These days, almost every time I open my email inbox, it contains one or more messages promising me “simple steps” that will improve my eating habits, my relationships, my workouts, or my life. While there are definitely pieces of valuable, and sometimes effective information contained in these emails, I think we can all agree that often times these recommendations are easier said than done.
I find this is especially true when it comes to creating the boundaries that are necessary for us to care for ourselves. And if that is a difficult thing to do on an average day, it gets even more difficult this time of year, as we enter the busyness of the holiday season. Get-togethers with friends and family and thinking about holiday gifts can be joyous and exciting. At the same time, these things can bring on feelings of stress and pressure, as we begin to wonder how we are going to find enough hours in the day, or how we are going to afford holiday gifts. I’m not going to give you 5 simple steps to do these things because none of this is easy for a whole host of reasons. But hopefully by the time you finish reading, you will have an idea about how to come up with your own plan to give yourself what you need for the holiday season and beyond.
Each of our circumstances are different and what may create stress is different for everyone as well. For example, I had a tendency to over commit myself. I was volunteering, working full-time, and working toward my master’s degree. I would get excited at the thought of doing something or felt I had to do something. I would commit to doing it, and then when the time came, I would realize that I had booked too many nights out in one week and was exhausted. Over time, I figured out that if I had more than 2 nights a week out at work functions between Monday and Friday, it was difficult to get everything else done. It wasn’t always possible to stick to this guideline but once I was aware of my ideal circumstances I was able to make better and more conscious choices about what I was committing to, and decrease the times when I would feel overwhelmed.
We often feel that these decisions are out of our control, that setting boundaries is going to be met with a catastrophic reaction. Or, we feel selfish for putting our own needs first.
We often feel that these decisions are out of our control, that setting boundaries is going to be met with a catastrophic reaction. For example, my co-workers will resent me if I ask for that. Or, if I say no to my friend’s invitation, she won’t ask me again. Or, I feel selfish for putting myself first. You get the idea. Setting boundaries and taking care of ourselves can be scary and it can be a difficult choice. It is true that other people can take our lives personally, that there are people who need us to be a certain way, and so when we do something that is outside of that box, we fear that we will grow apart from those people. And of course it isn’t until we say, this is what I need to be happy, to take care of myself, that we see how people handle our changes. That’s an incredibly scary time and it can be hurtful if things don’t work out the way we expected. At the same time, setting boundaries is necessary to be happy and healthy at work and at home. The truth is that most of the time, there might be some growing pains, but the people who belong in our lives want us to be happy and healthy. They really will do what they can to make that possible.
Here is an example of when I wasn’t listening as carefully as I should have been to what I needed and the universe intervened and forced me to set a boundary. Last year during the holiday season, the day we were to have dinner with a bunch of good friends, some of whom were in from out of town, I woke up feeling awful. I had this crushing and not well-timed feeling of not being able to recognize myself or my life. I had been searching for a job for just about 7 months, a few days prior I had a procedure that would determine the extent of my cervical cancer, and because I was completely underestimating the stress of these events, I hadn’t slowed down at all. Now I was laying in bed, staring at the ceiling, trying not to burst into tears. Throughout the day, it became harder to hold it together, and I thought, “what is going on with me and why am I feeling this way now??” That afternoon my boyfriend asked me if I was okay and said, “you know Kim, you don’t have to go tonight if you don’t want to.” I burst into tears. I explained that I was feeling so awful and so tired but I didn’t want to disappoint him, or our friends, or myself. He hugged me and said not to worry and that everyone would understand. While I wasn’t sure it was true that everyone would understand, I felt I had no choice but to listen to what body was telling me I needed. I had hit some type of exhausted bottom, and I just couldn’t go. I wanted my couch, and a movie, and some Mexican takeout. So I stayed home. I felt guilty for bailing on dinner, scared that our friends might not understand, and disappointed because I was missing a fun evening. But most importantly, I felt relieved. I felt relieved because I had figured out what I needed and it felt good to have given myself what I needed. It wasn’t easy, or pretty, but I got there.
So as we start this holiday season, I encourage you to figure out what you need.
Everyone’s capacity is different. Everyone’s situation is different. That’s why there are no neat, five or ten steps to get anywhere. So as we start this holiday season, I encourage you to figure out what you need. Do a quick assessment. Sit quietly, tell yourself that you have 100% control of what you are going to do and not do, whether it feels that way or not. Make a list of the things you need to feel good and nourished, and the things that make you feel overwhelmed. Figure out what your limits are. Maybe that means that you can’t afford to buy as many holiday gifts this year and now have to ask a friend or relative to cut back on what you usually do for each other. Or maybe that means limiting the amount of times you are available to attend after-work events. When the time comes that you think you know what you need, have faith in yourself and the people around you, and ask for it. Start small, take baby steps, and I promise each time you will feel a little more comfortable. Try not to allow yourself to get to a place where you are feeling like an exhausted, tearful, mess before you do. But if that’s what it takes, at least you get there. And remember, what you are envisioning as the worst reaction someone can have most likely won’t happen. Ask yourself, is keeping that unlikely reaction from happening worth you feeling overwhelmed, stressed out, mad at yourself for agreeing to something you shouldn’t have agreed to, or getting yourself into debt for holiday gifts? Only you can answer those questions for yourself but I would better the answer is no.
Thank you for reading, take care of yourself, and feel free to contact me with any thoughts, comments, or questions on setting boundaries or any other wellness related topic.