SET YOUR BOUDARIES & PROTECT YOUR ENERGY!
Updated: Apr 26
As you may already know, April is Stress Awareness Month globally. Now, as I mention that, I know that many of you are thinking or saying, “thanks, but I am already AWARE that I am STRESSED!”
I hear you, and I can completely relate! I think what we are all more interested in, is what we can do about it.
In my view, there are two (2) key things that we need to do to help prevent becoming overly stressed, AND to best prepare ourselves to deal with the demands that come our way. The two key things to focus on are to SET & PROTECT YOUR PERSONAL BOUNDARIES and OPTIMISE & SACREDLY PROTECT YOUR ENERGY.
All of us encounter stress in our lives. Unfortunately, AND fortunately, managing that stress mostly falls upon us as individuals. I say “fortunately” because this means a lot of it is within your personal control and ability to influence.
What is particularly important in doing so, is your personal ability and discipline to SET & PROTECT YOUR PERSONALLY BOUNDARIES AND ENERGY. If you have no boundaries, or no strategies in place to adhere to them, then it is very easy to become that person that is “always there” and “always available”, who will always take on more, always stay working late; and also, you become the person that other people tend to “dump on” or take advantage of, draining your energy.
Here is a little story and a BREAKTHROUGH TIP that someone once told me, which I love to pass along to others….
When I was much younger, I was working in the corporate business and consulting world, and I was this person described above. I was doing 120% at work, was always the one staying back working late, and was working 80-hour weeks consistently, sometimes even more. A person in senior management took notice, and one day he asked me, “Why are you the one who is always staying working late in the office?” Of course, there was a logical explanation. I replied explaining why everyone else had to leave by a certain time. For example, someone had a dog they need to let out; someone else has kids that they needed to get home to see; someone else had an event to get to. And, his response to me was, “Well then, it seems like you need to FIND YOUR REASON to get out of here.” Wow! That hurt a little, because frankly, it was true.
He didn’t even know me, but he was spot on! He had no idea that I had recently been through a relationship break-up after 6 years together, and that I was single, with ZERO interest in dating or getting back into a relationship anytime soon, and I had no children at the time. In reflection, I subconsciously poured myself into work as a way to occupy and distract myself from the pain and loneliness after the break-up. And other people took advantage of that, especially as I had no boundaries at work. I would take on more and more work, never saying “no” or “enough”, and I would work as late as necessary to get it done. You couldn’t say I wasn’t dedicated, but you also couldn’t say I was health or happy. I wasn’t taking good care of myself in terms of stress management and self-care (sleep, health, etc.). And he was right, I had no reason, not one, in my life that made me want to leave work to spend time pursuing. It's not that I didn’t have any personal interests, certainly I did, but many of those had also got put aside or lost during that unhealthy relationship, where I lost sight of my own personal interests and somewhat my identity.
Now, you may or may not be able to relate to pouring yourself into work like I did; however, I suspect that many of you can relate to losing touch with your sense of identity or personal interests at some point in your life. It is quite common for people (particularly women) to lose that sense of identity or their personal interests at some point, often at pivotal times in your live, such as while in an unhealthy relationship, or after becoming a new mum with the additional responsibility of caring for a beautiful new human being. And it is also fairly common for people who are unhappy in their personal lives to throw themselves into their work (whether that be an office job and/or parenting). But here’s the thing, that’s not sustainable, and it will not serve you, your loved ones, or your career in the long run. I guarantee you that you will eventually burn out, which no one wants to happen.
So, BREAKTHROUGH TIP #1 is GET A PERSONAL LIFE, INTEREST OR ‘REASON’ OUTSIDE OF WORK/HOME that brings you joy. It can be anything really. If you’re single, it could be getting a dog/pet, or making time for dating again, or making social plans with friends. Or, for anyone, you could make family/social plans, or take a class of personal interest (saying cooking, painting, music, dancing or athletics). You are much less likely to miss it if it’s a commitment you’ve made and something/someone is counting on you to be there at a certain time, and/or if you are paying $s for it. Personally, soon after I got the advice to “FIND YOUR REASON”, I got a dog as my reason to leave the office every day by a certain time, and also to bring me some joy and companionship at home.
