Over the last six months, I have come to the realisation that setting boundaries - although intimidating - is so vital to protecting your mental wellbeing. It’s taken me a long time to recognise this; I am a perfectionist and a people-pleaser, which often means I prioritise other people or tasks above my own needs because I have a fear of letting people down. Reflecting on my twenty-three years of living, this really isn’t a new concept. However, it was having a greater impact on my mental wellbeing, and I had to question why.
I came to the conclusion that there were many factors as to why my mental health was not as good as it could be. And, whilst there are factors that I can’t control and will no doubt affect my mood at times, there were choices I kept making which did not help the situation. So, rather than focusing on the situations I have no control over, I decided to make things a little easier and set some boundaries to help improve other areas of my life. This meant I could cope with my day-to-day activities better.
My first point of call was my sleeping pattern - midnight walks are peaceful in one way, but perhaps not the safest activity. Going back a few months ago, I was beyond exhausted. I felt tired, unwell, I was grumpy and I struggled with basic tasks and remembering things. It felt like conversations were in slow motion, and I couldn’t think of the words to use as responses. My sleeping pattern, for many reasons, was not the best. I knew this had to change so that I could get a good night’s sleep and wake up in a better mindset. It took time but I gradually shifted my body clock so that I was starting to feel tired by midnight, then eleven and then ten. I swapped out social media for a book an hour before bed, and I stopped having coffee late in the day. Decaf tea became my new friend! These steps meant I felt tired earlier. I also made myself wake up at the same time each morning (earning a shocked ‘why?!’ from a few of my friends!). I make sure I am now up by 8am, which is a big improvement from 11am.
I also had to address meals and set better boundaries. I would be so engrossed with finishing my tasks, or working that I forgot to eat, or prioritised other things above eating. This was detrimental because we need food to fuel our bodies and actually be able to concentrate, learn and go about our day. When I didn’t eat, I also got a lot of headaches which made me feel more tired and nauseous. Since I was waking up much earlier, I found I had time for breakfast which set me up for the day better. It also meant I was hungry at more conventional times: noon for lunch, 6pm for dinner, rather than a late-lunch-turned-dinner at 5pm.
I also set boundaries around work, which was probably my toughest challenge. I often feel uneasy when I haven’t done enough (when I certainly have), and always feel I could be doing more. But I also know I need to factor in activities other than my work because, as much as I love what I do, it can’t be the be-all-and-end-all. I missed going to coffee shops, walking, reading for fun, playing Animal Crossing and The Sims, playing the guitar and singing (badly) to my music, watching true crime documentaries … all things that interest me and make me happy. I stopped doing all of these, except for walking over the last few months. I’m now making sure that I leave my flat at least once a day still as a break, but also doing one of these in the evening as well. Since I’m also getting up earlier, I can work in the morning and afternoon and leave my evenings free after 5pm to do what I want to do. I have a better work-life balance which I know is boosting my morale. I have even started learning how to cook properly so I can have fun making my meals because I have the time in the evening!
The point of this is to make sure you are prioritising a work-life balance. In a society that often favours working and earning, you need to also take care of your body and mind. If they aren’t taken care of, how can you expect to perform well in other areas of your life? Make sure you are giving your body the food, rest and downtime it needs. These are just as productive as sitting down to complete tasks: it’s a different type of productivity, but different does not mean less important.
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