I hope that you have had a safe, healthy and peaceful first week of 2021. I hope that if you have faced challenges along the way that you are digging deep and finding a resilience within yourself to persevere and a faith to look beyond yourself for greater strength.
Although this post title aims at those among us who are now or currently working from home in this pandemic, I think some of the main principles can apply to all of us. It can be easy when there is no physical boundary between work and home life to let the psychological boundaries blur a bit.
Have you ever heard people say, leave your work at work and don’t bring the burdens of the office (or other work place setting) home with you? That can be a huge challenge in and of itself, but what about when work and home are in one and the same setting?
Some of you may also be trying to juggle home working with daily routines and other aspects of family life such as child care, parental care, home schooling / education and the list is as endless and unique as the differences in our lives.
Whatever your scenario, it is important to have some emotional and mental boundaries even when you can’t have concrete physical boundaries. Just as we looked at in previous posts about the importance of having boundaries between ourselves and our news intake and also boundaries in relationships and in other things that might be emotionally or mentally demanding, we also need to establish healthy boundaries between the different aspects of our lives.
Some things at work this first week back have been bothering me, but I need to remind myself that the weekend is a time when I would normally be away from the office physically. Although with home working I could check my work emails when I couldn’t before after leaving the office, it is important not to allow the boundaries to blur too much.
If we are to care for ourselves we need to set aside time to nourish ourselves, to rest, to spend time with the people who we love and who love us whether in person or online or by telephone or some other means so that we can be recharged and ready for the week ahead.
During lockdown I’ve been so fortunate in that my church has had online services that have been broadcast on You Tube. This has helped to remind me of when it is Sunday and to purposefully set aside that time as I normally would. I’ve had more time to set aside during the days as well for time with God, prayer, worship and building myself up spiritually and sharing with others.
However, sometimes we can get caught up in things as the days and weeks go by. The past year has been a challenging one globally and the recent events of January 2021 for anyone who has been watching the news and seeing the …..(pause to try to think of an appropriate word)….indescribable events in America, we know that there may be challenging times ahead for the world in 2021.
We need to maintain our wellbeing and resilience, and we all have a variety of commitments, duties and tasks to attend to in our daily lives. Maintaining mental and emotional boundaries between these is so important.
As the days go by I will continue to share tips and ideas with you regarding what I find helpful that you may also find helpful. However, this post is more of a general reminder as we reach the close of week one of 2021 that this is an important point and aspect of your life to bear in mind.
People will try to encroach upon you even from a distance, even when working or studying from home. It is ok and it is good to give and take but don’t become depleted of your strength and resilience. Don’t let things blur together so that you are no longer demarcating time for yourself to rest, recharge and recover so that you can become stronger and stronger for the days ahead.
So on that note, I wish you all a happy weekend. Thankfully I don’t see blogging as work but as enjoyment, so you can expect to hear from me again very soon for more encouragement and reminders that it is important to care for yourself as well through this pandemic. x
This has been one of the strangest of years many of us have lived through in terms of world events. While many among us have faced our own challenging times previously in terms of our personal life journey, I’m too young to be able to remember anything quite like this pandemic that reached into every part of the globe. The older generation that lived through the second world war, will have many more stories to tell and the things they faced were probably far more frightening than what we are facing today, but nevertheless 2020 has been quite a year for us all in terms of the pandemic!
It’s been a year that has prompted us to make changes, slow down, speed up, take action and think more deeply. One of the things we may have been made to think more deeply about is our friendships, relationships and the company we keep.
As someone who is not white, and who has suffered from racism in my earlier years particularly as well as sporadically in adulthood, the issues that came to fore with some of the BLM movements opened my eyes to the sheer lack of awareness of racism among those brought up with privilege, as well as ongoing prejudices. I’m aware that some friends sought to become allies. Other people let go of former friendships or loosened ties with certain people whose opinions were brought to light as prejudicial and unacceptable.
