now have a long list of tools or resources I’m able to pull 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 old resources to fill myself back up. If I could just work hard enough, throw everything I had at how well I did my job, 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 run into similar results. It mostly left me feeling physically and emotionally hurt and 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.

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

I felt like I had nothing and nobody. What 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 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 I had that had taken up residency in my mind. Knowing that I could tune out the negative while listening to some positive reinforcements, and also that it wasn’t just me feeling the weight of a life’s time worth of 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 world.

By the time I felt as though I was strong enough to reach out to others, like I had the resources, the few friends and family I had, that stuck with me were there to start to build the relationships I needed to become stronger than 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 to build strength. Instead of constantly tearing myself down for 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, but the weight doesn’t feel as heavy. I now go into my day knowing that even if I’m physically tired or just not up to it, I can rely on the resources and people to help me through the day, or whatever I’m heading into. It doesn’t seem as difficult knowing I can count on them to be there for me when I need them.

But there’s another side to counting on people as resources 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, like you’re a burden to them, or like you’re using them. This is where it’s important to choose those you keep close 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.

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 for the rest of my life. 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. This, I realized later, was the pattern of our old relationship, and she was establishing ground rules, to make sure things hadn’t changed.

Luckily for me they had changed. I forgot how mean spirited I could be, and it was a shock to see my old ways of being so clearly in action. I haven’t spoken much with her after that day, and it’s sad. Sad because there were good times, and people are people, 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.

This all seems pretty abstract, but coming up with your own resource list can help you to manage difficulties that come up. For me, I make a selfcare dinner for myself once a week, I have a few friends I reach out to when I’m feeling lonely, a few playlists of songs that remind me of the positive times in my life, running and yoga to help keep me feeling my best, and a few types of teas I enjoy during the day. Sleep is important too. Making sure you’re well rested and have healthy meals are all resources you use to keep yourself at your 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 patients. Building supportive relationships doesn’t happen in a weekend. You need to tend to them over time and consistently to 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 patients 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

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 the lists of tasks to do mount, what is a value can become a drain of your energy, vitality, and your willingness to engage with life and others. And depending on the viracity to which you hold to these values, the effects can be dramatic.

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 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. And sometimes even that isn’t enough!

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 had to give and the result was, 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 personal 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.

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 a boundary 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 one of the love languages. But when we take on so much that the tasks we agree to do become a source of distress, then we’re tearing apart the connections we were trying to build when we agreed to take them on in the first place.

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.

Laughter is another obvious, though sometimes elusive, resource and release from stress. It’s funny because at any given moment if I were asked if I’d like to have a good laugh, I would 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. By searching for shows or comedians that strike a chord with you or 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. Maybe start a conversation around a funny thing that happened to you in the past. Ask about others funny stories. They’re out there and they’re some gems!

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 state of being. And help to aid in developing a sense of humor. By recognizing we are stressed we can then realize that it is a passing emotion and allow it to flow through us. Rather than tighten our focus on how to stop, avoid or get rid of, the stress.

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 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 practicing. And one that will bring you peace and balance.

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