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Stressed out? Set boundaries

January 26, 2009|By CARLA HINTON / The Oklahoman

Not long ago, Kelly Harris' hectic life revolved around juggling children and her home office in Edmond, Okla. She made time for everyone and everything except herself.

Married with two children, Harris said she was concerned she was spending too much time sitting in front of her computer. She said she dearly loves her family and enjoys her work as a medical transcriptionist, yet she yearned to do some things to nurture herself.

Today, the energetic mom still works from home, but she now shares her enthusiasm for life with women who take her aerobics classes.

Harris, 38, said she gradually made changes in her life, starting with her health.

"About 2 1/2 years ago, I got really tired of being overweight and decided to do something about it," she said. "You get so caught up in your life that you forget about you."

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Oklahoma City psychologist Ellie Lottinville, 71, said Harris' former situation isn't uncommon. She said mothers often place themselves last on the priority list.

"I think women generally do go through a lifetime of making sure everybody's taken care of," Lottinville said. "As a result, they often get very tired, very worn out, very irritable and often feel that they don't matter very much."

Susanne Blake, 68, author of the book "Ten Commitments for Women," agreed.

"Women have been taught to always put everyone else first," she said.

Lottinville and Blake said they have a remedy for such stress." I think the main thing is, women need to take as good care of themselves as they do their families," Lottinville said.

Lottinville offers the following self-care tips for mothers:

o Exercise three to five times a week.

o Learn to set boundaries. "Learn to say no."

o Set aside at least 30 minutes of daily quiet time for yourself.

o Find quality books to read.

o Get together with female friends. "Go to lunch, a movie or an afternoon of shopping."

o Make time for spiritual reflection.

Blake, a life coach and mentor, says her advice comes from lessons gleaned from experience. Years ago, with her MBA, husband, children and various community commitments, Blake said she appeared to have it all together.

"I looked like a very high achiever on the outside, someone who was always happy. But I was not like that on the inside," she said.

Blake said she began going to a support group that helped her confront her tendency to be a "people pleaser" and her pattern of rescuing people from their troubles instead of addressing her own.

"I put a sign up above my telephone that said 'I have the ability to say 'no' and I am not responsible for the other person's reaction.'"

Blake said she learned not to overcommit by giving herself time to think about each demand on her time.

Both Blake and Lottinville said women can take simple steps to nurture themselves. Lottinville said they can get their nails done or see a movie with a group of friends. A potluck girls' night or just meeting together for an exercise class can help.

Blake shared similar thoughts. "Lots of women get into feeling that they're stuck in a rut, but they're not. They just have to open the door to the cage, and they may have to do some things."

Harris said she joined a karate class and aerobics classes to battle her weight issues. Her instructors repeatedly told her that she had the right amount of perseverance and personality to teach a class herself. Harris said she took their advice and started teaching exercise classes and she blossomed with her healthy regimen and leadership role.

"The more you start making yourself a priority, the better you feel. You become a better mother -- a better person, in general," she said.

Women should take at least 30 minutes daily for themselves, Lottinville said. This could include taking a hot bath or reading a book.

She said moms sometimes forget about activities and hobbies they enjoyed before becoming immersed in family life.

Lottinville said establishing boundaries is helpful for everyone in the family, particularly children, because it helps them set boundaries, too.

"This helps children see that mother has rights. She has interests and friends, and she needs her quiet time."

Lottinville said it is important to note that it is better for the entire family when mom takes good care of herself. It's good for the mother because she can get a sense of who she is apart from her need to wait on and nurture others.

"That's not to say that we don't feel good taking care of others. But we can carry it to the extreme and that's when we lose our identity."

When mom has a healthy sense of self-worth, children can gain a sense of their own accomplishments, Lottinville said.

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