All of that aside, 2020 may have also prompted us to look at the deeper things of life and whether our close connections are meaningful or detrimental or toxic in some way. I’m blessed to have many good friends, but even then I realised that some of them are wrapped up in their own lives and could not begin to understand what it was like to live alone in a pandemic for several months. I also realised that as an empathetic person some of my friends take advantage of me and use that side of my nature, perhaps not intentionally but they do it nonetheless, without asking if I’m ok but just taking advantage of my kind and caring nature.
Going forwards, I find myself asking where I should be spending my time and which people to focus on in terms of building relationships. Sometimes friendships just drift apart because of different life stages although this is not always the case. For several years I’ve been the friend showing up to my other friends’ occasions from engagements, weddings, baby showers, births, birthdays, children’s parties and so forth (and I’ve had none of these occasions myself, other than birthdays, and no one ever thinks of celebrating or acknowledging their single friends in such a way). I’ve been a very giving person but at times feeling like I’m on the sidelines of my own life it has caused hurt, emotional fatigue, pain and burnout. Not to say that my friends haven’t been there for me through ups and downs, they have, but in this pandemic, many of them shared with me that they were really enjoying their lives and times with their families and just didn’t stop to think or really care what I might have been going through alone. Being alone (with God) strengthened me, but it also awakened me to rethink some of the dynamics of my friendships. There have been probably three or four key people outside of my family where from a distance we have been able to support and encourage each other and that has been a great help. Yet, it does lead me to think and ask you whether it is a good time to consider our connections, going forward and as we approach 2021?
Friendship dynamics change:
Friendships, true friendships are a blessing. They also take work and commitment and effort on the part of both parties. Sometimes friendships change as life changes or as we change. Rarer still are those friendships that last a lifetime through different seasons of life and through the ups and downs.
So, how do we know whether to hold on or to let go?
I find myself considering whether a friendship is one in which I am able to encourage someone to think about or draw closer to Christ, one in which we are able to mutually encourage each other in our faith, or where we believe different things, one in which we can enjoy fun, share our thoughts and build each other up in some way and share life (even if socially distanced).
If a friendship is toxic, then am I able to provide a good influence, or is that person simply dragging me down? Am I being taken for granted or made to feel miserable? We may not always be meant to let go of people, but perhaps we should be lessening the time we spend with certain people, and reconsidering our boundaries. Even when a friend is not a toxic person, perhaps something in their life triggers something in ours. Maybe they are always talking about or sharing something good in their life that makes us feel sidelined, overshadowed or alone – maybe they share their struggles and overburden us just because they can and we are good listeners.
As we approach 2021 we need to find a healthy or healthier balance between nurturing our friendships and relationships and taking care of our own wellbeing.
Sometimes this will mean considering whether to reassess our boundaries, let certain toxic people go, or move on. It may involve putting in more effort to strengthen bonds, to exercise forgiveness, commitment, love and compassion or to open up conversations to the ‘blind spots’ they or we may have and to seek to make things better. It may even mean taking a bold step to reconnect with or apologise to someone we have lost touch with or hurt or to forgive someone who has hurt us.
Where do you find yourself at the end of this year?
Has the pandemic affected your relationships or highlighted a need for change, for forgiveness, reconciliation or for stronger boundaries?
I hope you take your time and act from the heart with love, forgiveness, and wisdom and take care not only of the people in your life, but of you as well.
It’s been a few days (or is it weeks, I’m not sure? It’s hard to keep up with things in a pandemic!) since I last wrote in this Self Care in a Pandemic series.
The world has changed a bit since the last instalment, that’s for sure! I imagine that no matter what country you’re reading this from, there will be something or other in 2020’s news that challenges you. Perhaps one of the most reported on news stories of the day is that of the American election results (you know, the episode in which Joe Biden won over Donald Trump).
Take a step back and examine your reaction to that, if you had one. And now, breathe a sigh of relief as I reassure you that that’s all I am going to say on the matter because I know that there are a lot of strong feelings on both sides, and that there will be various responses from people in different parts of the world as well as on different parts of the political spectrum in America. I’m writing this from the United Kingdom, by the way, but it’s still a big story here. But I’m drawing a line, or a box around the topic, and putting a full stop right here, and moving on to the topic of my blog post.
