A Simple Approach to Boundaries, Worry, and Catnaps

Chitta

Whatever occurs or appears in your life can be an opportunity for personal development if you are committed to continuous self improvement.

Take kittens, for example.  In Hawai’i, it’s smart to have an outdoor cat for reasons best left unexpressed.  When my husband and I heard of two kittens headed for the pound, we were happy to intervene and circumvent this potentially life-threatening possibility.

Within 24 hours of their arrival, it was clear that these energetic babies had lessons for me.

It’s Natural to Have Healthy Boundaries

Bodhi and Chitta were living outdoors the first six weeks of their lives.  They are understandably wary of humans given their Lilliputian size.  Unlike humans, kittens don’t need a minimum survival kit.  Self-protection is an automatic reflex.

When humans approach, tensing up, shrinking away, running away, turning their back on you, ignoring you, hiding, hissing, and scratching all come easily to them.  They don’t stop to think, “Oh, maybe I’m hurting the human’s feelings.”  Or, “Gee it’s not polite to turn your back on a human.” Guilt is not in their repertoire nor is obsessively churning over the appropriateness of their behavior.

Chitta in particular has an aura that’s about 10 feet wide and does not hesitate to give you a searing look that communicates, “You’ve got to be kidding me. You are not getting anywhere near me.”  Bodhi is the master of turning his back on you and pretending that you don’t exist.

Boundaries determine where I begin and you end and the degree of space between us. Clear boundaries are essential to healthy interpersonal relationships and are key to living a happy and meaningful life.  Several different factors influence your ability to establish boundaries: genetics (including your neurochemistry and the sensitivity of the amygdala), the effect of your early environment, and how well you adapted as a baby to separation from your mother.

Many people, especially highly sensitive people, have trouble with being overly porous.  Do you find yourself extra sensitive to other people’s thoughts and emotions?  Do you feel responsible for the world around you?  Do you overextend yourself to please others?  Do you have trouble setting physical and emotional limits?  If so, it might be time to think about your boundaries.

My new life coaches are telling me it’s natural, healthy, and positive to have clear boundaries.  Learning to value yourself and build healthy boundaries takes time and attention, but like everything else in the realm of personal development, it is eminently possible.

Worry Never Helps

Bodhi

Citta is a daredevil, Bodhi an adventurous climber.  They are both irrepressibly curious.  The worry habit started to arise as I observed their vivacious gymnastics.  The resulting potential for trouble was obvious when Bodhi got his claw stuck in a hanging chair tag.

Then, friends told me how kittens can be eaten by mongoose or beaten up on by older cats.  Reading about the rampant leukemia and HIV among island cats was the final straw.   All this put me in a tizzy, as I was overcome with worry awakened by the recognition of the kittens’ fundamental vulnerability.  In truth, life is dangerous and we are all fragile, but I know deep down that adding worry to the mix won’t help at all.  It just eats away at you and does nothing to improve the situation.

Here’s my simple approach to worry.  Applied consistently, it will slowly erode away this unhelpful habit.

1. Observe and acknowledge how worry is taking over your mind.  Simply seeing the worry already creates space and a sense of relief.

2. Breathe in and out, slowly and deeply, placing your attention on the breath.  Let the worry thoughts dissolve on the outbreath into space, just letting go of the tension and any new thoughts occurring in your mind.  Continue this cycle of breathing for however long it takes to reconnect with a sense of peace.  It might be 5 minutes or 20 minutes.

3. Remind yourself that worry never helps. I employ the aid of inspirational quotes for this purpose.  These are some favorites starting with the French philosopher Voltaire:

“Most of my life has been one tragedy after another, most of which hasn’t happened.”

The modern day marketing sage, Seth Godin, agrees:

“Anxiety is nothing but repeatedly re-experiencing failure in advance. What a waste.”

As you master this simple technique, you will gradually become more agile at spotting and addressing worry far before it consumes you.

