After what was maybe the worst November and December of my work life from a mental health standpoint, I could not wait for the office to close for the holidays. Even though I was working remotely most of the time, I had been working hours that are not sustainable for anyone long term – I needed a break. My family needed me to take a break. The entire world probably needed a break (2020, y’all). I was doing the very best I could, but I was at my limit. I felt it. I was irritable, cried at the drop of a hat, had no patience with my kids and even less with my husband (shoutout to my husband for being an absolute saint). Something had to give.
I told myself I was taking some time OFF the week of Christmas. I needed to breathe. I needed to relax. I needed no one to need me for a few hours. I needed to take care of me.
I spent the first few days of my “break” putting out fires at work and making lists of things to do once I was back from my “break.” I answered phone calls in between wrapping presents, sent emails while watching Christmas movies with my family, and pushed back a visit to the zoo with my kids because a client told me that a certain, non-emergent item needed to be done that second. On Christmas Eve I made sure to make myself available to finalize a settlement before celebrating Christmas with my mom.
The entire week my chest was tight with anxiety. The feeling was impossible to shake, which made it impossible to relax. I was in a persistent state of panic and there was nothing I could do about it (and I’m on anti-anxiety medication and regularly see a therapist—the feeling would not dissipate). I knew this was not healthy.
At last, though, by the end of the day Christmas Eve, people started to leave me alone. I felt the tension begin to subside. Maybe, I thought, just maybe, by the time Sunday came around the tension would be gone and I could get myself into the right frame of mind to knock out a few things on Monday.
Then, it happened.
On Christmas. On. CHRISTMAS.
It was not emergent, and something that could have been dealt with on Monday.
Still, that email was enough to send that anxiety and tension back through the roof. All the progress I’d made, gone. I started to cry.
Why would someone email me regarding work on Christmas?
I immediately looked at my husband.
I texted a girlfriend. Same response.
This is not healthy.
It was in that moment, and with a little push from my a colleague that I took my work e-mail off my personal phone. Why was I even looking at my work email on Christmas?
Now, I’ve carried two phones for about a year. At first it was a little annoying carrying two phones around everywhere, but over time it gave me the framework for establishing BOUNDARIES. I have one cell phone for work, and one for personal use. I don’t share my personal number with work contacts and vice versa (unless a personal contact wants to hire me and then they go through the work phone for all work-related matters). I initially started doing this when my oldest daughter was 2 because it takes children ZERO time to learn how to lock your device for an extensive amount of time. Up until Christmas, I still kept my work email on both phones “just in case.”
Well, “just in case” allowed clients and colleagues alike to break down my boundaries and take away any time I had away from work.
It allowed them to do this, because I allowed it to happen.
Did the sender of the work email I received on Christmas intend for me to cry and spin into an anxiety attack on receipt? Probably not. Actually, I’m sure not. I really like this particular person that sent this particular email. But by keeping my work email on my personal phone, where it automatically pushes to notify me of new emails, there it was.
Immediately, my new goal became learning how to set boundaries. First step—get my work email OFF my personal phone. Next step, only check my work phone when “working.”
The first 10 minutes after making the decision to take my work email off my personal phone were probably the hardest. I added it back twice just to see if that same person responded.
But then I reminded myself—IT IS CHRISTMAS. While I was at it, I also reminded myself:
- I am allowed to take a break.
- I am not required to respond.
- I need to take care of myself.
- Boundaries are healthy (also, why don’t I have any?).
Your profession or daily life may look different than mine, but the message doesn’t change—set. those. boundaries. You need them. Whether it be with a job, a friend, or family member—boundaries are healthy.
It’s now been about a month since I removed my work email from my personal phone. No one has been mad at me that I didn’t respond until next day, nothing has come up that couldn’t be handled, and at least 30 times after venting about my November and December a superior has reminded me that I need to take care of myself. Works seems… fine. Was I putting this stress…on myself?
Now that I don’t really miss the email on my personal phone, I’ve started putting my work phone away when I’m not working. Each day it takes discipline to leave it alone, but I’m getting better. I’ve even stopped checking email right when I wake up. Instead, I wait until I’m ready to start my workday, so I can sit down and focus. I feel better. Hopefully, this is just the beginning of setting healthy boundaries in my life, so I can be there with clarity for my family. So if you were waiting for a sign, here it is. Set those boundaries, mama, whatever that may look like for you. It’s one of the best things I’ve done for myself, and I know it will be for you, too!