That advice has stuck with me over the past 20 years, and has motivated me to regularly sign-up for a class of interest outside of work and home, including things like ballroom dancing, Flamenco dancing, Pilates, exercise, nutrition and music. Now I have a child who is my primary ‘reason’ and keeps me busy, but I still try to participate in some personal interests as well. I am incredibly thankful for receiving that advice many years ago, and I have passed it along to many others who I have coached both inside and outside of the corporate world.
So, to recap, the BREAKTHROUGH TIP #1, first and foremost is to GET A PERSONAL LIFE, INTEREST, OR REASON OUTSIDE OF YOUR PRIMARY WORK/PARENTING. It can be anything really, but ideally you should choose something(s) that you really enjoy and brings you energy and/or stress relief.
And the second BREAKTRHOUGH TIP #2 is to ESTABLISH YOUR BOUNDARIES. As I got a bit older, those around me at work started to have families, and I noticed many parents would consistently leave at a certain time every day so that they could get home to spend valuable time with their kids. Working from home during the pandemic has made this a bit easier, as well as a bit more difficult, in terms of needing to be disciplined about turning-off from work at a certain time. Many of us have not had a clear delineation of working versus parenting time, given our kids have been home for most of the past two years.
Many people would say that they now have more flexibility, but they would also admit that they are actually working more hours than before, have more difficulty turning off from work and being present as a parent/partner. This is why it is so important to SET & PROTECT YOUR BOUNDARIES, whether you are working remotely or going into a work location, or full-time parenting.
Here are 5 THINGS YOU CAN DO TO SET & PROTECT YOUR BOUNDARIES:
1) Establish a consistent schedule, and depending on your parenting and personality style and child’s needs, you may find it less stressful to be strict with your schedule, or to more use it as a guideline with some flexibility as needed. If you are working (outside of the home), set your start time, end time, and your sacredly protected times and stick to them. This will help you to not only work less, but better prioritise and timebox your work activities. Set an alarm in advance of your end time to signal it’s time to wrap things up.
2) Have a plan, but be flexible to adjust as needed, for example, we need to give ourselves permission to change and adjust, as unexpected things can happen (e.g., priorities shift, deadlines change, people get sick, or resourcing/support falls through). So, have your plan, but be flexible, within reason and your non-negotiables.
3) Plan “down-time” daily. Turn off your laptop and phone outside of working hours. If you’re not working, you’re not working! You’re not available. If you’re parenting, schedule some breaks or at least changes of scenery for yourself (e.g., going for a walk, taking a bath, meditating, etc.)
4) Decline more offers / invitations to avoid overcommitting yourself. For example, set a limit on the number of activities that you will participate in weekly and monthly. If you’re already feeling stressed, do not take on extra commitments such as organising or hosting an event, or taking on an additional project at work or home.
5) Optimise and protect your valuable energy by doing things like eating healthy, avoiding people who drain your energy (so important!), minimizing or delegating tasks that you dread and/or drain your energy, and also planning activities in your schedule that lift / bring your energy back.
Optimising your energy is really a whole topic unto itself. In fact, one of our coaching programs is specifically focused on practical ways to help people improve their energy. Here is a testimonial from a mum who recently completed that coaching program:
After the birth of my second child, I was looking to improve my overall health and increase energy levels....The “90 Day Energy Boost” program gave me the motivation and accountability I needed to get myself back on track. The weekly check-ins were fantastic, and by the end of the program not only had I achieved my goals, but I’d also created some new habits and adopted some new creative ways of thinking. I would definitely recommend Stephanie’s services.
If this is of interest and something that you struggle with, please check out our coaching services/programs, contact us for a chat, or download our FREE GUIDE TO SELF-CARE here: www.elevateyourlifecoaching.com.au.
I sincerely hope that you are able to SET & PROTECT YOUR BOUNDARIES AND ENERGY as two key ways to reducing your stress and improving your happiness in your personal life as well.
Note: This article is also published at The Natural Parent Magazine, and a short video is available to watch and share in social media here: https://fb.watch/cwhXIVG7ZV/
Stephanie Sullivan is a dual certified Life and Health Coach and founder of Elevate Your Life Coaching PTY LTD. After 23 years in demanding, high-stress corporate roles as a business consultant, then a corporate executive, she knows first-hand about stress and trying to balance career and parenting demands, along with personal needs and wellbeing. Now Steph’s purpose is helping people to make life changes to reduce stress, increase energy, and achieve their personal goals, life ambitions, and wellbeing.
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