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Self-Care is Not About Having a Bath; Try Setting Healthy Boundaries Instead

Updated: Mar 30, 2021

By Laura Notton RSW, MSW

I hear many stories about how people are feeling stressed by their workplaces, competing responsibilities, relationships, health concerns, caring for others, money and the state of the world. When people do complain about feeling exhausted from stress, often a well-meaning friend will suggest they do some self-care. But what does ‘self-care’ really mean anyhow? (1).

What is Self-care?

The term ‘self-care’ is popping up everywhere these days in popular culture and we may imagine a person relaxing in a bathtub or getting a massage.  Older generations are often baffled by the concept of self-care and see it as self-indulgent or even downright selfish. People feeling chronically stressed by the pressure of living life may struggle to see how a relaxing bath is going to provide any relief.  Maybe that’s because we need to redefine what self-care ought to be. Don’t get me wrong, we all need to be looking after ourselves by eating right, exercising, taking time to relax, and getting enough sleep every night. But if we truly want to reduce stress in a meaningful way; we need to establish clear boundaries and stop apologizing for needing them. Having solid boundaries is vital for sustaining our overall mental and physical health in the long run. Many clients tell me they, “feel bad” when they need to set a boundary in a relationship or in the workplace. People say yes to things all the time that they don’t want to do. Setting limits is hard because often we don’t want to disappoint others.  Ultimately though, the things we agree to are shaping the direction of our life. Every time we are too afraid to assert our limits, we are setting ourselves up for more stress and feelings of resentment (2).

I sometimes ask clients to think of an expensive instrument and what is required in order for it to work properly – it needs to be protected, played and cared for. What if you started to view yourself like an expensive instrument too that needs to be preserved in order to function in the world. When we have poor boundaries, we are neglecting ourselves.

In fact, when we set healthy limits with ourselves, in relationships and in the workplace, it allows us to be more productive, feel more fulfilled and have more energy to care for others close to us or in our communities.

But what if you are unsure if you should say yes or no to something, Elizabeth Scott, a wellness coach and author, suggests that you ask yourself the following questions:

  1. If nobody would be disappointed, would you prefer to say yes or no?

  2. Looking at all the benefits and costs of this situation (both tangible and intangible), is it worth the effort to say yes?

  3. Would you feel comfortable posing the same request to someone else?

  4. If people would be upset with you if you said no, would you feel that they are coming from a respectful, reasonable place? (And, if not, might it be time to start setting some limits?)

  5. Is this a precedent you want to set? (And, if not, where would be a reasonable place to draw the line?)

  6. Think of someone you feel has very healthy boundaries—the kind you would like to emulate. How do you think they would respond in this situation? (3).

In addition, if you start to feel guilty at the thought of setting a boundary, then maybe it is easier to start calculating what it costs you mentally, emotionally and physically if you agree to something you don’t want to do. Can you afford to let that energy go elsewhere? (4).

Sigmund Freud said that, “being entirely honest with oneself is a good exercise”(5). So be entirely honest with yourself and others about your limits and don’t apologize for taking good care of yourself.

What’s Next?

Please book with Laura Notton to learn more about boundaries and other tools for feeling less stressed.

Or you can also join Laura’s Upcoming Stress Reduction Workshop that she will be running at Darou Wellness in the month of March.



Please note that content on this website is intended for informational purposes only, and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional, not is it meant to diagnose or treat a health problem, symptom or disease. Always speak with your physician or other healthcare professional before taking any medication or nutritional supplement, or using any treatment for a health problem. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem, contact your health care provider promptly. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking professional advice because of something you have read on this website. Information provided on this website DOES NOT create a doctor-patient relationship between you and any doctor affiliated with our website

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