The Mentally Healthy Lifestyle

Truthfully, I wasn’t sure whether to place this on my spiritual blog or this one, but since this does have to do with an aspect of the healthy coastal lifestyle, I opted for here. (Not to say I won’t share it on my author/minister page.) Often I have highlighted the interrelationship between physical health and mental health, believing–and the research backs this up–that maintaining a strong mental health will have a positive impact on one’s physical health. Yes, you read that correctly. So frequently do we hear about how exercise helps combat a plethora of mental health issues–everything from anxiety to depression to ADHD–but we don’t often learn about the converse of that.

I am finding myself in a situation where I am helping someone while they tend to other things. The understanding is that there is a time limit on this arrangement. Recently, however, I have become concerned that this person isn’t tending to those other things. I was sharing this with my Sunday morning Bible study group, and one of my friends there suggested this time limit may extend. I replied with a firm, “No, it won’t.” Another friend chimed in with, “But what about ________?” I said, “This is going to sound cruel and callous, but that’s not my problem.”

My friends get me. You see, in my battle against my anxiety, I’ve had to say about certain things, “That’s not my problem.” I have my own problems–anxiety, arthritic knees, entrepreneurship during a global pandemic and an economic recession–and I have those things that I may list under “problems” that aren’t problems at all (family, managing the household, homeschooling, revisions on my book) but are things that require my time, energy, and attention. In these respects, they’re responsibilities. It’s enough to keep my plate pretty full all the time without adding someone else’s problems or responsibilities to the pile. It’s just simply good boundaries.

Along with setting and maintaining these boundaries on my time and energy, I have also backed away from negative and/or toxic people, as well as negativity in social media and the main stream media. That negativity and toxicity builds up like arsenic in the system. For a while you may feel fine. Then you start feeling a little sick, a little off. Then you get really sick and die. Even if it’s not physical death (though sometimes it is), too much negativity and toxicity can kill a part of our mental or spiritual health.

Yesterday, I decided to polish off my week with a walk. This also marks around the 4th anniversary of the beginning of the Healthy Coastal Lifestyle. (Yea!) It was cool and comfortable, just a titch cooler than the tank and shorts called for, but… Myeh, whatever. I’d build up my own heat, I figured. The purpose of the walk was two-fold: (1) cardio exercise, and (2) knee strengthening work. The screenshot above shows a pretty embarrassing average speed; it’s usually a bit higher than that. Some of the loss of speed was warming my right knee up. But that wouldn’t account for much. Then I remembered Dave. And John and Amanda. And… well, let’s just say that half the neighborhood was outside and I’m an extrovert.

I only chose to avoid negativity and toxicity to preserve my mental health. Like so many things we do, though, there were unintended side benefits. In liberating myself of those things and by refusing to take on other people’s responsibilities, I have freed myself for absolutely marvelous positivity to enter my life. In choosing not to allow extra responsibilities and negatives to burden my life, I have created space for unmitigated joy and happiness. This became glaringly apparent to me yesterday evening while I was walking.

I was on my second lap through the neighborhood when I saw a familiar little dog with a couple. We thought the male half of this couple–a nice guy who’d lived down the street from us for 11 years until last week–had moved away. Yesterday I found out he’d reconnected with a lady who lives on another street in our neighborhood and moved into her house after getting married three weeks ago. I spoke to an older neighbor whose grass had gotten uncharacteristically long, leading me to fear either his wife or he had had some health crisis. He assured me they were fine after I assured him I wasn’t at all being critical of his lawn, that I had been worried.

I felt more than just an endorphin rush from this walk. I felt the buzz from seeing and speaking to people. More, though, I felt joy. When I saw my neighbor with his new bride and dog (just the bride is new), I felt genuine joy for their happiness. I don’t know this guy for more than just a casual hello and a brief chat, but they were both radiating bliss. It wasn’t hard to pick up on that, and it spread. Because I had purged negativity and toxicity from my life, and because I choose not to add to my responsibilities, I had so much room in me to feel this positive interaction, as well as all the others in which I’d engaged during my walk.

I returned from my walk nicely warmed from the exercise and the interactions. When I told my family about our neighbor and his big life change, that happiness spread throughout our home. That experience really brought home for me how much one person’s mood affects the entire rest of the family.

