I’m going to tell on myself today.
As I mentioned in the #WritingWednesday post, I’ve gone back to my day job, probably earlier than I should have. I’m also grinding my brains to dust by trying to write while I am still recovering. So, for myself and all you other people out there with no off-switch, here’s today’s self-care.
Know Your Limits
Everyone has them. Whether it’s getting up before 8 A.M. or staying up late, having energy after wrestling kids through after school activities, homework, and bedtimes, or even being able to manage 45 minutes of cardio at the gym but not an hour, or perhaps it’s not being able to function properly on less than nine hours of sleep. Limits are real, and we ignore them at our own risk.
When we ignore our limits, we set ourselves up for burnout and fatigue. For those of us who are struggling with mental illness, we create an environment in ourselves that exacerbates the problems that we’re trying to control. The only solution is to slow down.
Easier said than done, I know. I took a week off from work last spring. I needed a break, a rest, and so I set up a “stay-cation” and even went so far as to do all the grocery shopping ahead of time. What did I do?
Well, the first day, I did sleep in about thirty minutes. I had my coffee on my balcony and enjoyed the fresh air. I watched a TV show. And that was about the end of all the rest. In the week I was off I scrubbed baseboards, cleared out and reorganized all the closets, swept, mopped, packed up old clothes I never wore and donated them, steamed the carpets, cleared and organized my desk, backed up computer files from both computers, and wrote four chapters.
So much for resting!
To be fair, I enjoyed the things I was doing. I love having a clean space to live in. I know that I’m most productive at my desk when I’m not buried in stacks of papers and old mail. But none of that was actually RESTING. The week ended and I was still worn to a frazzle.
Knowing my limits is something I’m exceptionally bad at, as you can see.
The benefits of knowing your limits is that you don’t push yourself like I do. Yes, there are times when it’s necessary, but if you live at that “every shred of energy plus some is exhausted” state, you won’t have it when you really need it. It’s a state of existing where you’ve weakened your body’s ability to repair itself, risked your immune system malfunctioning, reduced mental capacity, and it can even cause trouble sleeping. But it’s more than just energy.
Your limits can be any of the following:
- Being anxious in groups over a certain size.
- More than one or two days a week spent with friends outside of home.
- Becoming overwhelmed when a shopping trip lasts more than a certain amount of time.
- Reacting strongly to sudden, loud noises (like fireworks).
Regardless of what your limits are, it is 100% OKAY to set boundaries that protect your health and ability to function. It’s not selfish or narcissistic. It’s no different than telling someone, “I put my car in the shop so I can’t drive until I pick it up.” When you know your limits, and respect them, you begin – almost as if by automatic extension – to set those boundaries. Then, you tell your friends and family:
- I appreciate the invite, but that crowd will be too large for me.
- The movie sounds great, but I’m screwed if I’m not in bed by 10:30. Can we do an earlier showing?
- Honey, I’m reaching the end of my strength for the day, would you handle the homework tonight?
- I miss you, too, and yes we need to hang out! I’m done for the week though. How about next week?
These are absolutely reasonable things to say and expect from people who claim to care about you. None of them dismisses or pushes anyone away. I’ll be doing a #TopSkillsThursday post soon about how to navigate some of these situations, too, because it’s hard to say no to people!
Now, if your battle is more internally driven, as in my case, it’s a little harder to slow down sometimes. Your brain says, “Let’s do this thing!” and then you do it, and then another and another and another.
What I’ve been practicing with is making a list. The list is ALL the things I want or need to complete. I split it up over multiple days. For example, I allow myself to do two rooms of housework (about an hour of work) every day when I’m off. I can only break it if something prevented me from completing a previous day and it can’t wait until the next time that room is up on the list. I also allow myself grocery shopping once a week, and if possible, I skip doing the shopping and have the groceries delivered. The time not spent driving to and from the store, actually shopping, debating what to get, buying things I don’t need, and the physical strain of hauling it up the stairs to my home are worth the $7 I pay for delivery.
Writing is still a tricky one to not beat myself up about. I spent twenty years not writing, and every week that passes where I don’t write ends in anxiety that it’s happening again. I have, no lie, cried about it more than once. I’m trying to use a whiteboard calendar to get my focus back, but still, I’m only slating two days a week for writing, and my goal for each is only 500 words. (To put that in perspective, I can drop 3-5k in a solid 5 hours if that’s all I’m doing.)
Again, it’s all about knowing your limits, and learning to respect them because you are a person deserving of respect, even from yourself.