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Setting Boundaries: What Self-care Looks Like

While I started my medical journey when I was 8, it has taken nearly 30 years to understand the relationship between setting boundaries and one's well-being.

I spent most of my life focused on simply surviving. The notion of self-care wasn't something that I was afforded. That is, until 2022, when my health forced me to learn self-care.

It was then that I realized I didn't know how to give myself self-care and that it's more than just taking a bubble bath or taking a day to do nothing. I learned that self-care is much more than that; it requires ongoing attention.

What happened when I stopped focusing on self-care?

My physical and mental health were struggling, and I realized that they are so intertwined for me that if one suffers, so will the other. And while self-care doesn't cure either, it helps me find a balance and reduce my physical health flares and depression episodes.  

And so, I spent 2022 learning how to give myself self-care. But then that wasn't enough, and I kept cycling between managing well and having weeks of health flares and increased depression. After about the fourth cycle of this, I finally realized that before each episode, I had stopped focusing on my self-care. It wasn't until I refocused on self-care that my physical and emotional symptoms began to stabilize again.

Setting and maintaining boundaries

So, then what? How was I going to keep a constant focus on self-care? I was frozen in fear of cycling again, so I just didn't do anything. I stopped all activities as much as possible. I finally had to force myself to face the issue and really think about what would help me. And once I did that, I realized it comes down to setting and maintaining those boundaries.

I was going to have to set limits on myself – create healthy boundaries on what I was willing to do and not do. I think it's common for us with chronic illness to overextend ourselves, overdo on days we feel "good," but then we often have a symptom flare afterward – perhaps pain, low energy, etc.

It's hard to set and keep boundaries when we feel good and want to do all the things we couldn't do on our worse days. But that's exactly what I had to do.

Boundaries are a form of self-care

That's what I've done. I set boundaries; on weekends, I can either engage in a full day of activity on one of the days of the weekend while resting the other, or I can do one activity on both days for no more than half the day. This allows my body to recover enough to carry me through the next week.

I'm no longer pushing myself to do activities in the evenings during the week if I'm not absolutely feeling up to it. I am building self-care into my daily routines by setting these boundaries and taking the pressure off myself. By doing this, I also don't have to stress about whether I'm focusing enough on self-care because now it is built in. And the best part is it's working for me.

How do you set and maintain boundaries in your life? How do you practice self-care? Can you relate to the cycling that Jenny describes in her article? Tell us more in the comments below!

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