I feel overwhelmed about 90 percent of the time. Whether it’s because work is stressful, or I’m not getting enough sleep, or that pesky To Do list keeps getting longer and longer, life often feels like it’s too much. I also have been known to set impossibly high standards for myself (ahem… perfectionism)—and I’m no stranger to effort (workaholic). I can go weeks without a meaningful interaction with a loved one. I’m just too busy. I feel great when I am on my yoga mat, practicing asana or meditation, but the stress returns as soon as I get off.
About a month ago, I came to a breaking point. I haven’t worked full-time in almost three months. Yet I was staying up past midnight, waking at 6 am and running all day long. I was exhausted physically and emotionally. I had a conversation with my godmother, and she reminded me of a book I had recommended to her many years ago. Written by two Christian psychiatrists, Boundaries is all about figuring out when—and how—to say “no.”
I did not grow up with healthy boundaries. Obedience in children was valued over self-expression, so there was no way I was ever saying no to my mom, aunts, or grandmothers. I didn’t know how to say no when I was molested as a child—and didn’t talk about it for many years. My sense of self was underdeveloped. I focused more on external achievements than internal growth. Living to please others is a pretty miserable way to be.
I first read Boundaries more than a decade ago. It was popular among the women in the church I attended at the time. I remember thinking it was great, but I wasn’t really in a place to rewrite my life based on learning to say no. That ability would come later
... after I lay in a hospital bed for two weeks dealing with an autoimmune disease
… after I tried to return to teaching, but was too fatigued
… after my husband moved out of our home
… after I had to go back to work to afford healthcare and take care of myself
I reached my limits, and the only way to continue living was to learn to say no. I had to focus on my self-care, and that meant many other things had to go to the wayside. I felt guilty a lot of the time, but my doctors and I agreed that I had no choice.
I have purchased a new copy of Boundaries, and convinced six of my closest friends in DC to read it along with me. It’s easy to say no to harmful or unpleasant things, like cleaning the house. The challenge for me is knowing when and how to say no to the good stuff… like participating a two-hour yoga workshop. I love practicing yoga, but my body is still hurting from a fall I took last month. An hour practice is more than I can handle. So, I sat out the rest of the class and told the instructor I was going to come late for the second day. I’m going to walk in late knowing that I’m doing what is best for my body and me. It is going to feel awkward and uncomfortable, knowing that my classmates won’t understand my decision and may sit in judgment of it. But if I pushed my body too hard, it would let me know once the seminar was complete. Rather than missing one yoga class, I might have to curtail my fitness activities for a week to provide enough recovery time.
I really don’t like saying no to the good stuff. I want to have and do it all, which leaves me over-scheduled and overwhelmed. This fall, as I open my yoga studio and launch my human and organizational development company, I want to enjoy every minute. I know that if I practice saying no, and more closely examine the choices I make, it’s more likely that fun times will lie ahead.
Like my letting go journey, I am sure there will be lots of fits and starts. I’m looking forward to sharing them—as well as all the lessons I learn—as I practice saying, “No.” I hope you will come along for the ride, and please share the ways in which you are setting boundaries in your lives.
Crystal Moore began her wellness quest in 2003 after being diagnosed with lupus. Her quest has led her to embrace yoga, faith, exercise, healthy eating, and relationships. Share her journey.