Why? Because the topic of my post is on boundaries and particularly how they can help us manage self care in a pandemic.
Boundaries can help you to guard your heart:
When we are able to practice the fine art (and it does take practice, perhaps with constant learning over a life time, depending on the people and circumstances and states of mind and emotions that we come in contact with and experience!) of setting healthy boundaries, we may be better able to navigate our way through stressful or uncertain situations.
2020 has definitely been a year of global stress, challenge and uncertainty on a number of fronts.
What we’re thinking about at the moment is how things affect you. These ‘things’ whatever they may be, may have something to do with the pandemic, the challenges of 2020, or may be things that you have been dealing with before all of this.
Without healthy boundary settings in our lives, it probably won’t be too long before we become undesirably familiar with some or all of the following words and realities in our lives:
Burnout; anxiety; depression; fatigue; stress; worry; ill health; compassion fatigue; feeling used; fear; loss of control; mental illness; resentment; trauma; overwhelm….and so the list goes on.
Can anyone relate to this? I certainly can, and it’s not just because I’ve experienced trauma and anxiety and depression and challenging circumstance in my life. Say for example, I had never encountered any such challenges, I would probably still be able to tick off a fair few of those words in my experience. One of the reasons for this is that I am a naturally compassionate and empathetic person, and there have been times in my life where I have put other people first in many different situations to the detriment of my own wellbeing. For example, always showing up for friends, or being the shoulder to cry on, or being there to cheer them on and support them while they celebrated great things happening in their life that weren’t happening for me. I was the friend who was always there, and I was that friend even during times of severe depression, complex PTSD, anxiety, weakness and so forth. On top of that, sometimes life circumstances may challenge us even if they are not hitting us ‘hard’. Maybe you’ve had a terrible job or family situation, but even if you have not, the daily stressors of life can all add up and the drip, drip, drip of a life lived without stepping back and examining our boundaries can lead to burnout too.
So let me ask you a few questions for you to take a bit of time to ponder. It may be difficult for you to work through these but sometimes that’s where the path to wellbeing starts – with challenging things we’ve simply accepted or things that have been heaped upon us by others.
Healthy boundaries, especially in a time of a global pandemic can relate to a variety of aspects of our lives, and if I miss any out that are particularly important to you, feel free to share in the comments.
Boundaries within the structure of your day:
Do you have a sense of structure in your day to day living through this pandemic? There is so much outwith our control, but there are things we can do for ourselves that will promote our wellbeing. With flexibility built in, do you have at least a loose idea of what your day may look like in terms of sleep patterns, healthy eating, exercise, how you spend your time, connections with work, friends, family and rest and time by yourself? These can change day to day and that’s fine, but if you feel that any or all of these are in a ‘free fall’ and are causing you great stress and anxiety, then perhaps it is time to think about setting yourself some fundamental self care boundaries.
Mental boundaries / information boundaries:
We are not machines. We can’t take in endless feeds of information and not be impacted by it. We don’t process all of this information in under a second, we need time, space and emotional energy to be able to take in, and process the information we are consuming day by day.
So my second question for you is are you allowing yourself mental boundaries in your daily living? Are you finding yourself so stressed out by the news and other information that you are consuming that it is impacting negatively upon your wellbeing? Of course, so much of what is going on in 2020 is overwhelming. But are you allowing things to encroach too much into your mind and life? Are you making any unhealthy choices for yourself? Do you watch, read, listen to or discuss the news more than you are able to properly handle? If so, can you decide to make more structured and healthy choices such as limiting your exposure to what is necessary and helpful and also making sure that you are filling your mind with positive things throughout the day? Are you giving yourself time and space to process your thoughts, feelings and emotions?
Do you have creative or other helpful outlets in your life that can help you maintain a better sense of wellbeing?