Play, play, play. Rest, rest, rest.

The rambunctious kittens play hard:  chase, wrestling, hide-n-seek, grab or bite the tail, hide-n-pounce, push your sibling off the chair, climb the highest mountain.  Their sheer joy and enthusiasm sparks the question, “Do I play enough?” Their playful spirit challenges you to energize all your activities throughout the day with the same sense of delight.

Animals follow their inborn energy cycles and rest when they are tired.  Humans on the other hand often fail to get sufficient sleep and are not always cognizant of their innate rhythms.  Researchers believe that there’s a natural dip in energy about 8 hours after waking—mid afternoon— when we are meant to take a nap.  Some cultures embrace the mid-afternoon nap as a tradition, but in many others you are expected to work like mad throughout the day.

A 20-minute nap can help you feel refreshed and alert, transform your mood, improve cognitive performance, and reduce afternoon accidents related to drowsiness.  Resting in the afternoon without actually falling asleep has similar benefits.  A word of caution:  some people find afternoon napping interferes with their ability to fall asleep at night.  We’re all different, so check your own rhythms and needs.

I always feel refreshed after a nap, but have failed to make it a positive habit.  I’m now planning to follow the behavior modeled by the kitten alliance.

Life Happens

Life happens, but I’m gradually learning to take it in stride. The kittens quickly warmed up to us.  In fact, they are lounging next to me as I peck away at the keys.  But they still reserve the right to express their boundaries. Until they are a hefty size and strong enough to fend off their natural predators, they have the penthouse lanai (deck) with garden view as their digs, ample food, their best friend in each other, a soft sofa bed, and human love and affection too.  What more could you want?  As for us, we are more than pleased with our new personal development coaches.

How about you—what are your thoughts on boundaries, worry, and catnaps?


I’m grateful for your time and attention.  If you have a moment, please help me reach others by sharing this post.  If you’re new, please consider subscribing for free updates by email.  With love, Sandra

16 thoughts on “A Simple Approach to Boundaries, Worry, and Catnaps

  1. Hi Sandra, I love this post. Of course, being a third generation cat lover (as my granny used to tell me) helps. What a joy to spend time with these gorgeous kittens and it is amazing to observe them and see how clever they are. We had two adorable kittens in Costa Rica, also about 6 weeks old when we got them, and it was fascinating to see how clever they were, instinctively hiding under the car when a vehicle drove to our house or the shadow of a vulture passed over them. If only all humans had that sense of self-preservation – some of the things people do are not as smart as those kittens’ behaviour.

    When I was depressed I was a huge worrier. I worried about everything and anything, Iworried about worrying too much, I worried if I didn’t have anything to worry about. It was debilitating and thank heavens I’m better now. My husband never worries about anything. He’s inspiring like that and used to say to me if you must worry as least only do it during the day time and not at night:)

    Oh, glad you liked Seth Godin too and many thanks for the mention! I’ll have to get into bed with some more interesting authors soon – I love it:)

    • Annabel, Thanks for the positive feedback. You have such a bright spirit, I find it hard to believe you were ever depressed! No doubt, your ability to transform the difficulty is part of the power behind your empowering blog. That’s great advice from your husband too. :) Yes, please do get in bed with more interesting authors – makes for fantastic blog posts! All the best to you.

  2. hi! Sandra,
    really beautiful kittens. which is bodhi? which one is chitta?
    have loved cats all my life. after my marriage my mother in law who was an animal lover taught me to care for them.
    can you believe that she reared cats and dogs together, once a female dog helped rear our cats kittens also. She was very protective of the kittens and would not let straw dogs come near them.
    your tips on worry are very good. do you know any for hypersensitive people like me?
    love,
    varuni

    • Hi Varuni,

      Bodhi is the black one and Chitta is the gray one. I’ll add that in the photo captions too. That’s a very nice story of the protective dog helping to rear your kittens!

