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How To Protect Your Mental Health Boundaries In The Pandemic

Exhausted? Yup. We’re all feeling the emotional weight of uncertainty


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Kerry Needs

3 years ago | 7 min read

Feeling apathetic and unmotivated? You’re not alone.

This year has left us all a bit dazed and confused. We were going about our lives on one path, and then the world plunged into chaos, taking things in a brand new direction.

2020 could have forced you to rethink many things — your work life, your home life, your relationships, your health. When shit hits the fan in our daily life, it can shake up our routines and habits massively.

So with the landscape ever evolving on a daily basis, how do we hold onto good mental health, and emotional wellbeing?

Things can feel wildly out of control right now, and COVID-19 fatigue is a real issue, so the only thing we can do in chaotic times is turn our attention towards taking more care of ourselves.

What are you letting in?

This week, we sympathised with a despondent Joe Wicks, as he discussed how, six months on from the start of the pandemic, the media and government handling of the situation is taking a toll on his mental health, making him feel ‘powerless.’

The Body Coach, famed as a pillar of positivity through the lockdown months is beginning to feel weary — a common theme, as intense emotions from the pandemic are now reverberating throughout every aspect of life.

In the last few weeks, many witnessed Dr Hillary’s impassioned plea to rethink the potential suspension of cancer treatment, Bradley Walsh’s tears for a mother and son separated due to care home rules, and the frustrations for plans across the hospitality sector, which Sacha Lord called ‘a disgrace’.

It’s affecting us all in different ways, because there’s only so much we can take.

What you emotionally absorb on a daily basis affects who you become.

Source: https://unsplash.com/@kelli_mcclintock
Source: https://unsplash.com/@kelli_mcclintock

Boundaries are the answer

When you’re struggling, or even if you feel your mental health slipping a little bit — it’s important to review your boundaries in order to regain strength.

I learned this the hard way. Even though I thought I was pretty healthy, my inability to say no and set limits meant I emotionally took in too much of what wasn’t good for me.

Protecting our wellbeing is not just about what we do, it’s also about what we don’t do.

Because unless we can identify and recognise those things that are harmful or detrimental to our wellbeing, we’ll keep focusing our energy and attention in that direction, absorb it, and then wonder why we feel so low, demotivated and drained.

Sounds a little woo-woo, but if we take in everything and let it affect us- like absorbing the news on a rolling 24/7 basis, we become a porous sponge and we ‘leak energy’. It’s similar to drinking sugary cans of coke all day and then wondering why you feel a bit crap.

It’s normal to feel exhausted by the pandemic

If you know the news makes you angry or despondent right now, consuming it non stop is only going to make you feel more powerless and frustrated.

“Amidst this protracted public health emergency, one that has forced people to live with uncertainty and disruption for many months, these levels of fatigue are to be expected” Dr Kluge, World Health Organisation

In order for us to be able to help others, we need to look after ourselves, and that is especially needed in a crisis situation like a global pandemic.

At times, you might have felt a little pulled in all directions — Do I go and take some shopping to my relative who is self-isolating? Is it safe to meet a friend in the park now? Is it my responsibility to organise that Zoom meeting for the conference next week?

Just the mental processing of an event of the pandemic scale is exhausting, nevermind having the rules change so fast.

The way we do life has changed, and it’s changed at the drop of a hat.

It’s confusing, and disorientating.

Know your limits

The first step to looking after ourselves is to know our limits.

This comes through trial and error. It’s okay to get it wrong when you’re figuring out your boundaries.

After all, we all don’t realise that the last slice of pizza was a mistake until we’re laying sprawled on the sofa, clutching a painful burgeoning gut as we struggle to get comfortable.

Often, we only realise in hindsight that what we were doing wasn’t very good for us.

It’s only when we stop our two hour commute to work that we realise it was making us knackered, meaning we were snapping more at our spouse.

Your limits are personal to you. We’re all different as to how much load we can bear.

Define your ‘ that’s enough work for today’ switch

According to research by Ellen Ernst Kossek of Purdue University, effectively managing work-life boundaries can reduce role conflict and enhance the well-being of employees, teams, and organizations.