Connected to the above, a lot of the information we may be consuming may relate to the fact that while physical boundaries may be more apparent in our lives in a year in which physical distancing, lockdowns, restrictions and so forth have increasingly featured and served to separate us from each other in different ways, we are also faced with a perhaps at times ‘encroaching’ sense of so-called ‘connectedness’ with others. This can lead to a different kind of emotional and informational overload if we are not careful to set healthy boundaries.
For example, while technology can be a good servant, it can be a tough master, as some have said before. Are you finding it hard to keep up with commitments online whether for work, family or leisure? Are people more and more in your own space even though they are not physically there? Is it time for you to reassess what is healthy in this regard and to take a considered and thoughtful step back, even if for a time?
Do you have more emails, text messages, video calls and expectations than you can personally cope with? Do you feel stressed, guilty or overwhelmed by any of these?
As an empathetic person, I sometimes find that friends who I’ve known for ten or fifteen years may at times choose to contact me only when it suits them and then off load all their problems onto me, because I do care and want to be a good friend, but they don’t use the resources already available in their life. Do you ever find that yourself? Do emails appear in your inbox that are very one sided and that stress you out and as a ‘good friend’ you feel you need to be supportive? When someone is in crisis, then sure, do what you can, but try to help them in a way that is empowering for them and for you and that does not foster a detrimental dependence for either of you. If you are metaphorically drowning, then don’t allow someone to jump on your back and try to save them, or both of you will drown! I love to help and encourage people, and I’ve had times when I’ve been in ‘crisis’ and need, and been the weak one in a sense, but think carefully about the dynamics that are helping you and your friends move forward in your lives and those that might just be detrimental. Mutual respect and being brave enough to ask the right questions or voice our concerns can lead to stronger and longer lasting and more empowering friendships, so if there is something that is just ‘too much’ for you just now, try to figure out why and what more healthy choices and responses you can make for the good of yourself and for other people.
Sometimes the people in our lives aren’t in crisis, but they just get habituated into venting to us, and sharing only the negatives with us, even when they do have good things happening in their lives. They may not stop to ask how we’re doing, and don’t hesitate to pour out their ‘stuff’ onto us, when they may not need to. I have experienced this with friends in my life, who email just because they want to offload. I understand that it’s a hard time for people, but sometimes setting those healthy boundaries can be far better in the long run.
Do you relate to any of this? Do you need to set some boundaries in your relationships and friendships with people? Do you need to take a step back and think of a kind way of communicating, even if that is as simple as spacing out the time in which you respond to other people’s unhealthy or detrimental expectations of you, so that you can guard your own wellbeing and in the long run empower both yourself and others?
Think about the things you are physically consuming in your life: this might be, as discussed above, in terms of news, other people’s problems and other information sources, but it may also be to do with what you are eating, drinking, buying, spending your energy and time on, and so forth.
Feed your soul with Love, Grace and Truth and it will grow that little bit stronger even in the midst of adversity. Feed yourself with junk and your mental, emotional and physical wellbeing will suffer.
Do you need to think more about establishing healthy boundaries in your life?
Boundary setting can sometimes feel like a scary or negative thing. We don’t want to hurt other people, we feel we need to keep up with the news, we worry about the ‘what if’s’. But when we are able to take a considered approach to setting boundaries we can move in the direction of improved mental, physical, emotional and relational health.
When we feel better in ourselves because of healthy boundaries with ourselves and others and information, then we feel more energised and positive in our lives, even in challenging times. When we take care of our wellbeing, we are better able to take care of those we love, and be better friends in the long run to the people who matter to us. When we don’t overload ourselves, we can do our jobs better, or if we are in a tough situation job-wise, we can have clearer heads and hearts to begin to seek solutions.
Boundary setting is not a be all or end all to living well in this pandemic or in life. I believe we all need The LORD Jesus’ help and that’s another choice we have to make for ourselves, but when it comes to these accessible and practical things I’ve mentioned in this post, then we can move towards coping better, living better, and who knows even beginning to thrive in adversity.
