I’ve never been very good at selfcare. It was a foreign concept to me. Or, more precisely, I considered being compliant with my medication and making it to my appointments as selfcare. And, while they are just two components – selfcare is so much more. The old adage “work hard – play hard” just didn’t seem to jive with me. I worked hard. I worked hard all the time. I regularly worked more than 20 hours a week overtime. And then, I’d come home and crash. Setting boundaries and selfcare go hand-in-hand. I've learned 8 tips to set boundaries and enforce them.
It wasn’t until I worked at the VA that one particular friend, Tiffani, would call out to me. “selfcare Laura, SELFCARE!”
That’s it. That’s what she’d say. She didn’t elaborate. I just shrugged it off. She was one who didn’t work overtime unless it was mandated. She worked hard, putting in her time between the hours of 8:00 AM and 4:30 PM – and then she was gone. It wasn’t unusual for her to float the river on a Tuesday afternoon. I can remember telling her how I didn’t know how she did it. I was exhausted by the time I got home and thanked God that my husband did the cooking – so I could nap on the couch while supper was being prepared. She knew how to work hard and play hard.
Tiffani might as well have been shouting, “BOUNDARIES!”
The truth is, that I worked myself to the point of exhaustion whereas Tiffani, who isn’t much older than my son, knew how to create boundaries and more importantly, kept them.
A couple of years later, all the extra hours I put in didn’t matter. I was being terminated – wrongfully, after being a whistleblower. I even ended up on the front page of the New York Times on New Year’s Day 2018.
It was then, that I realized that Tiffani had the right idea.
I was so exhausted that it was all I could do to advocate for myself. I relied heavily on my family, friends, and my therapist and my attorney – both amazingly wonderful humans by the way, to pick up the slack. Often calling one or both of them in tears. As much as I was grateful for everyone in my life at that time, I needed to start taking care of ME.
I remember calling Becky, my therapist at the time, bawling. You know, the kind of bawling you do when you’re heaving, your lip is quivering, and no one can understand a word you’re saying. I hadn’t slept in days. Literally – days. She quite simply asked me if I had any lavender essential oil. That question alone calmed me. “Yes. In fact, yes, I do.”
She instructed me to make my bedroom as cool as I could and to put the lavender in the diffuser. Then, I was to take a shower – as hot as I could possibly stand it, and then put on clean pajamas, douse myself with more lavender and crawl into bed.
It worked. Lavender essential oil is good for relaxation and anxiety, and the cooling of our bodies naturally prepares us for sleep. So, as I started to dry after the shower, the process of evaporation cooled my body temperature. I’m sure there was some psychology at play too – Becky was ‘giving me permission to sleep.’
DO WE DESERVE SELFCARE?
I still hesitated to call this ‘selfcare’. I think mostly, because on some level, I didn’t think I deserved it. Here’s the thing though – we can’t pour out from an empty cup. In other words, we can’t give what we don’t have. I can’t support my family or my friends, emotionally, if I have nothing left to give because I didn’t fill up my cup.
Have you ever flown and wondered why, if the plane loses cabin pressure, you’re instructed to put on your mask first before you help those around you? Think about it for a second. If you’re traveling with an infant or a toddler – or both, you may be tempted to get their masks on first. As moms we’re programmed to think about our children first, so it makes sense, right? NO!
If you struggle and fumble during a time of crisis and panic trying to get the mask on the kiddos, you may likely pass out from lack of oxygen before ANYONE gets a mask on. So, put your mask on first, so you’re fully capable of assisting those around you. You can’t give what you don’t have.
Now, I have several ways and several rituals that I use as part of my selfcare toolbox. They include meditation, breathing exercises, naps (can I just say, I love a good nap?), staying med compliant, keeping my appointments, getting the right amount of sleep, exercising, using lavender and other essential oils, creating time for DIY, etc., and creating time to nurture relationships. I’m also getting ready to hire a housekeeper, because I find that while I love and thrive in a clean house, I don’t enjoy the act of cleaning as much as I used to enjoy it. Yes, I used to enjoy cleaning. Hiring someone else frees up the time and energy for me to put into other projects.
Do you set boundaries?
Here are some tips to set boundaries and enforce them:
- Know your limits. You can’t set boundaries if you don’t first know what those boundaries are. So, identify them – coworkers, family, friends, acquaintances, strangers. We should have boundaries with all of them.
- Identify your feelings. If you start having negative feelings – anxiety, stress, sadness, guilt, etc., during an interaction, it might be that the interaction is crossing a boundary.
- Learn how to be direct. Beating around the bush is something we often do because we’re afraid of hurting the other person’s feelings. Remember that you’re not responsible for how someone else feels. They have to own their own feelings.
- Be assertive. There’s a difference between being assertive and being aggressive. Being assertive means that you can actively state your needs without attacking the other person. And, remember, “No” is a complete sentence.
- Give yourself permission. I needed Becky’s permission to sleep. In doing so, she was telling me that it was safe to sleep. That’s a whole other story, but we can learn to give ourselves permission – and that we deserve to have the boundaries that we’re setting. Setting boundaries is not mean.
- Preserve your boundaries with practice. Setting boundaries and keeping them are two different beasts. It takes practice to preserve the boundaries we’ve set. As with any skill, the more we practice, the better at it we’ll become.
- Ask for help. If you’re having difficulty with preserving boundaries, ask for help and get support. You can get help from a therapist, or even friends and family (if they’re mindful and respectful of your boundaries). Friends and family can help with validation when you’re feeling weak or taken advantage of.
- Selfcare – Setting boundaries is one form of selfcare, but as with most skills, they build upon each other. So, create time and space to be taking care of yourself in other ways, too. Eat right, get enough sleep, meditate, pray, practice your breathing, keep a gratitude journal, make time for family and friends, and make time for creativity.