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. ❤