      I’m very interested in the topic of being highly sensitive. Did you happen to read this post on 1 in 5 being highly sensitive on my blog? That has some ideas. Meditation is one terrific way to calm high sensitivity because it helps calm the nervous system, and you are already onto that. Overall, I find the key is getting to know yourself, observing and respecting your limits, and caring for yourself in whatever ways work for you – from meditation, to taking more time for yourself, going for walks, and the like. It takes time to learn new strategies and also encouragement to be able to put them into place. I plan to write more about this in future posts. You have a big heart, which is beautiful. At the same time, we have to learn to care for ourselves too. Sending you a big hug.

  3. Hi Sandra, the cats drew me in, but the life lessons carried the day. I relate to cats (certified cat lover) and had to learn to be more sensitive to others rather than the other way around. Like everything else, it’s a question of balance. Too much one way or the other and we need adjustment. So the bold learn from the meek and visa versa. I like that arrangement because it means that we are all students and we are all teachers, and life is such a wonderful school.

    • Jonathan, I really like the perspective you bring about finding balance. It never occurred to me that just as some people are highly sensitive, others are on the other side of the see-saw and that is not necessarily ‘optimal.’ The metaphor of us all being teachers and students equalizes us all and that is a beautiful image as well. I find the writing on your blog so genuine and sincere. This is what draws me there. It would appear those kittens are hot stuff to bring all these wonderful visits to my blog. Thank you for coming by.

    • Welcome Mike, Glad you liked the article. Your link works perfectly. What a terrific idea for a blogging topic: keeping the brain agile. You have quite a unique voice too! I look forward to reading more articles at your blog as the brain is one of my interests too.

  4. I adore cat lessons, and have had feline companions instructing me for most of my life. These were great choices, and you explained them well. I even like it when cats are absurd and unwise, as all of us are at times. They assume ANYTHING different from their accustomed routine and environment is automatically dangerous, for example, so they respond to change with alarm even when the introduced novelty is an improvement. Unless the new thing is warm to lie on or nice to scratch, that is.

    • Mike, The resistance to change you point out is a great lesson too. Although some people thrive on change, it seems most of us humans resist even when it’s for the better. Change is inevitable, so resistance doesn’t help. It even took out cats two days to warm up to their scratch pole. These two kittens are just so fun and lovely. Thanks for your comment.

  5. Pls help! I’ve contacted every organization & found a good home for this adorable six wk old kitten, which some jerk abandoned on our cottage’s property. However after five days of fruitless attempts to get him/her out from under our vehicle has been in vain & the hawks are flying above waiting to grab him/her. I’ve tried toys, string, sounds, food, etc without success. We need to go back to the city & bring him to the vet so he/she can be adopted out to a great home. We’d keep him/her, but my husband & I are asthmatics& highly allergic to cats. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Pls help us save him?

    • Ely, I wish I could help you, but I’m also not an expert with kittens. Here’s the post where I talk about making friends with the kittens, but I also explain a little below…

      alwayswell.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=3725&action=edit

      In my case, the kittens have come to know me and identify me with being fed. I find food the best way to draw them out, but wet food rather than dry. I would just leave the wet food very near to or even under the car a bit and back way off, even hide and see if the little kitten will come out then to eat. You might need to do this a few times to gain trust with him or or her. You can feed him or her twice a day like this. My husband was able to pick up the kittens within a few days, but they would still try to wriggle away in the beginning and one of them still does not like to be picked up. The main point is to give them a lot of space in the beginning and let them slowly warm up to you. If you are still having troubles, another idea would be to ask a friend who is good with cats for help or call the SPCA for help or ideas. Then you will need a safe place to transport the kitten, when we first picked up the kittens we used a large cardboard box with a soft net on top and I sat next to them.

      I will be thinking of you and really wish you the best. I understand what a challenge this must be having asthma. All the best to you.

Comments are closed.