AdviceHelp Me Rhonda

Help Me, Rhonda

It’s All Too Much

Things are pretty good for me right now. I’ve survived abusive relationships, mental problems and substance abuse issues (my own and other people’s). I am in a good relationship, I have a job that I like and I have a lot of friends and acquaintances. Of course, things are not perfect; I still struggle with depression, anxiety and managing addiction. Lately, my anxiety has been in overdrive, and most of it concerns my friendships. I’m afraid that I spread myself too thin, and I don’t know how I can maintain this pace. Although I enjoy socializing, I also enjoy time by myself at home—I’m quite an introverted person and could easily occupy myself for days at a time without outside interaction. I stress myself out starting around Tuesday of each week, when I start thinking about the weekend and what social obligations I might have. 

I also want to be a good friend, but there are about five people right now who confide in me, and I feel like I’m collapsing under the weight of people’s crises. It’s not uncommon for me to spend an entire lunch hour sorting out emails and chats from people who I think “need” me. I want to listen and help, because I genuinely care for these people, but I’m not sure what to do. I feel crippled by anxiety, and I don’t want to shut anyone out, but I just need some breathing room. I don’t want to end friendships just because I’m stressing over people’s problems and expectations of me. How should I manage this?


First, congratulations on overcoming a lot of difficult and painful things in your own life and getting to a good place. With that difficult history—and even without it—it’s important to recognize that the only person who is going to set boundaries around your life is you. Protecting your own time and energy is not any more selfish or uncaring than putting gas in your car. Your car won’t run if it’s not fueled. 

Free time will never appear on its own. We sometimes fall into the trap of thinking, “If I just get through this busy week, I’ll have time to myself again,” but that’s not true. Social commitments and friends will expand to fill the time available to them—the time you make available to them. You will have to consciously put a fence around your time.

Here’s how to start building that fence. First, commit to keeping your work hours, including your lunch hour, free from outside drama for one week. If you need to, tell your friends on Sunday that work has gotten busy, so you won’t be responding to emails or texts during the day. Guard that lunch hour jealously. Eat your lunch, read a book, take a walk, whatever. Use it as time to take an actual break, not manage friends or run errands.

Then, let your friends’ crises hang out for a while. Don’t spend the hour after work responding to the days’ missives. Wait 24 hours. All of the texts and emails will feel, and indeed be, dramatically less urgent. Your friends will be OK. In the pursuit of being a supportive friend, you have taught your friends that they can expect a quick response from you. They might not like your slower response time at first, but they will adapt and find other sources of support. You’re not ending friendships or abandoning anyone; you’re putting what you can into your relationships.

Next, build this fence around your weekend time as well. You must be able to look forward to your weekends. On Monday, the day before the weekend anxiety begins, decide how much time you want to spend at home alone. Don’t lowball it. You might want to spend the entire weekend alone, and that’s completely fine. Once you decide on the time, mark it on your calendar. Then honor that time as though it were a doctor’s appointment.

Don’t worry, and don’t push yourself if, for five weekends, all you want to do is be home alone. A time will come when you will want to be with other people. But you’re not going to genuinely want that until you’ve given yourself the space and permission to recharge alone. You might find support in a book called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,written by Susan Cain. She talks about how necessary time alone is for introverts and how our society undervalues that time.

The Promise of Money

I work for a small organization and have a pleasant relationship with most of my co-workers and boss. We’re not close friends, but we get along at the office pretty well. Last year, during a fundraising drive, our organization received pledges from donors who committed to donate money over a period of time—from two years to five years. Very recently, one of my co-workers discovered a small stack of pledge cards in her office space that had gone unprocessed. These pledge cards had gotten mixed up with other papers and supplies—and to be fair, the fundraising drive was a crazy hectic time for all of us—and she just found them recently. No one even knew they were missing. My co-worker feels terrible and worried about this. She told me this in a confessional moment, but she hasn’t taken any action on it. The drive time was so busy that I understand how this could easily have happened. Her mistake was totally innocent, and I don’t want her to get into trouble over it, but I feel uncomfortable knowing about it. How can I get myself out of this spot without getting her in trouble?

I’d Rather Not Know


You’re worried about the outcome for your co-worker, but now that you know what happened, you have some responsibility, too. In figuring out how to discharge that responsibility, keep a couple of things in mind: First, you want to give your co-worker the fairest opportunity to deal with this correctly on her own. But, second, you do not want to be the only person holding this information. (Your co-worker didn’t either, and that’s why she told you.) Fortunately or unfortunately, it’s not going to be up to you to determine whether she gets “in trouble” over this. 

You need to give your co-worker a reasonable but short amount of time to come clean about this on her own. Talk to her privately and tell her she needs to let the boss know immediately. This thing will look one million times better coming from her. If you, or someone else in the office, or a dedicated would-be donor brings this to light, it will be much worse. Encourage her to talk to the boss and explain it was an honest mistake. If she can go to the boss with a plan to remedy it, all the better. Tell her that you feel some responsibility now that you know the situation.

After you tell her that, follow up with an email to her that references your conversation. Say something like, “I really think it would be best if you talked to Pete about those misplaced pledge cards. Then you two can figure out what to do.” You need some documentation that you were encouraging her to acknowledge the problem.

After three work days have gone by, ask her if she’s had a chance to mention it to the boss. If she says she has, great. Send her an email saying you’re glad she talked to Pete and got the problem sorted out. If she says she hasn’t, don’t press it, but do tell her you really think the boss needs to know about this. Then, the next time you talk to the boss, mention the situation casually: Hey, Jenna said something to me about lost pledge cards. Did she get a chance to mention that to you? You don’t know anything more, so don’t try to provide details. You’re just saying enough to be able to say you passed it on up. [Note: This did not happen at Flagpole—Pete.]