6. Rehearse escape lines. When I'm overextended, I paradoxically become worse at setting boundaries. I end up resorting to rehearsed exit lines. "Oh, there's my doorbell!" I might say to end a client call that's run 20 minutes over (this is technically true: My doorbell is, in fact, there). When someone collars me in an airport, eager to share personal problems and ask for solutions, I may point behind them and say, "Oh, my gosh! Is that Dr. Phil?" Then, when their head snaps around, owl-like, I sprint for the nearest restroom.
I'm sure you can come up with better getaway lines than these, but do take the time to rehearse several reliable alternatives. Because when you're exhausted, a practiced excuse can keep you from wading deeper into relationships you don't need and can't handle.
7. Be shallow. Even staying in touch with a reasonably small number of high-quality people can be overwhelming if you tend toward emotional intensity. In such cases, shallowness can be a delightful alternative. So instead of discussing Schopenhauer with your beloved in meaningful, calligraphed epistles, e-mail a stupid joke. Gather your friends to watch TV shows in which strangers paint one another's rooms the color of phlegm and then feign mutual delight. Once you know you can swim in the deep end of human connection, it's fun to splash around in the shallows.
I hope you find these disconnection strategies as useful as I do. By striking a balance between the imperative to "only connect" and the need for individuation, you really will relax your psyche and your relationships, making your life as a whole more joyful, more loving. Maybe someday we'll meet to compare notes, to share disconnection experiences as well as time, space, and perhaps a protein bar. But right now, I'm sure you'll understand when I say that I'd like to eat this one all by myself.
Martha Beck is the author of The Joy Diet (Crown), Finding Your Own North Star (Three Rivers), and Expecting Adam (Berkley).
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