There is so much out of our control, but let’s take a bit of time to think about what is in our control, to be graceful towards ourselves and our friends, family and loved ones, knowing that we’re all going through a year unlike most of us have experienced before on a global scale, and everyone has issues, some of which only they know about. Try to set healthy boundaries that will empower you to move through your days in a way that is good for you and that will also in the long run be good for those around you.
This is a lot to think about, so take your time over it if you are inclined to do so, ponder things in your heart, and be gentle with yourself as you make the necessary changes little by little, day by day.
Take care of yourselves, and sending you so much love, and prayers for brighter days ahead. Peace. ❤
Sometimes although it may seem easier in the moment to say ‘yes’ to people, it is actually kinder and healthier to say ‘no’ – know your boundaries and don’t feel bad for looking after yourself, for it will help others in the longer term too, even if that involves temporary disappointment.
Boundaries can in fact protect relationships and friendships- you need the time and space to look after yourself if you are to be there for others, and to be a positive influence; don’t feel bad for taking care of yourself, it is a good thing for others as well as yourself, but also respect others enough to kindly communicate those boundaries when you can.
Forthe past three or four years, I have taken a few days out of my regular work schedule and usual weekend routines to set aside a short amount of time for personal retreat and reflection.
It is something I encourage everyone to do, and to build in to their lifestyle so that they can enjoy this specific set aside time at the very least once a year, and furthermore to take what they learn and incorporate it into their day to day lives somehow.
I don’t know what comes to mind for you when I mention the word ‘retreat’. Perhaps you think of robes, sandals, fasting, spiritual practices, tie dye shirts, frolicking in a field full of sunflowers, hiding out in a log cabin, being immersed in nature, traveling somewhere exotic and getting far, far, far away from it all and the ‘madding crowd’ around you.
Maybe you think of something organised by a group or retreat centre, with other people teaching and contributing, of workshops, group discussions, flip chart paper and permanent markers, or something that will take time, effort and money to organise, and something that is just too far from your reality to really have any of the above resources to indulge in. Maybe you think of spas and wellness centres and relaxation, or maybe you think of something entirely different.
Whatever comes to mind for you, in terms of thinking of a personal retreat, I’d like to demystify some of the fuss and fanfare that might go along with the notions that a personal retreat may be out of your reach. All of what I share is from personal experience and figuring out what works for me as I went along, so as unique as each of us are, we will find a way to personalise our own experience and meanings of retreat.
An important place to start if you are thinking about planning a personal retreat, before you even begin to touch upon any of the logistics such as location, duration or cost, is to think about why you are embarking upon the idea of a retreat in the first place.
When I first set about planning a personal retreat a few years ago, I began with brainstorming ideas, and visions and hopes of what I wanted to get out of the time and what it would involve, and what it meant to me. As I have grown more familiar with the process, and as I know myself and my dreams and values better, as well as my practical talents and limitations, this takes less time to navigate as I am more familiar with what is important to me and how to inhabit this kind of creative and reflective space.
I am the kind of person who needs a lot of time alone to think, ponder, reflect and be. Therefore, ‘retreat’ is kind of in my DNA, as it were. Even before thinking more specifically about retreat, I have always sought out set aside time throughout my life. For instance at times that took the form of going for drives to the beach when I was still living with my parents and had use of a car, putting my music on and finding a quiet spot away from people, watching the water, writing down my thoughts, praying, thinking. When I was studying in University, during lunchtime or between lectures I often wandered and pondered down by the riverside so that I could be alone to think about deeper things. Now that I have a place of my own, and live alone, retreat can in some ways be a lot easier, but in other ways it takes effort to be intentional about it and demark specific set aside time rather than merely letting my alone time melt into one unfocussed experience. Writing has always been an important part of self reflection and learning to understand the world, for me. So too have other creative means of expression, and perhaps you also gain insights through art, music, literature…..