So, to recap… I make choices that affect my mental health in positive ways. Those choices leave me open not only to feeling less anxious or depressed, but also all the way happier. These wonderful feelings spread to my entire household. They then also feel happier. It looks like my choices not only help me but indirectly help others as well, and that’s a solid win.

Hard Business Lessons

I’m a great business owner.  I’m far from perfect, and I certainly make mistakes.  But I’ve got a good deal of experience behind me, enough that people come seeking my advice.

Know what ticks me off?  When a customer gets under my defenses and stomps all over my boundaries – and I let them!  I’m ashamed just admitting that this happened to me, but it did.  I want to share with you the learning opportunities I had from this experience.

First, a little background.  When this wholesale customer came on board, I was making cold process-method soap, as well as melt & pour novelty soaps in various shapes.  When the customer wanted some of both kinds of soaps, I had no problem making and selling them.  When she wanted to add other novelty soaps, I shrugged and said, “OK, sure.”  Then something happened.  First, she wanted soaps in shapes and designs that simply don’t exist, and she didn’t seem to understand that I couldn’t purchase a mould that doesn’t exist.  Second, I changed; something within me changed.  These soaps that I used to enjoy making were now making me miserable.  They took forever to make, were really vulnerable to moisture in the air and dings, and I had to clutter my work space with my wrapping system, because it’s important to wrap these almost as soon as they come out of the mould.

You know what?  Life’s too short to be miserable doing anything.  I own my business and I work for myself, not for any of my customers.  This means I choose what I offer and what I make.  It took a variety of very unpleasant emotions for me to buck up, pull up my big girl panties, and put a stop to all this unhappiness.

And I did.  First, I chose not to let this customer dictate my day’s agenda.  She wanted me to drop everything – taking care of my younger, teaching my older, maintaining my schedule and goals for a particular day – to do something for her that would take an hour or two of two hours I had left to meet my goals for this day.  I promised I’d make what she asked a priority for the next day.  This wasn’t an urgent thing for me.  The task was out of my hands and out of my control.  (That was a win for me.)  She didn’t communicate with me at all once I’d fulfilled my commitment to her; she was mad that I’d set and maintained that boundary.

Second, on the urging and encouragement of my awesome business colleagues, I set new policies in place.  They, apparently, were tired of hearing me talk about how much I hate making these novelty soaps.  I drafted a memo outlining my new policies regarding the novelty soaps.  Following the practice and teachings of one of my grad school deans, I sat on it for 48 hours, sending it out yesterday morning.  Then things started feeling “off.”  The customer tried to manipulate me, but I could fall back on my company’s check policy.

Finally, I decided it was time to fire the customer.  This isn’t ideal to have to do in any situation, but to everything there is a season.  With resolution, I sent a professional, polite, brief email stating my intent to dissolve the business relationship.

My mistakes in brief…

  • I allowed a customer to dictate what products I would make and sell.
  • I didn’t set boundaries against the text message blitzes I’d endure during my working times, teaching times, and late at night.
  • I didn’t listen to my gut soon enough.

The take-aways…?

    • Have policies in place.  These policies should outline what products you’ll sell, which products, if any, will be exclusive, and policies regarding payments.  This way, instead of arguing with a customer, you can simply say, “It’s a company policy.”
    • There are some great apps out there (I now have one on my phone) that will block texts and calls with an automated message, and you can write your own custom message and decide during which hours texts will be blocked and which numbers will be blocked.  This saves me much anxiety in the evenings, so I know if my phone chimes, it’s a soccer coach or friends.
    • Some people rely purely on logic and rational thought processes to the exclusion of everything else.  Our guts – those visceral feelings we get – are there for a reason.  Once that starts flaring (and it’s not heartburn), we need to attend to our visceral feelings, analyze them, and take action.

Raising a glass of sweet white wine to ends of chapters and beginnings of new chapters
Raising a glass of sweet white wine to ends of chapters and beginnings of new chapters

The dissolution of the business relationship didn’t exactly go smoothly, and it wasn’t particularly pleasant, but it’s over and done.  I spent my evening celebrating the lessons and relief with my family and friends, and I capped the celebration with a glass of wine and some dark chocolate.