It can also reduce stress, prevent burnout, and enhance mental and physical health.

So when we’re confined to our living quarters, how do we separate work life from home life?

  • Find ways to physically disconnect. One worker I know goes for a daily hour walk at 6pm, taking her dog into the green fields — a clear demarcation to announce the start of ‘home life’. If you’re working in a back room office, physically shut the door when you finish.
  • Time batch: Use a calendar to batch your time, and turn off all distractions. For example, you could block out two hours to write that next presentation. It just allows you to clear and cleanse your mind, if only for a short while. That way you can truly switch off once you’ve blocked out the calendar time.
  • Give yourself permission to be unproductive at times — Check in with yourself throughout the day. Is it time to stop altogether? Or just take a breather? Of course, it depends on your employer, but allow yourself the mental space to emotionally process from time to time.

Back in March, forward-thinking company Buffer kindly let their employees do just that.

Source: Twitter
Source: Twitter

How do you know you’ve got good boundaries? You’re able to switch off effectively.

A recent study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that having control over our boundary is sufficient to buffer the spikes in stress so often caused by work life balance issues, such as insomnia and negative rumination.

Be open with where you’re at

In a time when we’re all a little frazzled, it’s OK to be less available. (You don’t need to get back to your mate straightaway, they’ll understand).

Check in with yourself — today, how much have you ‘got to give?’

I love that Brene Brown and her husband Steve can quantify their energy levels and communicate that:

“What we do is we quantify where we are, so if Steve comes home and is like I’ve got 20 (in terms of energy, patience and kindness levels) I’ll pull the 80,” Brené explained in her chat with Tim Ferriss in his podcast The Tim Ferriss Show.

Quantifying how much energy we have on a given day is all pretty new to us, so it’s important to be kind to yourself when figuring it out.

It can be even harder to communicate that in a healthy and respectful way to others, and hope they understand where you’re at. Your boundary shouldn’t feel like a barbed wire.

According to California-based relationship coach Silvy Khoucasian, it’s important to strike that delicate balance between being honest and compassionate:

“People might be more prone to feeling rejected or abandoned when we set a boundary. So it’s important to let friends know that a communication boundary isn’t something personal and it’s not because they did something wrong ”Allure magazine

In such head-wrecking times, how do we focus on self-care?

  • Get better at saying ‘no’: Know that it’s totally natural to want to curl up under the duvet and sleep right now. In the words of bestselling author Matt Haig ‘Anyone else too tired to do anything except lie down and wait nervously for 2021?
  • Ask for what you need: Those family members that we have always been a pillar of strength for might be used to relying on you. But if your tank is running on empty, communicate your love and that you’ll be back in touch shortly when you’ve switched off for a few days.
  • Learn how to have better conversations: It’s hard telling our family member that we can’t deal with their political rants right now. Or that we just don’t have the bandwidth to organise a slap up Christmas meal this year. Again, no one is perfect at this, so research experts like Brene and others can help.
Photo by Michael Held on Unsplash
Photo by Michael Held on Unsplash

Nourish yourself

The truth is, none of us have ever been in this situation before — we’ve never lived through a global pandemic of this scale.

And we’ve never lived through a pandemic at the frenetic pace of modern life either, when there’s car insurance to sort out, and the dishwasher to fix, and your kids school shoes to buy…

So nourishing ourselves becomes critical. If we feel sufficiently energised, we can give back to others and show up in a way that is beneficial, rather than detrimental to them.

If you are drained and exhausted, irritable and burnt out — you can’t help anyone. Resiliency comes from knowing where your limits lie.

However, you don’t need to isolate yourself completely or totally give yourself in service to others.

We need to find that sweet spot of balance — too rigid boundaries, and we become inflexible and unwilling to change.

As Healthline says: ‘Don’t draw your boundaries in permanent ink. It’s good to think about them occasionally and reassess”.

It’s okay to make mistakes when it comes to figuring all of this out and practising it — it’s a heavy mental load to bear.

I don’t have all the answers. I’m still learning, failing, and learning some more.

But when it comes to identifying how much you can handle and navigating this 2020 shitstorm, one cheesy insta-quote comes to mind…

Source: Google Images
Source: Google Images

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