I think certain personality types, like myself, actually crave retreat on a regular basis, and as much as we also need human connection and companionship, we have an innate way of creating those deep and solitary opportunities for ourselves, in a way in which we are left richer for it in our experience of ourselves in the world, in contrast to others who might find such pursuits and practices quite lonely and isolating. Yet, to some extent we all need that quiet, set apart ‘me time’ to reflect, recharge and redirect our lives.
So how do you find your ‘why’?
Like I said earlier, ‘brainstorming’ is a great place to start. It helps you actually discover more concretely what you have been mulling over in your own mind, and begin to translate those thoughts into something more tangible to pursue. When you express your thoughts whether verbally, through writing and / or pictorially, you have the chance to articulate what you need from a personal retreat and to begin to hone your focus.
For example, I might brainstorm ideas of what is important to me for a retreat, and come up with something along the lines of:
Relationship with God, prayer, rest, relaxation, writing novel, creative writing, nature walks, self reflection, peace, time out, calm, health, well being, quiet, reading, exploration, growth, spiritual discipline, photography, art, music, food, slow living, getting in touch with myself, finding purpose and direction, slower pace of life, meaningful living, attentiveness, awareness, living in step with God and nature, knowing God’s plan for my life, watching the clouds go by, being a child again, finding joy in simple things, trying something new, adventure, know myself better, self care, healing, overcoming personal pain, finding joy, ethical living, self development, exploring my gifts, giving back….
And the list could go on and on. The great thing about personal brainstorming is that there aren’t any limits, and it gives you a chance to just get your ideas out onto paper, and make more sense of them later, and even if at first things seem a bit jumbled, chaotic or unconnected, there will likely actually be a thread of connection running through your different ideas.
Once you have a better idea of ‘why’ this personal retreat and set aside time is important to you, you can begin to establish a plan and a focus. You might like to categorise your ideas, discard some, specify others, create a vision board, or begin to explore what other people have done in related areas to add to your personal inspiration.
Ok, so that’s the ‘why’ but what about the ‘how’? From purpose to vision.
Let’s say you have done some brainstorming, and find that although many of your ideas are deeply important to you, perhaps one or two resonate with you more than others at this particular time and season of your life.
For example, let’s say that what you really want is to simply slow down the pace of your life so that you can feel better, more connected, and be refreshed for when you have to ‘go back’ into your day to day life, which hopefully will actually be a moving forward purposefully by incorporating some of the lessons you learn while ‘on retreat’.
By focusing on this one aspect, you can begin to plan for a richer retreat experience, however short or long a time you may have for it. You can think more deeply about what slowing down means to you and explore these as you prepare for your retreat. (This can apply to any specific focus that you choose, whether it be for example: creative writing retreat, slow living retreat, self care retreat, artistic retreat, faith retreat, etc).
Exploration of your ideas about slowing down, prior to even embarking upon your retreat and while still in the planning and ‘ideas’ stages, might take the form of journaling your own thoughts, finding out what other people are doing, and taking inspiration from a variety of sources which may include talking to people, searching the internet, reading books (and blogs! 😉 ) and connecting with the pace of nature. This process can in itself be a lot of fun, and can get those ‘creative juices’ and inspiration flowing!
From this you might be able to more clearly establish a ‘vision’. That vision might take the form of what you’d like your life to look like, how it could better reflect your core values, how to be the person you’d like to be in your day to day settings, or how you would like to feel, or a combination of these and more.
Maybe your vision for exploring a slower pace of life will bring to the fore a couple of related aspects that you’d like to also be part of your focus.
Embracing a Theme
As well as having a focus and a vision, it can really help if you have an overall theme that all of your activities and reflections will centre around. Last year, I focused on the theme of my identity in Christ and as a daughter of God, and asked a close friend if she wanted to be part of it, and we together gained so much from it that I’m sure she as well as I continue to benefit from spiritually, creatively and practically day to day.
Bringing our attention back to the idea of exploring a slower pace of life, you might have a theme along the lines of “Finding ways to slow down and live more attentively in my day to day life”.