Striking the Work-Life Balance as an Entrepreneur

You just know it would work out this way.  Three weeks of fall break, three weeks of fun, canning, movie watching, and not a peep out of my large order customers.  We’re talking crickets, folks.  Crick-ets!  Days before it ended, orders started rolling in right and left.  What???  Now?!  And it’s not just that orders started rolling in, but they came in with announcements of preorders.  Three weeks of “Oh my gosh, I’m so bored!” now has given way to some serious hustle, right as we’re resuming our second term of school.

This past weekend was especially busy as I worked to fulfill last week’s orders.  The biggest thing is, though, I wanted to clean off the dinette table.  Two batches of soap, lotion bars, and lip balms, and there wasn’t room for a dirty thought on that table, let alone room for a person or four to sit and dine.  In the midst of all this, I really want to put forward with the great cleaning-before-decorating thrust, as well as begin our holiday cooking.  My girls like helping me cook, but the younger one, especially, just wants to sit down with me and watch a movie, read, or snuggle.  It’s so hard finding the time to do everything while still attending to the family as they need, but over the years, I’ve developed my own tricks for making this work for us.

Lists.  Lists help me visualize what tasks I need to accomplish in what order.  I’m a bit obsessive in my list making, thinking always in a linear fashion:  A then B then C then D…  And D can’t happen until C happens.  Lists are a great way for anybody to square up their work priorities, but it seals the deal when I’m trying to balance work and family life.

Working ahead.  When it’s at all possible, I take an hour or two at a time to knock out something ahead of time.  Maybe it’s a batch of soap that’s that customer’s standard order.  Or perhaps it’s 100 tubes of lip balm for this customer.  Those tasks don’t take a huge amount of time, but doing them sooner rather than later can free up a huge amount of pressure and stress later.

Prioritizing my day.  When it comes to my day, what’s most important to me?  Usually it’s breakfast, shower, exercise, and the girls’ education.  Then what comes next?  Production, newsletters, blog posts, marketing, website work.  Somewhere in the midst of this comes a huge pair of brown eyes and a sweet voice saying, “Mom, can we _____?”  No, not right now… Wait.  What.  Is.  Important.  To.  Me?  Is it crucially, vitally necessary that I change my slider on my website right now, or can it wait til tonight after the girls are in bed?  The point at which I start making my business more important than my family is the point where I need to give up the business.  The business will be around a while, but my daughters won’t be little girls forever.

Taking time away from the business.  This was probably the hardest decision for me to make.  Once upon a time, I was all about doing everything possible for my business and my customers, regardless of the sacrifices I had to make.  I started last Christmas when I shut down my business for two weeks.  I still received large orders from customers, but all that was required of me at those times was a quick email assuring them I’ll process their orders when we reopen.  Once I made this decision, I realized it was the best one I could have made for my stress level and my family.

No.  Such a small word with such great power!  Actually, I say “no” by saying “yes.”  To the last-minute request to add soaps to an order…  “Sure, and I will add two days to your order processing time.”  “I’ll happily take care of that after my vacation.”  “I’ll process your order when we reopen early in January.”  These boundaries are my way of saying, “No, I won’t let you make further demands on my time.”  Work Me ends here, and Family Me begins here, and Family Me wants to savor this time.

Family Me is now in high demand, so Work Me has to clock out for a while.

Rewards of Limitations

It’s one thing to tell myself that I won’t do an event.  I can list the reasons why it’s a good idea to skip it.  I can identify all the affirmations of the decision.  The real test comes, however, in the moment:  How will I feel knowing the event is happening and I’m not doing it?

Friday, the feeling that I was doing the right thing in not vending Saturday’s event continued.  I felt so relieved!  I commented to Mom later that that must have been what she felt the first day after she retired.  She commented, “It feels like a huge weight has been lifted off of you.”  Yes!!!  That’s it exactly!  Friday, the girls and I ran some errands around town, and I know I had the biggest, dopiest smile on my face.  We went to the bank to withdraw some money.  The teller took my check and started pulling out bills.  Then she looked at the check again.  She looked at me with some confusion.  Then she looked at the check yet again.  She said, “You usually get more money than this.  Are you doing the festival?”  I replied, “No, which is why I’ve got this huge smile on my face.”  It was getting almost comical.

