It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Stress-Mess

Our diaries are rammed, and our heads are full
evgenyatamanenko via Getty Images

If ever there was a time of year when we’re juggling all the balls, it’s right now. All around us, there’s a rambunctious enthusiasm for the festive shenanigans and the ‘New Year, New You’ crowd lobbies for us to commit to changing ourselves in every which way. It’s easy to get swept along by the unadulterated fervour to find ourselves over-committed and with an empty energy well.

We also rue the person who came up with the line ‘It’s a Time for Giving’ because it sets a tone, a benchmark for all the things we should be doing, could be doing. Those ‘shoulds’ and ‘coulds’ are the external pressures and expectations we feel, and they weigh heavy.

We try to give more, be more, but we can’t give what we don’t have. Running on empty isn’t sustainable nor admirable.

With the frazzle and comes a host of unpleasant and uncomfortable thoughts and feelings; guilt, beating ourselves up, dropping balls, feeling disengaged and disconnected. Self-care becomes critical, and yet, because we feel so time-poor, it’s typically the first thing to fly out of the window among the sea of social engagements, work commitments, family tradition, and all the other aspects of life that pelt themselves our way.

Self-care can be simple; we don’t need to block out a chunk of time to feel its transformative magic. There are things we can do, and be mindful of, which take micro-moments and micro-actions.


The crux of self-care is our boundaries; the physical, emotional and mental lines that dictate to ourselves, and to those around us, what we will and will not allow or tolerate.

Hallmarks of wonky boundaries are feeling resentful, overwhelmed, angry, frustrated, uncomfortable, lost and adrift. We can all pinpoint a time when we’ve said ‘yes’ to someone, only to wonder then how we can back out of it – that’s a wonky boundary at play; we had the opportunity to say ‘no, ’ but we didn’t.

We owe it to ourselves to decide what our limits are and to communicate and assert those boundaries. It’s very likely too that we will experience resistance from others when we assert our boundaries, and we may feel resistance when other people assert theirs. They work both ways; we must respect the boundaries of others as much as they must respect ours.

It’s never too late to straighten some of those wonky boundaries, but it’s not always easy – in fact, it can feel downright awkward at times because we like to be liked, we enjoy the approval of others, and we don’t like feeling as though we’re letting someone down. We do though, have a choice, we do have options. We can back out of the things; we really want to back out of. We’re allowed to change our minds; we’re allowed to choose ourselves, we’re allowed to make the right decisions for us and our families. We’re allowed to make up our own rules as to what does, and doesn’t serve us.

Tune into ‘Radio You’

Our boundaries will never be truly healthy and helpful, if we don’t ever understand what our needs are. We all have needs; the things which are necessary for us to feel healthy and happy.

But we don’t always heed our needs. Or even know what they are.

Of all our relationships, the one we have with ourselves is usually the most under-rated and neglected; It shapes the world around us, dictates the tone of the relationships we have with others, and influences all our decisions.

We’re led to believe that making it all ‘me, me, me’ is selfish, but it’s the complete opposite: it builds the foundation for which those other relationships are built. Without being in tune with what we need, we’re shooting in the dark; we’re making uneducated guesses and hoping all will be well. We’re handing over our power to others. In prioritising our needs, we’re less swayed by the expectations and societal pressures we feel.

Our view on who we are is an inherited one. It’s been shaped by the people we’ve grown up with, and it takes time for us to unpin those views and get to know who we truly are, which evolves as we evolve. When we’ve felt like a round pin in a square hole, we probably have been a round pin in a square hole – trying to fit where we feel we ought to be, rather than who we want to be.

We can save ourselves a great deal of stress, and regret, by heeding what feels right, or wrong, for us. How decisions feel in our gut but also, understanding the ‘why’ of our ‘yes’ or ‘no.’

Press pause

We just don’t stop, do we? Our diaries are rammed, and our heads are full. We keep on trucking on, until we can no longer do that. And that’s the scary thing, at some point, we have to stop; we’re not fuelled by ever-ready batteries which can be replaced.

Rest is vital, but it feels like a luxury. Somehow, we’ve gotten ourselves into a right pickle. Glorification of ‘busy’ is everywhere and if we’re not keeping up, then we feel as though we’re flailing. We slice more and more time from sleep, we rush from one thing to the next, and we feel guilty if we should stop, even for a minute.

We can’t keep living this way because there are consequences. Short-term, those consequences are stress, strains, and exhaustion. Long-term, those consequences are ill health which will force a stop.

When we press pause, even for a short spell, we’re allowing all sorts of magic to happen. We’re ceasing the demands we place on ourselves and allowing our brains to catch-up, to compute the goings on of the day. When we truck through the day, with no chance to catch our breath, we go to bed feeling wired and tired.

We can counter this by taking our full lunch hour (preferably away from our desk), building in regular pauses to our day, unplugging from technology, taking our full annual leave, prioritising leisure time, getting enough sleep and silencing alerts on our smartphone: all of which help to slow the pace and give our bodies, and minds, a chance to regenerate, restore and recoup.

The Self-Care Project: How to let go of frazzle and make time for you by Jayne Hardy, published by Orion Spring, is out now.