Once you have established the key focus of your retreat and the ideas you’d like to explore, the next stage is more practical in formulating a plan.
You will need to think of the following:
Dates / Time / Duration
Location or Locations
Setting Boundaries to Safeguard Your ‘Set Aside’ Time
As to duration, you can start small and build things up gradually. You might not be used to setting aside a lot of time to explore specific aspects of your life, and that’s completely fine, sometimes less is more.
Added to that, we all have a variety of commitments whether they be employment, family, helping others, home keeping or whatever they may be for you.
Choose a time frame and stick to it according to what will work for you.
You could have a two hour retreat, half a day retreat, a day retreat, a weekend retreat, a week long retreat, just work out what works for you.
Location – the fine art of the ‘Staycation’:
As to location, I’m a big fan of the ‘staycation’. I have written posts on my experiences of my staycations earlier in my blog and you can find these be searching my main page or looking through the tabs and sections at the top.
Staycation incorporates the ideas of staying at home and having a vacation at the same time. Once again, there is flexibility in how you approach this. Some people staycation by staying at home, and making their experience of home like a restful holiday. Others might take time to explore what’s on their doorstep for example by visiting museums, tourist attractions and cafes or natural beauty in the city or town where they live. Some may ‘staycation’ by booking into a hotel in their own city whether by themselves or for a family ‘holiday’ and enjoy the niceties of a hotel such as the food, spa and relaxation facilities, sports, massage, swimming, room service, etc without spending money and time to travel somewhere else, and perhaps also minimising or even eliminating some of the hassles involved in traveling on holiday.
For the purposes of a ‘staycation retreat’, I like to prepare my home and create an environment and atmosphere that is conducive to rest, relaxation, and creativity. It’s important to feel happy and comfortable in your environment so it feels special and a place you can relax, so maybe you’d like to set aside specific areas in your rooms for a specific retreat ‘activity’. You could have a ‘quiet reading corner’, a place for writing or journaling, a colouring or art table, and pampering corner, and so forth. Just make it as lovely as you need it to be. For some people this might feel like quite a ‘tall order’, so if you can’t prepare your home, maybe you could find one little space that you can prepare and use for quiet retreat and reflection. And if that is also too much of a stress, think of alternatives – if you want to treat yourself and have the means to, maybe you’d like a change of scene and to book a room or a hotel, a cabin or guesthouse somewhere for your retreat. But if not, there are plenty of things you can do on a budget or totally free such as going to a park, a beach or some other natural ‘beauty spot’ depending on the weather, spending time in a quiet coffee shop, a library, a bookshop, maybe even a friend’s house if that is mutually convenient if they are away for a short time, or a picnic spot somewhere. Find what works for you, but make sure that you do have somewhere that is comfortable, safe, practical, pleasant and quiet so that you can actually retreat, reflect and relax without too much distraction.
As cliched as it is, there is some beauty to the saying ‘the best things in life are free’. For a personal retreat, this can certainly be the case – I have had some wonderful times ‘staycationing’ at home, and using the opportunity to read, walk in the park or by the riverside, visit free museums, and spend time in prayer, writing, and doing a variety of creative things, all of which cost nothing.
However, depending on your own personal tastes and circumstances, it can be nice to treat yourself to something special, especially if this is in place of a holiday for example, rather than in addition to it.
Try to be aware of your budget from the start, and try your best to keep things in line with the purpose of your retreat. Even on staycations I might like to have some money set aside to spend on a takeaway, lunch in a coffee shop, a train trip somewhere near that is beautiful and quiet, or a yummy cake or some art supplies. Because I have the luxury of living on my own and really liking my place, I don’t have to worry about the cost of going somewhere, but maybe it is something you have to think about for example if you have a family and you need to go somewhere else to get some time to yourself, there could be scope for you to have a few relaxing days away by yourself. Sometimes this can be difficult, especially I think for mothers, but I personally feel that a good dose of ‘self care’ actually helps us to be better in our relationships with others, and is not always a selfish thing, whereas never giving ourselves time can leave us feeling depleted, stressed out, frustrated and unable to really be our best for those we love….just something worth thinking about if you feel a bit ‘guilty’ in giving yourself that much needed space and time.
