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a close up of roses with red edges and pink middle (self-care)
During this winter season, Shanina Carmichael is setting intentional self-care boundaries and actions, like buying herself fresh flowers (pictured), to effectively regulate her energy while remaining proactive in preserving her mental health. “I recommit to the relationship I have with myself and to those that nourish and restore me,” she writes while encouraging others to do the same. Photo by Shanina Carmichael

Intentional Self-Care: Establishing Healthy Boundaries This Winter

I remember when I first got divorced and how I would take such good care of myself. I would take myself on regular dates and buy myself flowers regularly. This was on top of all the other things I did consistently to stay on top of my mental and physical health (i.e. practice yoga, eat healthy and journal.) 

But, somewhere along the way I stopped dating myself. Truth is, self-care requires time, energy and commitment. I was genuinely in a committed relationship with myself—focusing on really getting to know myself and intentionally placing myself in proximity to things that gave me joy. I was offering to myself all the things I would expect inside of a healthy relationship.

As I began to date, I placed that responsibility in someone else’s hands. If they didn’t offer, then I didn’t go. If they didn’t buy flowers, I didn’t have any. My relationship with myself was disrupted,  and my intentional self-care was reduced. I only had so much energy.

Engaging in Restorative Relationships

Newton’s Law states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. The energy I had begun to invest in entertaining others had to come from somewhere. Too often, this energy was subtracted from time set aside for self-care. 

I guess that isn’t a bad thing when engaging in restorative relationships—engagements where the energy I put forth was transferred to others, but restored. I think it’s OK to sacrifice a little “me time” to engage in interactions that restore me emotionally, mentally and physically. But the trouble starts when those interactions start to take more than they are willing to offer. Or better yet, when I am offering energy without proper boundaries.

dinner plate from Ethiopian Restaurant (self-care)
Shanina Carmichael treats herself to a healthy dinner from Meskerem Ethiopian Restaurant in St. Louis, Mo. Photo by Shanina Carmichael

I’m in the process of learning how to establish healthy boundaries around my energy, managing it efficiently to ensure that my self-care, home-management and goals don’t become compromised in my pursuit of companionship. Ideally, the type of relationship I am seeking will contribute energy to those areas, too.

I love Toni Jones’ song, “Energy Budget.” I am now in a space where I’m learning how to assess who is a good steward of my energy and who isn’t. I’m setting aside days that are strictly for me. As I strive to honor my bedtime and limit late-night conversations and visits, I’m also learning how to prioritize my rest time earlier in the day.

I am assessing my interactions with people and how they feed me intellectually, emotionally, physically and spiritually. And being honest with myself when people do none of the above. I still engage in service-oriented relationships, but I recognize them as just that and budget my energy accordingly.

Black woman smiling under a willow tree (self-care)
Shanina Carmichael smiles under her favorite willow tree at her local park. Photo by Shanina Carmichael

It’s also important that I don’t look at companionship as something that’s only obtained inside romantic relationships. I have observed that the more I lean into my friendships and kinships, the less thirsty I am for people who don’t restore me. Connection is important to me, and being starved of it makes me more vulnerable to parasitic relationships.

I remember having really good days and feeling like I didn’t have anyone to share good news with. It is really odd to reflect back on now. I have parents and siblings who would love to hear about my wins, family I genuinely enjoy talking to. I have people who rallied around me in my sorrow, and yet somehow I forgot to include them in my joy.

My energy budget must include people who I know rock with me outside of romantic interest. I need platonic friendships to remind me of how dope I am to be around and what healthy relationships look like. People who make me laugh, hold space for me to fall apart and then regain my composure. These relationships model the foundation of a romantic relationship in times when I forget what healthy relationships should offer. 

Friendship surely deserves a reserved line item in the budget.

I also recognize how winter affects my mood. In the winter months I am aware that the intensity of my self-care must increase. As darkness visits, I can’t afford to mismanage my energy. The impact is too great. 

The energy distribution I got away with under the warmth of the sun would be devastating in winter months. So during this season of winter, I recommit to the relationship I have with myself and to those who nourish and restore me. I hope you choose to do the same.  

This MFP Voices essay does not necessarily represent the views of the Mississippi Journalism and Education Group, the Mississippi Free Press, its staff or board members. To submit an opinion for the MFP Voices section, send up to 1,200 words and sources fact-checking the included information to [email protected] We welcome a wide variety of viewpoints.

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