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Say Yes to You

And No to Toxicity

*Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

We all need a little reminder from time to time to stop and smell the roses. While working on my MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, I’ve found these concepts to be especially important not only for my clients but for myself, too. Learning to say yes to myself has been one of the most difficult but also one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I hope it can be for you, too.

Self-Care

*Photo by Jared Rice on Unsplash

One of the first things that anyone entering a mental health based educational program learns is how incredibly important self-care is for anyone in a helping profession (counselors, doctors, nurses, social workers etc.). It’s like when you’re on an airplane and the flight attendant tells you to make sure you put on your own oxygen mask before trying to help someone else with theirs. Not only are we encouraged to actively and mindfully make time for ourselves, time to do whatever it is that appeals to us as individuals, to recharge our mental, emotional, and physical batteries, but we’re taught to encourage our clients to do the same.

Counselors and others in helping professions are particularly prone to what is called “compassion fatigue” in which, after extended periods of time of spent caring for others, we may become burned out and unable to genuinely care for the people we are charged with helping. This spills over into our personal lives as well, making us all around jaded, irritable, and just exhausted.

The reality is everyone can benefit from self-care—no matter who you are or what you do for a living.

Self-care doesn’t have to be complicated, expensive, or necessarily lengthy. If you have the time and finances for weekly spa treatments and that’s what works for you, go for it. If, however, you’re like me and there simply aren’t enough hours in the day or change in your pocket, make time and do something free. Even if it’s just twenty minutes of doing a crossword puzzle on your commute to work or spending an extra five minutes in a hot bath. It doesn’t really matter what or how you do it, but in the words of Nike: Just do it.

Boundaries

*Photo by André Bandarra on Unsplash

We all know someone—or maybe several someones—who just doesn’t know how to take a hint. You give them an inch and they take a mile. For some of these folks, even a blatant ‘no’ isn’t enough to get them to back off. And of course, if you give in once, they’ll just push harder the next time. So, what do you do about people like this?

You set boundaries, and you stand your ground.

Easier said than done, right? Maybe, but it’s no less vital for you to learn how to do this for your own sanity’s sake. Be assertive, but make it clear what you will and will not tolerate from other people in your life. It’s also important not to set unreasonable boundaries or issue unfair ultimatums, but I’ll touch on that more later.

For instance, if you have someone who is constantly asking for favors and you find yourself spending more time, energy, or even money on doing things for them than for yourself, it may be time to set boundaries. Clearly state what sorts of favors you are willing to do and how frequently as well as what favors you are unwilling to do. If they come to you again and ask you for a favor you said you wouldn’t do, don’t do it. They may push, give you a sob story, or try to manipulate you in some other way, but at the end of the day, it’s up to you to hold your ground. 

No means no.

Removing Toxicity

*Photo by Paulo Silva on Unsplash

“Toxic” seems to be a hot topic word on the Internet, and I regularly see posts about “toxic people” or “toxic relationships." I suppose it’s really up to each individual to decide what’s toxic for them and what isn’t, but I would encourage a more severe definition than what I see thrown around online. For instance, just because someone has a different opinion than I do about something, no matter how passionate I am about the topic, I wouldn’t consider them to be toxic unless they delivered their opinion in a manner that demeaned me or others.

Toxic people and toxic relationships leave you feeling drained or keyed-up on negative emotions after each encounter. You might find that you are losing faith in yourself and others in your life; starting to doubt your ability to accurately judge situations and questioning your own sanity. Your self-esteem may have taken a pretty big hit as a result of something a toxic person said or did, and they don’t even seem to care. Worse, they may even be pleased by the results.

Romantic relationships, friendships, working relationships, and even family can be toxic. It’s not uncommon in toxic relationships to see power-play struggles, and often times these come in the forms of unrealistic boundaries and unfair ultimatums.

Most of us are probably familiar with the image of an abusive spouse dictating that their significant other cut off all contact with their family and friends. The idea of a “crazy girlfriend” who insists her boyfriend not speak to any other woman at all, maybe even family, and goes to great lengths to make sure this isn’t happening is another example. These are unrealistic boundaries, and if you find yourself attempting to set such boundaries, it may be time for you to evaluate your own intentions and rationalizations. If there is someone in your life who is creating these sorts of boundaries, it’s likely the relationship is toxic for you.