The main point is that you don’t need to spend a lot of money to have a rich and satisfying retreat experience. It is afterall more to do with what’s going on inside of you than the external trappings that require a lot of money. But these thoughts may in themselves be part of your own journey of self discovery, so I’ll leave the rest with you…
Activities / Itinerary:
With what is quite possibly a rare, short amount of time, it is important that you make the absolute most of it and stay focused.
I personally find it helps prepare me inwardly by doing some nice things like creating an itinerary or a retreat pack and adding some creative touches.
It also helps me to appreciate and value the time that I have for this special and purposeful time that is not the usual daily routine.
Try to do all of your planning and preparation before your actual retreat time. You can do this gradually and over some time so as not to get stressed, but to instead enjoy the process and lead up and anticipation of your personal retreat.
You don’t want to be using precious minutes, let alone hours, of your retreat time with tidying up, trying to figure out what to do, or eradicating distractions. Do all that beforehand so that your mind is free to explore and savour this precious experience as fully as possible. In this respect, preparation is key, for example not only do you need to know that you will have a calm environment, but also it could help to do some meal prepping beforehand or know that you have set aside a budget for buying food or eating out so that that is all taken care of and doesn’t take away your attention or time.
Your itinerary will vary depending on the logistics of your retreat and whether you’ll be staying at home, traveling somewhere and for how long your ‘set aside time’ will be. Remember that if you are going elsewhere to have your preparations in place including in case of emergency so that you don’t find yourself in unprepared in a difficult situation. That’s why I personally like ‘staycations’ because there are certain things you just won’t have to worry about in comparison to if you are having to organise a lot of additional practical things.
Let’s turn back to the example of “Finding ways to slow down and live more attentively in my day to day life”.
Your itinerary, and bear in mind you can be flexible with the framework you use, might include time set aside for activities such as:
Deep breathing and relaxation.
A mindful walk in nature paying attention to 5 senses.
Slow and attentive eating (walking, listening to my environment, etc).
Slow stretches and exercises.
Creative time: crafts, writing, something that takes focus and attention.
No technology time.
Pampering and self care time.
Prayer or meditation time.
Recreation, inspiration or cosy film time.
Before bedtime reflective writing – thinking of lessons to take forward into day to day life.
Setting Boundaries to Safeguard Your ‘Set Aside’ Time
My last point is perhaps one of the most important things to factor in when preparing for a personal retreat. Distractions can come from many sources and can eat into our opportunity for an enriching and focused experience of retreat. Many of these come from ourselves, from allowing our attention to wander, from being insufficiently prepared, overly preoccupied or not honouring the time we have chosen to set aside and allowing other competing influences to creep in. Of course, there will be times in our lives when we are unable to take a lot of time away for ourselves, we may have to care for other people and perhaps the only time we can have is a few minutes at the end of the day….but even so, ringfence and honour that time.
Also, your personal retreat as personal as it is, may need to be something you share with other people in your life. Try to let friends and family know that for this particular weekend for example, or during those specific hours, you won’t be answering or making calls, texts, or visits. Managing expectations and boundaries through clear communication will help you to relax and make the most of your time without thinking about everything that might be going on around you. If people care about you and if it’s not an emergency, then they should understand. Simply turn the technology off for a while, if you’ll be off the radar for a few days let people know so that they will respect your space and won’t be unnecessarily worried about you, and make the most of it.
To conclude, it’s also a great idea to factor in some kind of ‘follow up’ for yourself by having time for reflection to ask yourself what you have learned from your time and how practically are you going to take forward the most important insights into your day to day life, to enhance your experience of life and also of those around you as you allow yourself to thrive.
Take care, and take time for yourself dear ones. xx