Today I would like to share with you my personal three tips, or reminders, that I use in order to protect my personal boundaries and to maintain my mental health.
Inspiration for this topic came to me a few weeks ago when I suddenly realized that I was getting overloaded with information.
I was getting ready for my morning run, and I usually either listen to a podcast when I go for a run or I like listening to the Nike Run Club guided runs. So that morning I was browsing through the podcast directory trying to find a podcast episode to listen to, and then I suddenly realized that I didn’t want to listen to any podcast that morning.
I felt like I was completely overloaded with all the different ideas and with all that information that I’d been receiving in the previous weeks.
Don’t get me wrong, I love to learn.
I love to listen to the educational podcasts, whether it’s about personal growth or business growth, or just something inspirational in general. When I do that I always come up with more ideas, more inspiration, more things that I want to do. It’s usually good and sometimes I really seek that.
Don’t get overloaded with information
But a few weeks ago I was in a stage of my life where I was trying to think through the direction I wanted to take Breverie next. So I needed to process all the ideas that I already had.
I did not need another idea.
In fact, I realized that if I listen to another podcast and if I come up with another set of ideas, it will just be harmful because it will confuse me. Instead, what I needed at that time was to just shut it down – turn off that flow of information, sit in silence and take the time to process all the ideas, all the information that was already in my head.
I think this is really important to recognize in ourselves because sometimes we’re just flooded with all the information that comes our way. It might be books or podcasts, we talk to people, we browse social media, we interact with friends and colleagues in day-to-day life.
We get all this information coming our way, and sometimes it’s useful, sometimes it’s not. But in order for us to be able to filter whether it is useful and whether it is really something that makes sense to us at this point in time, we need to take the time to slow down. We need to take a pause and think about it.
If we get constantly bombarded with all this information, we won’t have the time to analyze and process it.
Season 1: Open mind and exploration
I think it’s really important to be able to shift between three different seasons.
First season is the season of exploration. It is when you intentionally go out there and try new things – you want to see what’s out there, what’s available, what the world is talking about. You do it so that you can broaden your horizons, see what else is possible, open your mind to other opportunities and options that you might not be even thinking about right now.
Season 2: Sit in silence
But then you might be needing another season – season of sitting in silence. It is when you turn down that volume, that outside noise, and you take the time to process what’s already on your mind.
You use this time to decide what information is valuable, what advice to take, and what direction to go.
And this season is extremely important. Otherwise, you’ll constantly be pulled in all the different directions and you will never know your priorities or your truest desires – you won’t be able to distinguish them from desires and priorities of other people.
Season 3: Focused learning
And then there is the third season – season of learning. It is when you get very focused on learning one specific thing. And you become very selective about what it is that you want to learn, what books you want to read, what authors you want to explore, and what podcast you want to listen to.
Water tap metaphor
You can think about it as a water tap.
In the exploration season, you open it wide open – you let the water run as strongly as possibly. In the focus learning season, you turn it down a little bit – you focus on the specific thing that you want to learn. And then in the season of silence, you completely shut it off.
It is really important to know what season you are in right now and what it is that you need at this time. And once you know it, you can control that tap.
Don’t let one area of your life negatively affect others
Another reminder is keeping your life areas separately so that they don’t affect each other negatively.
The most obvious example is as follows. You get stressed at work, then you come home and you raise your voice at your kids or your spouse because you are so overwhelmed that you don’t have patience to deal with all these home-related things.
And I’ll be honest with you – I am still trying to figure out how to do it.
I do notice that I’m much more likely to get impatient with Dasha and to raise my voice at her if something stressful happened at work. So I am definitely still working on it and it is something I have to constantly remind myself about.
But I wanted to share one story with you which gave me an interesting insight.
I used to not just get stressed about things at work, but to really take things personally. Whenever something went wrong at work, I would be the first one to take full responsibility and to blame myself for doing something wrong.
I’ve always been a responsible person, and any time something went sideways I would think, “I did something wrong, I should’ve done something better”.
“Leave work at work”
It was probably the year of 2009 or 2010. I was a young, not very experienced project manager, and we were working on a project for a big client when suddenly some issue occurred on that project. Everybody was running around trying to fix that issue. I was stressed and frustrated.
We did kinda half resolve that issue, but I knew that there was going to be more in the upcoming week to deal with. It was Friday afternoon, time for people to go home, and I remember a colleague of mine, my superior manager, his name was Jason, told me, “Okay bye Olena, have a great weekend. I’ll see you on Monday.”
And I said to him, “Jason, how can you be so calm knowing what’s happening with this client right now?? How can it be so easy to go home and just not think about it? Tell me about it!”
And his response was, “You know, you will need to learn how to leave work stress at work because otherwise you just won’t be able to stay sane. You’ll go crazy. You have to learn this skill.”
And it made me thinking.
I knew what he meant, but I still could not understand how I can actually implement it in my life – how to actually stop stressing about things.
And then I forgot about this conversation.
A few years later, in 2017, I had just moved to the United States and I was working on a project for a media client and we were preparing for a very big release.
I was working out of a Los Angeles office and my team was in Eastern Europe, so I had to wake up very early to catch up with them. During the day, the client was stressing out a lot because of this upcoming release. There were already a few delays – we were probably a month late already. I was still adjusting to my new lifestyle in Los Angeles.
It was just too much to handle.