So, what about unfair ultimatums? Sorry, kids, “clean your room or you’re grounded” isn’t an unfair ultimatum. Ultimatums are those either/or and if/then statements we make to others in our lives; sometimes they’re direct, other times they’re only implied. Not all ultimatums are necessarily bad, but often times they are and can be quite damaging. Frequently, an unfair ultimatum threatens a dire consequence in response to a comparatively marginal, perceived or actual, offense such as, “If you don’t buy me the gift I want for Christmas, we’re getting a divorce.” Another example, one I have seen firsthand, which can be utterly devastating for everyone involved, “If you leave me, I swear to God, I’ll make sure you never see our kids again.”

If a relationship is truly toxic for you, perhaps it’s time to take a hard look at what it is you get from the current relationship and whether or not it’s truly worth maintaining. Do the pros outweigh the cons? My guess is that if you’re considering the relationship toxic, they probably don’t. I’m not saying this necessarily means that you should cut that person out of your life—though certainly you may decide to—but something needs to be done to remove the toxicity.

If it is safe for you to, you may consider having a heart to heart with the toxic individuals in your life. Using I statements, express to them the feelings you have in response to specific types of behaviors. Set your healthy, realistic boundaries and insist that they be respected. Attempt to work together to resolve the toxic behaviors; counseling may be necessary in some cases. If, however, the toxicity continues or is simply not something you think can be worked through (i.e. physical or sexual abuse), and you feel like the best thing you can do for yourself is to remove the person from your life, know this: It’s okay to say yes to you.

Time management

*Photo by Tristan Gassert on Unsplash

If you’re constantly rushing from one task to the next, always arriving late, never seem to have time for yourself, or biting off more than you can chew then congratulations. You’re not alone in the struggle. These anxiety-inducing, blood-pressure raising behaviors are a result of poor time management skills. The bad news: It can lead to both physical and mental health issues. The good news: You don’t have to live your life that way.

Time your commutes and then add a few extra minutes to that to give yourself wiggle room. Use the calendar application on your smartphone to schedule appointments, taking into consideration your commute. You can even set it to remind you of appointments in advance. Don’t have a smartphone? Buy a day planner and keep it with you, use a watch with an alarm to help keep you on schedule.

If you’ve already got a busy schedule, delegate the tasks you can to others. Don’t take on new tasks. Don’t agree to do things that take up more time than you can reasonably provide or which you can’t handle on your own. Most importantly, block out time to take care of yourself and treat that time just the same as you would any other obligation—don’t consider it negotiable flex time which you can use to schedule yet another errand or appointment instead.

Learning to Say Yes to You

*Photo by Jess Watters on Unsplash

A lot of times, we get so wrapped up in all of the little details of life that we forget to take care of ourselves. We tell ourselves that we can’t afford to buy the things we want (and sometimes even the things we need), or that there simply isn’t enough time to do the things we want (and sometimes even the things we need). Meanwhile, we’re taking on the burdens of everyone else around us, just piling them onto our own shoulders until we feel like we may just collapse under the weight.

Find a balance and learn to make yourself a priority.

If it’s not going to be the difference between keeping your electricity on and buying yourself that new Kindle Fire Tablet you’ve had your eye on, then why not buy the tablet? Spending money on yourself, within reason, is not a bad thing. Yes, even if it means choosing to buy yourself the tablet over buying your son the new bike he wants. Now, I’m not saying you should always choose to spend money to treat yourself instead of other people, but I am saying, spend money to treat yourself, too.

Want to stay at home and binge on Netflix or read a good book instead of going to your friend’s party? Stay home. Want to go the party? Get a babysitter for the night and go! Do the things that are going to bring you joy. Yes, sometimes in life we do things we don’t want to do in order to make someone else happy, and that’s okay.

Sometimes.

Just make sure you’re also doing some of the things that you want to do for yourself.