Balance, Boundaries and Your Mental Health
Forgive me, for I shall be taking up a few minutes of your time. I want to talk about mental health and a few thoughts on it from an outsiders perspective…
I haven’t written much on this, my health and fitness blog recently. There’s good reason for it. It’s not that I haven’t had much to say, it’s more that I have been busy with other things. Things that have taken up more of my time and my brain space.
When this blog first started, I was more of a quantity rather than quality writer. As I’ve gotten older, that has somewhat reversed. I now post far less frequently, but they tend to be longer and more informative. Perhaps they’re even reflective. I don’t know for sure. Anyway, it’s a quality over quantity policy.
I intended to write this piece a while back (around the time of mental health day), but didn’t have the capacity to do it justice. If I had forced myself to do it, I’d have gone against the principles I’m going to share today. Principles I feel like too many people ignore.
It’s a question about boundaries and actually being responsible for our own mental health. I’m (perhaps) lucky in that mentally, I’m fairly robust. I’ve had plenty of trying times in my life, but my mental health has always been pretty good. There’s no secret, I’m maybe just wired slightly differently to some.
I’ve developed a few ways of dealing with challenges in life. I’d like to share the main one I use.
It’s a glass analogy I refer back to in my own head and occasionally share with people I’m talking to about their own mental health. A few people have found it helpful for gaining a little perspective…
Imagine a glass placed on a table. That glass represents your life. It has a capacity.
Now, imagine you start pouring a large jug of water into the glass. It doesn’t matter how much you pour into the glass, it can only cope with a certain amount.
You can take drinks from it, freeing up more room.
The drinks represent what makes you happy – time with family and friends, hobbies, indulgences.
You can only drink so much though and you can never increase the capacity of your glass.
The more water you pour into the glass, the more the excess water becomes a problem. It spills on the table, onto the floor and makes a larger and larger puddle.
In the end the puddle becomes so big that you have to do something about it. You have to stop pouring water into glass and deal with the mess you’ve made.
It’s how I view life in some ways.
When I first started out in my career, I was eager to do as much as possible. I used to work seriously long days (16-18 hours, 5 days per week wasn’t uncommon). I’d enrol on extra courses, I’d do extra reading, do the extra shifts, volunteer to help in other places.
It was because I had the capacity to do so. If we refer back to the glass analogy, I only had one jug pouring into it.
I was younger (21), I had no children, nobody to feel responsible for. I could give of myself all of the time. I loved it, I was enthusiastic and it honestly didn’t bother me.
I was also probably a bit of an easy go-to when it came to the extra shifts. Being new in a job, I felt a sense of needing to secure my position and my value to the business and maybe people knew that. I did a similar thing in 2010 when I set up my business – I’d take on sessions at 5 in the morning and work as late as 11pm.
In some sense, it’s a good thing to do. We all need a work ethic and honestly, I think having done that I secured myself a position in my industry. I know a lot of people who started at the same time as me who haven’t had a fraction of the experiences I’ve had in my career, simply because they wouldn’t do the work. It’s amazing how often work creates opportunities.
But I couldn’t do that now.
I have a partner and two young children. I have a few different business projects. I’m older and although the glass is still the same size, more people are pouring water into it.
Boundaries and Your Mental Health
I’ll start by saying this. I’m not a mental health professional and I don’t pretend to be one.
I have clients and friends who are and my thinking on the subject is influenced by their professional opinion and my own life experiences. What I’m saying shouldn’t be construed as professional advice, it’s merely what has worked for me.
Have you ever noticed how few people like their jobs? I mean seriously dislike their jobs. Not only that, but they have jobs that cause them an unfair amount of stress which affects their mental health, their physical health, their relationships and their general wellbeing?
Maybe my data set is skewed, but I’d suggest that in my friendship and client groups, I bet 60% or more actually hate their jobs.
Something needs to change – either in working patterns or our attitude to work. Maybe we need to stop seeing being ‘busy’ as a badge of honour. Perhaps effective is a better badge to wear.
Taking on so much that it affects your health is quite frankly, ridiculous.
Boundaries and Mental Health…
I was having a chat with a friend of mine recently, who happens to be a counsellor. We were talking about mental health and how many people seem to suffer with theirs. She told me that in her practice, most of the anxiety patients she sees don’t really suffer with anxiety in the truest sense, but rather they suffer with a lack of clear boundaries.
Her opinion is that a lot of people are misdiagnosed with an anxiety disorder, when instead what they need is a more robust toolset for dealing with overwhelm. The first and most important tool being an ability to set clear boundaries. Learn to say no, or to ask for help.
I see it in my social circles. You probably will too.
Have you ever met people who just always seem to be busy and stressed?
Perhaps they need better boundaries.
Rach and I have a friend who suffers from her own self-diagnosed version of anxiety. From the outside looking in though, I see a woman who cannot say no to a social engagement or will ever find time to relax. Her days are full of work, her evenings are full of taking the kids to various classes and her weekends are jam-packed with 3-4 events each day.
I wish I was joking, but the last time we saw her she’d come from having breakfast with a friend. She was spending a couple of hours with us before heading off to meet other friends for an hour, then she was hosting her parents for a Sunday dinner.
If you enjoy that kind of thing, great. She complains about it though. It’s pretty clear to me that she needs to slow down, say no more, take some time to relax and not spend all week chasing her own tail.
Anyway, back to my lack of posting on here. It’s about balance and boundaries.
The glass analogy applied to my life…
As well as personal training and writing, I own a fitness holiday business.
It’s called The Active Retreat and is an absolute passion project. I’m proud of all of my work, but in many ways this is the jewel in the crown – it’s the best value health and fitness holiday on the market, without a shadow of a doubt. We’ve literally never had a bad review over all the retreats we’ve hosted.
It’s pretty hard to give this kind of environment a bad review though eh?!
We recently hosted our final retreat of 2018 and logistically, it was a lot of work. A new venue, new guests, new activities, new activity partners etc. It was a pretty big undertaking and resulted in a lot more water being poured into my cup, so to speak.
Something had to give and it ended up being my writing on the blog. With my holiday business, personal training business, my copywriting work, my training, family commitments and coaching my son’s football team, there was just too much going on for me to deal with everything well.
I recognised this, so made a decision to cut the blogging down for the short term.
I could have carried on doing everything, but it’d all suffer. My health would suffer, the quality of my work would suffer, I’d be too dilute across all of my projects, meaning I wouldn’t be able to give enough effort and attention to each one. I’d be working too much, meaning my partner and kids wouldn’t see me. I’d probably be irritable when they did. I had to set boundaries.
As it happens, my training suffered too, which wasn’t ideal but has given me an idea for a new project in 2019, so watch this space.
Anxiety and Overwhelm
If you’re struggling with a feelings of anxiety and overwhelm, ask yourself is there anything you can do about it in the immediacy?
Can you turn down a social invite? Can you push back a work deadline to give you more time? Can you establish better boundaries at work? If you feel like your work load is too much, tell your boss. You’re doing them a favour – if they keep piling more on you, none of it will get done well, or your health will deteriorate to a point where you’ll be off sick, then none of it gets done.
There’s always a way to help yourself. Even if it feels hard or uncomfortable.
You need to give yourself breathing space. You need to take a few gulps from your cup. If you don’t, it’s not just your mental health that suffers – your physical health suffers and your relationships will suffer too.
Remember it’s OK to say no. It’s OK to not want to do something. It’s OK to have other priorities. It’s OK to indulge yourself sometimes. It’s OK to put yourself first now and then.
But don’t just read my advice. Act on it.
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