Friday night, I was sitting on the sofa knitting and watching TV with the Swirl God.  I said, “You see this?  You see what I’m doing?  Or, more specifically, what I’m not doing?”  He didn’t quite get it.  I said, “I’m sitting.  And knitting.  And watching reruns of TV shows I missed the first time.  I’m not sitting at the table labeling a bunch of stuff.  And later I’ll be heading to bed at a decent time, and maybe I’ll even sleep in in the morning.”  My best friend who usually waits up with me while I’m doing my last-minute show prep was also looped into the giddiness.

The day of the festival arrived, and I did, in fact, sleep in.  I pretty much slept until the start of the festival.  Then it was on!  I made cinnamon roll waffles for breakfast, then I started potatoes for potato salad.  Long story short, I made potato salad and a batch of oat bran zucchini chocolate chunk muffins before lunch, and made a batch of pickles afterwards.  The girls and their dad went to the festival, but they were back in about an hour; it was just too hot.  By all accounts, attendance was down and people weren’t parting with their money easily.  It also seems like it was another one like last year when it died 4 hours before the end.

Yummy sandwich slices!

It felt a little bad not being at the festival, not seeing one of my private label customers (another vendor), and potentially not serving my repeat customers.  But only a little.  I got over it.  It just felt so good all weekend!  There was the happy, relieved feeling of all week.  There was the family time before the girls scattered for the week.  There was having the energy to hang in until late with my best friend after his mom got hurt.  There was the simple sweetness of celebrating Father’s Day on Saturday with a movie and a special dinner.  And then there was Father’s Day itself, the first in a few years where I actually got to see my dad on Father’s Day.

Telling myself no to this event was risky; I stood to lose a good deal of potential revenue.  I gained so much more, though, far more than that money is worth.

The Joy of Saying No, pt. 1

When I was in divinity school, I studied how to place personal boundaries on my time, my commitments, and my space.  I also learned how to set boundaries on the amount of crap I’d put up with.  Manipulation?  Nope, I’m choosing not to accept that.  Heartfelt pleadings for me to do something for you when my schedule is already overloaded?  Nuh uh.  Not my problem.  Sure, I pissed some people off, but they got used to my “no” and soon grew to recognize that I could still be in relationship with them without the psychological game playing.  (I mean, seriously, who has time for that when you’re in graduate school, working, and raising a family?)

Grumpy Cat No
Love me some Grumpy Cat!

While it is no longer hard at all for me to tell people “no,” I have had a really hard time enforcing my boundaries when it comes to my business.  I’ll work long hours on production or media, or I’ll burn the midnight oil to get a zero-hour order processed for a customer and out the next day.  The transformation seemed to come all at once.  A few days before Christmas, a private label customer sent an order to me.  I informed her that I was closed for the holidays and gave her a specific date when I would begin to process her order.  Ahhh…  Telling myself that it was OK not to work proved to be incredibly liberating to me.

More recently, another private label customer and I were discussing her most recent order, which was all ready to go in the mail.  My agenda for the following day included taking my car to be serviced before heading to the beach with my girls.  As she asked for add-ons to her order – none of which I had expected or had ready – I said, “It’s almost 11:00.  I’m not going to do that tonight.”  She’d temporarily forgotten one part that would have had me up for a while later and agreed to add those into her next order.  Really, truly, I have amazing, understanding customers!!!

In both of these cases, I’d had to say “no” in order to preserve my time, my body’s needs, and my sanity.  No longer do I have to give up family time or sleep in order to meet my customers’ needs.  This wisdom comes with experience and being in business for a long time.  It is wisdom that has seen late nights, high stress, and printer malfunctions (which only happen in crunch times).  It’s wisdom that has cried from being overwhelmed with trying to balance soapmaking and present wrapping.  While it has been earned the hard way, the reward is giving myself permission to stop, rest, and relax.

If you are a business owner of any sort, to what have you had to say, “no”?

Click here for “The Joy of Saying No, part 2.”