The 3 Rules of Emotional Self-Defense

It’s a mad mad mad world out there.


We’re over-worked and under-rested. Were over-volunteered and under-appreciated. We may feel burned out at the office AND at home, and there’s no end in sight to our to-do list.


When life gets like that, it’s time to practice self-protection. No, I don’t mean self-protection like taking up karate. I mean emotional self-protection. Putting a buffer between you and the crazy world. There are three ways you can practice self-protection, when you need to shelter yourself from the growing demands of the world.


The more you succeed at life, the more people will want a piece of your success. They will want to “pick your brain.” They will want to know your secrets and get your help. You couldn’t have gotten where you are without someone else’s support or help, so it is noble to want to help those who ask you. But. You have to put some boundaries around it.


When I started a nonprofit, I received so many meeting requests I could have spent 40+ hours a week just at a coffee shop. My nonprofit wouldn’t have been successful if I had taken every meeting request, because I would never have had time to be at the office! So I created something called “Not-So-Office-y Office Hours,” where I sat at a coffee shop for 3 hours, once a month, and invited anyone in the community who wanted to join me to show up, no RSVP required. It was a great solution! Sometimes no one showed up, and I had an afternoon to myself. Other times, there was great conversation between 4 of more of us around the table. I didn’t have to turn people away, but I still kept control of my calendar and all the people who wanted some of my time.


People who are generous tend to find greater success than people who are stingy, so don’t take this advice as an excuse to be selfish. But in a crisis moment, when you are pulling your hair out, you might need to be selfish for a little while.


Sometimes, you have to defend yourself from your own instincts. You may say “But I committed to that,” or “I really should just do this one more thing before going to bed.” We all have to be grownups and do the things that life requires, but sometimes that last load of laundry is going to come at the expense of your sanity! That’s the moment when you have to tell yourself to knock it off.


If you’re someone who has a hard time saying no to yourself and slowing down, it can help to make a list of all the things you are choosing to put off for the time being. Knowing you have them safely written down and can complete them when life is slower might be comforting, because you know you won’t forget them. Writing them down is also a trigger to your brain that you are choosing to put them off, not just neglecting them, which will help you feel more in charge and less chaotic.


When we get overwhelmed or panicky about the stressors of life, the things that don’t get done are the ones we think of as not urgent. But research shows that focusing on the urgent rather than the important can actually be bad for our well-being. We may think, “If I stop doing these urgent tasks in favor of something else, I’ll get even further behind! That will make me feel worse!” But the opposite is true. In those moments of overwhelm, it can actually be helpful to experience something called “flow state.” Flow state is achieved when you perform an activity that requires your concentration, but isn’t too difficult. For some people, it may be a sport, or doing artwork. For others, it might be gardening or yoga.


Getting into flow state is actually incredibly beneficial, and a great way to protect yourself. If you don’t take any time to stop and relieve your brain, you’re at risk of spinning into panic mode. When you need to practice self-protection, experiencing a moment of flow is the way to go.



You can protect yourself from life’s chaotic moments by practicing a little bit of self-protection. It doesn’t require special training, just a little bit of restraint and a lot of awareness. The next time the world feels like it’s spinning out of control, just remember that you are a black belt in self-protection!