I am writing to you from Washington State, where I live and work. When I teach workshops on boundaries, I talk about boundaries for ordinary experiences and boundaries for extreme challenges.
COVID-19 is an extreme challenge.
Here is the framework for navigating Extreme Boundary Challenges:
1) As the challenge gets bigger or harder, your self-care must increase. If you have not been great at doing self-care, an extreme challenge will drain you physically and emotionally very quickly. So you must refuel with self-care practices often. It is essential.
2) Make your self-care schedule first, not last.
3) Define your responsibilities. During extreme challenges, new responsibilities get added to your life. Who and what are you taking care of? Make a list. (Family, friends, clients, patients, staff) Your responsibilities will grow. During an extreme challenge it is okay to stop taking care of certain responsibilities and prioritize. You can’t do it all! If you add in more, you must take some things out. Take time to reorganize. Decide what responsibilities are a yes and what is a no for now.
4) Be a spider and create a web of resources to help you during this time. While many places are temporarily closed, there are many people making resources available online. It might be very scary to find yourself needing help. During extreme challenges, everyone needs help and you may need to use new resources. These resources may not be working well or available yet. This is normal during an extreme challenge. Ask others for help using new resources. Be kind to people who are helping. They too may be stressed, overloaded, and overworked.
5) For the COVID-19, stay connected to others. You may be doing this by phone or online, but join in with others. You can isolate and not be lonely. Phone or online talking is better than text. Text is missing a dimension that helps people feel each other. A voice or online talk is much better for communication. You may also be experiencing too much communication, and need a break from your phone. Quiet is important.
6) Finances. During any extreme boundary challenge, I ask people to pay attention to their finances. It can be scary to look at your real numbers. But please do not turn away from your finances. It helps to make a budget and figure out what you need to get by right now. It helps to keep your eye on your financial responsibilities. There may be things you can’t afford to donate to or help with. You may be in a position where you can help others financially and share your resources. But either way, it’s important to do a reality check and know what you can and can’t afford right now.
7) If you live with a partner, discuss all responsibilities you are both facing and make a plan together. Do you have elder family members that are dependent on you? Children at home? Discuss all priorities together. Try to make a plan together about what is important and how responsibilities can be shared. It is easy for partners to get angry and feel like their partner is addressing things that don’t matter. It is easy for a partner to feel like they are not being heard. Stop and talk about what matters. Don’t go to the store and buy hundreds of dollars in toilet paper without talking to each other about what your household needs really are.
8) You are in charge of your wellbeing and safety. COVID-19 is a pressure cooker of decisions that leaders need to make. An overwhelmed exhausted leader may not be thinking clearly. Someone who has been highly stressed prior to COVID-19 may be drained and going without adequate rest. If you are working for someone that is making poor decisions, you may need to stand up and make safer healthier decisions for yourself. Please pay attention, look for reliable information, and stay safe. You need to establish a boundary if you are being put in danger. If you get overworked or exhausted, you need to rest. You have a personal capacity. You need to speak up and watch out for your team. YOU NEED TO TAKE BREAKS from the challenge.
9) Though none of us have experienced COVID-19, all of you have experienced extreme challenges before. You have gone without rest. You have been at a loss when looking for a resource. And you did find your way through. You have taken care of family. You have moved. You have cut back on expenses. You have reshuffled. You have accepted help. You have given help to others. You know many things from those past experiences. You have lots of skills and can count on them.
10) In summary, increase your self-care, define your responsibilities, define your finances, create a web of resources you need or can share with others, pay attention, and trust that you have some strong abilities from past challenges.