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Body Talk.

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When Does Love Turn Into Enablement?

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Regardless of whether they’re romantic, platonic or family, relationship dynamics are complicated. When you care for someone, you want to make them happy and support them. That’s where the lines start to blur.

So, when does loving someone morph into enabling them? In the most basic terms, enabling someone is recognizing that they have a problem, but continuing to treat them as if nothing is wrong. Usually, that involves encouraging (or doing nothing to curtail) the problem behavior.

“I’m not enabling. They’ve fallen on hard times and I want to be supportive.”

Weeks ago, I spoke with a woman who, early in her marriage, had her in-laws move in with her,her husband and their young child after her father-in-law lost his job. The in-laws both had severe drinking problems and some underlying mental illnesses that were never diagnosed or treated, which resulted in a lot of tension, fighting and yelling. Having lived with this for his entire live, the woman’s husband didn’t think his parents’ behavior was anything out of the ordinary. To him, this was normal. “It’s just how they are.”

As the months dragged on and her father-in-law refused to go out and look for work, the living arrangement became so toxic that the woman offered her husband two choices: Counseling, or she would leave the home with their daughter. Within a few minutes of the first therapy session, the doctor had a conclusion.

“I don’t think you two are the problem, and I don’t think I need to see you here again.” He then turned to the woman’s husband and said, “I do think that your parents should consider counseling, though, for your sake at the very least. This is the kind of thing that ends marriages, I’ve seen it a hundred times. Don’t let it end yours.”

Hearing it from a neutral third party (a professional, no less) was what it took for him to realize that it was true: He had been making excuses for their behavior since the day they moved in. While he firmly believed he was supporting his mother and father by giving them a place to stay for an indeterminate amount of time, he didn’t understand how the very same thing was causing his own marriage, and family, to suffer.

“I’m not enabling. I’m helping.”

This is a common belief, but thankfully it’s pretty easy to separate the two. Helping someone is doing something for them that they are unable to do for themselves. Enabling someone is doing something for them that they could, and should be doing on their own.

For example, if someone gets into legal trouble time and again and you offer to bail them out or pay their legal fees. Or perhaps they struggle with mental illness but refuse to recognize it or seek professional help. Instead of encouraging them to seek help, you continue to feed into the unhealthy behaviors by being at their beck and call (An extreme example: A loved one threatens to harm themselves unless you stop what you’re doing and come to them). It’s easy to believe that you are helping when things continue as they’ve always been. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

When you begin to notice your own life and other relationships unravelling because so much of your time and energy goes into taking care of one person, it may be time to reevaluate priorities. Being supportive of loved ones is a beautiful and necessary thing, but it’s critical to be sure that your support doesn’t drain you of your own health and happiness.

5 Self Care Tips to Start Now

How well do you take care of yourself? Between work, kids and relationships, it’s easy to lose track of your own well-being when you are wrapped up in someone, or something, else’s. Practicing self care is not a one-time thing — it’s something you need to do consistently to keep life’s many stressors from snowballing.

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When most people hear the term “self care” they may imagine treating themselves to a massage or a nice dinner. While those are excellent ways to pamper yourself on a special occasion, there are much smaller, easy-to-manage ways to practice self care on a regular basis. Here are some of the things that have worked for me.

1) Start a morning ritual. This can be as simple as taking a few extra minutes each morning to exfoliate and tone your face, or sitting down at a designated time every day for a cup of tea. The important thing is that you take your time, whatever you choose to do. If you want to start a tea ritual, invest in some nice loose tea and some self-fill disposable tea bags. Take your time filling your bags, steeping your tea, and whatever you do: don’t rush. It may only be a few minutes of your day, but a few minutes can set the tone or change the direction of it completely.

2) Wash your bedding and make your bed. For most people, clean surroundings make it easier to think clearly. Washing your bedsheets and blankets may seem like a small improvement, but getting into a clean, freshly-made bed at night is one of the nicest feelings at the end of a rough day. You’ll thank me in the morning.

3) Exercise. We know that exercising releases endorphins, which can help you destress. But exercising as a means of self care is less about working up a sweat and more about the act of doing something good for yourself. Going for a walk or even just stretching is doing more for your body than sitting around. Treat your body to some exercise. Even if you don’t break a sweat, it counts.

4) Make a schedule. One of the most common causes of stress is disorganization. When you structure a plan, you eliminate a huge chunk of that stressor. Give yourself a designated amount of time to work on a task before you move onto the next. Seeing a schedule written out makes you less likely to forget important action items, and takes some pressure off of you: You know what you need to accomplish and have allotted time for everything. Reducing stress is one of the biggest self care practices.

5) Take a nap. Everything is worse when you haven’t had enough sleep. For years I struggled with bouts of insomnia that would last for weeks at a time. In an average week, I would sleep for maybe one hour every night, and my waking life reflected it. I was stressed out, unfocused, unhealthy and unhappy — and all really for no other reason than complete exhaustion. Getting enough sleep is one of those things that we know is good for us, but we underestimate it constantly. If you’re stressed out and not getting enough sleep at night, go take a nap. Set an alarm or ask someone to wake you if you’re worried about sleeping for too long. Even 15-20 minutes is enough to help recharge you and make a huge difference in the remainder of your day.

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I like full fat yogurt, dogs, and yoga. Not at the same time. Okay, maybe sometimes.