Self-care is often touted as luxurious bubble baths in claw foot tubs surrounded by a billion candles. It is also thought of in feminine terms. However, while a part of self-care can be luxuriating with wine and candles, there is so much more to it.
Luckily, more people are talking about the truly essential aspects of self-care. And it is becoming general knowledge that poor mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health are more detrimental to homeostasis than simply being overworked and tired.
The most underrated part of self-care is setting boundaries. I believe this is underrated not just because people find it hard to say no, but because we live in a world where fitting in and being social is more attached to self-worth than ever before. The world of “if you didn’t post it, it didn’t happen,” makes personal boundaries and privacy almost nonexistent.
Let’s take a step back. Self-care is regular and intentional practices used to improve one’s overall health. A personal boundary is a guideline identified by an individual to govern permissible interactions and behaviors with others and the world around them. Therefore, boundary setting means creating and adhering to the rules you’ve set for how you interact with the world. To tie it all together, boundary setting is self-care because it is the act of honoring your time, space, and energy.
The ability to say no is just as important in self-care as rest and exercise.
Now, I have practiced saying no for the last year or so. Admittedly, I am not quite at the point where I am unapologetic about it. I still feel bad. And sometimes, I even want to take it back and say yes just to keep from hurting feelings or seeming like I can’t handle something.
Here’s an example. I applied for a part-time evening advising job at my local community college in January. We needed the extra cash and based on the description it was nothing more than a site coordinator for a GED program minus the responsibility of recruiting. I’ve done that before. Easy peasy. Except they did not call me until April when I was knee deep in two projects, starting a third, training a new person, about to hire two more, and I had just resolved to publish my book by next February and grow my blog.
I asked everyone I trusted for advice. This was one of those times when I needed help adulting and desperately needed someone to tell me what to do. Most just gave me strange looks and laughed. One said, “you do work at 2 am now, how would you have time for this?”
I call the woman back completely ready to just take the interview and see what’s up. We had the date and time booked and she was just about to give me location information when my brain snapped.
Panicked, I said, “Oh no. No, I can’t do this. I’m so sorry. I don’t know why I just said yes. I literally do not even have time for the interview. I’m so sorry I wasted your time. I’m no longer interested.”
I was proud of myself. We had an awkward goodbye and I hung up feeling proud that I had set my boundary.
Five minutes later my heart was racing, and I was frantic.
I’ll be broke forever, I thought. It’s just a few hours after work each day, I thought. Five to eight is not bad. Then I thought, five to eight? I’ll never see Monster. To which I immediately countered with, yes, but paying down bills helps him, and you can do this for six months.
I was nearly in tears from all the racing thoughts. Did I mention that I was gripping my phone, pacing my living room, repeatedly dialing and deleting the number, trying to figure out how to call this lady back without seeming like a unhirable basket case?
Long story short, I did not call her back. I took a walk, blasting P!nk, and mentally rehearsed my goals.
Setting boundaries is essential for self-care and I’ll prove it. Let’s unpack this scenario.
I work from 8:30 to 4:30, Monday through Friday. I pick up my kid at 5, hang out or do homework, cook, eat, get him dressed for bed, read a few stories, and kiss him goodnight. It is now 9:30. I grind to do errands, clean, write, blog, spend time with the husband, catch up on work, and–occasionally–workout. I go to bed sometime between 12:30 and 3:00 am.
Working from five to eight seems like a small amount of time, but that means I won’t get home until 8:30. My family would eat out more (Coach is great at ordering out), and I would see my son for barely an hour a day during the week. This goes completely against my values as a mom since I’ve based all my career choices around the ability to be flexible and available for my family while still doing something I love. Yes, I’m making less money, but I’m able to be the mother I want to me and still have time to do the other things I love.
Would taking that job have changed my life for the better?
Well, not much. I had the potential to make between $270 and $540 (before taxes) depending on the hourly rate they paid and whether I worked 3 or 5 days a week. But literally everything else would have been negatively impacted.
I would have been racing straight toward burn-out. I was already swamped at work, overwhelmed at home, and frustrated with my lack of sleep and lackluster organization. No good could have come from taking that job.
To be clear, saying no hurt. I wanted to eat the words as soon as I said them. I wanted to be the strong woman who could work multiple jobs, juggle multiple projects, keep a clean house, be a world class mother, and be fit and sexy.
Really, I’m not able to do much of that now, so I’m not sure who hit me with a delusion stick and told me I could handle a part-time job.
Boundary setting isn’t just about guarding your time. It’s about guarding your energy, spirit, principles, and mental health.
If there is a family member that makes you feel bad about yourself, limit time with that person. If you are constantly helping others, and are barreling toward burn-out, say no, and hook some of them up so they can help each other. World events are getting you down? Take a break from TV and social media. It is perfectly okay to unplug and unwind. Does cheese make you feel ill? Stop eating it. No need in making yourself suffer.
These are all very tiny, but powerful decisions that will improve your life. Saying no is difficult. People might not be very receptive to your no at first, but they will get over it. And if they don’t it doesn’t matter. Your job is to protect yourself, not other people’s feelings.
Are there any boundaries you need to starting setting? If so, how will they improve your life?