I was getting so stressed, so overwhelmed, I was barely sleeping. I would come home feeling tired, and then Dasha would throw tantrums because she was probably adjusting to our new life as well.
I felt like I was losing it.
I was really on the edge. And I remember, one day I woke up and it was like something just clicked in my head. Something changed. I stopped caring in a way. Don’t get me wrong, I still cared about the work we were doing and I still wanted to have this release done (and we eventually did).
But somehow I suddenly stopped taking it personally. I stopped blaming myself for everything that was going wrong in the world.
I don’t even know how that happened, and I believe that it was my mind’s protection system that just ignited itself.
At some point, my mind decided, “Okay we’ve got to change something here because otherwise, Olena, you’re going to go insane.” So my mind did that for me, it clicked with me and then I remembered that conversation that I had with Jason seven years prior. I had this a-ha moment, “So that’s what it is! That’s how you do that! That’s what he meant!”
Jason’s advice was not to stop caring about work. It was about taking things personally.
He meant that work is work. And that nothing bad will happen if you leave your work stress at work.
So now I always remind myself that whatever negative happens in one part of my life, I don’t have to carry it to other parts of my life.
And when my work day is over, I try to free up my mind as much as I can before I start interacting with my family. I don’t want them to suffer because of something work related – this work related thing can wait.
You are not responsible for other people’s feelings
And here is the third reminder.
We are responsible for our own feelings, thoughts, emotions, and decisions, but we are not necessarily responsible for other people’s decisions, thoughts, or feelings.
Let me explain.
I don’t mean the situations when we do something that hurts other people. In this case, of course, the only right thing to do is to take full of responsibility, apologize and make things right.
But sometimes we try to help people feel better. Sometimes we feel like it’s our responsibility to save people, to do something that will improve the quality of their life. The irony is that in most cases we are already doing enough, but we still feel like we need to do more.
Pessimism is a choice
I had a colleague several years ago. Brilliant guy, great professional, good friend of mine. We worked very closely, we were great working together and we would start pretty much every day with a quick chat, whether in-person or online.
There was just one issue. He had a rather pessimistic attitude toward many things. I remember he was working toward a promotion and he would often complain that people don’t understand how much he’s contributing to the company, how much he’s doing. He would say that he doesn’t feel appreciated.
Something was always off. The world was never perfect. Something was always not exactly right.
And I always tried to cheer him up, and during our morning chats I would always try to say something encouraging to support him. To be honest, those chats turned into the mini daily therapy sessions that I was providing to him, and I didn’t even realize that.
I didn’t even understand what was happening, but in reality I was beginning to absorb his way of looking at things and I was beginning to see the world through a more pessimistic lens.
And it wasn’t until a year later I moved to the United States and we stopped working together, that I realized how much more freedom I had now. I realized how I could again start seeing the world in a much brighter way.
I realized that my friend’s energy was draining me.
I was trying to help him, but looking back now I don’t even think he needed my help. I think it was just the way he was living his life and it was me trying to feel better by helping him. But the truth is, I wasn’t doing myself any good by doing that.
Keep hope or lose hope?
Now I want to tell you another story.
As you probably know, there is war in Ukraine. I am from Ukraine and my family is still in Ukraine. Because of the war, it is very hard for me to go see my parents these days. I was chatting with my mom a few months ago, we were talking about when we could possibly see each other, and she said something along the lines of, “I’m losing hope that I will ever see you again, that I will ever see Dasha again. You’re so far away and we just will never see each other.”
I told her, “Mom, let’s keep hope. Let’s keep hoping that things will get better,” and she was just saying, “No, I have no hope. I don’t know how to stay hopeful anymore.”
It made me very sad.
After that call, I felt really down. I felt like I was letting her down, I felt like I was doing something wrong. That conversation left me almost in tears.
And then another story, which is also related to the war and my family.
Not many people know this, but my brother-in-law, my sister’s husband, served in the Ukrainian military when the war started. In March of last year, he got captured by the Russian military. He was sent to prison, and then in May he was sentenced to death.
Until May, my sister got some very intermittent connection with him. She could hear from him maybe once a month. After May, there was nothing. There was silence. Nobody knew if the execution had happened, or when it would happen, or where it would happen. Nobody had any idea. My sister tried to contact all possible international organizations to find out what was going on with her husband, and again there was nothing. She couldn’t find out anything.
No one knew if he was still alive.
And still, she had hope.
She stayed hopeful that one day he would come back home. Honestly, I don’t even know how she handled that. And the most amazing thing is that in September, on the date of their second wedding anniversary, she found out that he was exchanged and he was free!
When I found out about it I couldn’t stop crying. It was the best news of the year for me. I don’t even understand what it meant for her!
But here is the main point of my story:
She had all the possible reasons in the world to lose hope. Probably 90% of people, if they were in her situation, would have lost hope.
But she didn’t.
She kept hoping that one day her husband would come back home. She kept her apartment clean and ready for him to come back to because she knew that one day he would, and she wanted him to come back to a nice, clean place that is ready for him. And he did. And it was amazing.
I want to finish this blog post on this beautiful, hopeful, inspiring note:
It is up to us to choose how we want to live our life – what we want to believe in, what feelings we want to experience, and what decisions we want to make.
No matter what the circumstances are, it is up to us to either give up or stay strong – and get even stronger throughout those circumstances.