The Thrive Questionnaire//

Well-Being Expert Chinae Alexander Explains Why It’s Important to Set Boundaries and Slow Down

“There’s power in saying out loud the things I can't get to.”

Photo by Mark Joseph Gorton
Photo by Mark Joseph Gorton

Chinae Alexander runs a popular YouTube channel, hosts the Press Send Podcast, and is in the process of writing a book. But her biggest focus is empowering her fans to improve their lives via positivity and self-love. 

Still, despite her busy schedule, Alexander emphasizes that she works hard to set boundaries. She tells Thrive how she does just that.

Thrive Global: What is the first thing you do when you get out of bed?

Chinae Alexander: To be honest, my boyfriend gets up, and then I sit in bed, and I do start getting to work on my phone, which is not a great habit. But actually I find that for some people it creates chaos for them in the morning, looking at their phone. For me, it provides me a little bit of peace and allows me to do a little bit of work in a comfortable environment. Then I try to get a workout in and have massive amounts of coffee with half-and-half, which is much to people’s chagrin.

TG: What gives you energy?

CA: People. I love working for myself, but the days that I’m by myself all day, I feel so much more depleted. I feel so energized by people, so whether that’s my partner or meetings or just connecting with my community online, that, to me, is so vital. I definitely feel that depletion when I don’t have that. I’m a true extrovert.

TG: And what is your secret life hack?

CA: This is a Mark Twain quote, so I didn’t make this up, but I love it and I use it all the time. He said, “If you get up in the morning and your job is to swallow a frog, you should eat the frog first.” So get the worst thing of your day out of the way right away, the thing that you’re dreading. Then the end of the quote is, “If you have to swallow two frogs, swallow the biggest one first.” I just think about that all the time. So I get up and I’m like, “Chinae, eat the frog. Eat the frog.” So it helps me kind of get those things that we dread, and usually the things that we dread are actually not that bad, but we all do dread these little minor things in our day. So that really keeps me going on days when I’m struggling, I’m like, “Just eat the frog, get it over with. Continue to move forward today,” and it really does help.

TG: Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you?

CA: It sleeps next to me. I actually feel like I’ve managed, for what my job is, to have a pretty healthy relationship with my phone. When I’m with people, I try not to look at it. If I have to, part of my job is to create content obviously and follow my day and things like that, but I really make an effort to film or take photos or whatever I need to do, and then really put it down. I try to not keep it on tables and in my hand at all times. I’m very conscious of that.  

I feel like when I first started doing my job and social media, I was on my phone constantly, because I felt like I had to be. Now I just feel like I’ve cultivated this much healthier relationship.

TG: How do you deal with email? I’m sure you get a lot.

CA: I usually time-block it out. What I’ve noticed is that we live in a society where the turnaround for responding is just so incredibly quick. I really try to butt up against that a little bit and just tell myself, “You didn’t get back to this person in three hours. Just because they’re following up doesn’t make you bad at your job. It doesn’t mean that you’re not on top of things.” You’re creating boundaries. So for me, I’ve had to really create email boundaries, and not be on the clock 24/7.

I’ve also employed those with people that work for me. I’m like, “I don’t expect you to answer emails after this time or before this time. I don’t expect you to answer emails on the weekends. If you want to, that’s your choice, but that’s not the expectation.” Even within my organization, being able to set boundaries for other people so they don’t feel like their worth or their value as an employee is based on the quickness of their email life — I think that’s been important.

TG: You unexpectedly find 15 minutes of free time in your day. What do you do with it?

CA: Take a bath. I take afternoon baths, a 15-minute afternoon bath. There is nothing more luxurious or that feels better than an afternoon midday bath. Don’t get your hair wet, don’t get your makeup wet. Just lay there for 15 minutes. It is amazing.

It is the most resetting thing in your afternoon to lie for 15 minutes and just be quiet. I sometimes don’t listen to anything; sometimes I’ll put on a little podcast. Especially in the winter, it is wonderful.

TG: When was the last time you felt burned out, and why?

CA: I think actually right before the holidays — not just from work, but from the exhaustion. I have these crazy high expectations for myself in everything. I remember the day before we left for Christmas holiday, it was the first time I had turned my email off since 2015. I had such anxiety about putting my vacation reminder on. But then I found myself busying myself with other things. So I was like, of course I have to make three or four dozen hand-decorated Christmas cookies for my boyfriend’s family before we go visit.

I was packing all this stuff into my day, and it didn’t matter if it was work or “pleasing others.” I felt so burned out. It was 11:00 p.m., and I’m decorating Christmas cookies with a toothpick. And I’m like, “What am I doing? I’m causing my own burnout.” So right after the holiday I took that two weeks off, and I came back with such a new perspective and such a refreshing attitude about work. 

TG: How do you prioritize when you have an overwhelming amount to accomplish?

CA: I heard this very interesting thing, and I forgot who said it, but they’re like, you have balls in the air, and some are glass and some are plastic. And if a plastic one falls, it’s not so much of a big deal. You can’t please everyone all the time, so at least I want to get the things done in my day that make me feel energized to continue to do the rest the next day.

Also, I’ve cultivated this thing of just being really open and honest of where my boundaries are and what I can do. So if I can’t get to something, I just tell people, “Hey, I honestly just can’t handle it today. I can’t do it.” There’s such power in saying out loud the things I can’t get to, and being really clear. Oftentimes I think we build up how people are going to react to us not meeting all of our priorities, and often they don’t care.

TG: What advice would you give your younger self about reducing stress?

CA: I think I always based why I was invited in the room off of what I could do. I just don’t think that’s true. I’m in the room because of who I am, and who I am isn’t comprised of all the things that I can accomplish. I wish I would’ve known that. 

Sometimes people just want you there existing. You don’t have to be doing something for them or meeting some sort of goal, you can just exist. And that sometimes is enough. I really wish I would’ve known that, just because I think it would have saved me a lot of strife and a lot of worrying and a lot of people-pleasing in the past.

TG: Do you have any role models for living a thriving life?

CA: My friends that have careers and children, even if they don’t do what I do. Just the fact that they’re able to juggle those things and manage it, I really look up to them. And I look up to people that really do it without the expectation of praise. They’re kind of excelling in private. I look up to that so much more than a professional athlete or someone that’s doing what I’m doing on social. There is something about grinding without lights, camera, action that is pretty inspiring.

TG: What is your personal warning sign that you’re depleted, and when you notice that you’re getting too stressed, what do you do to course correct?

CA: My warning sign is that I stop having enjoyment in the things that I like, and the things that I really like start feeling like a burden. So meeting up with people, I usually love that. When it starts feeling like something I dread, I’m like, “OK, what’s going on with me? What’s happening?” 

I really pull everything back and start saying no to a lot of things. I need to cook a meal for myself rather than going out and indulging with friends. Sometimes it’s just about simplification.

TG: On that note, what’s a surprising way that you practice mindfulness?

CA: My skincare routine — being purposeful about it. Every day I get up and I look in the mirror, and I don’t just slap products on my face, I look at what my skin actually needs. It’s really taking a second to do an inventory of myself and how I’m feeling. That helps me center and do something with real intention right away. I close out the day that way. So no matter how tired I am, or how long my day’s been, taking that five minutes or 10 minutes to look at my skin, to clean it, to take care of it, and have that ritual at the start and end of my day, I feel like that is meditative for me.

TG: What else is a part of your evening routine that helps you unwind and go to sleep?

CA: We usually spend one-on-one time, me and my partner, with our dog. That’s my dog’s witching hour. We have this pre-bedtime play that is always really fun. It may not be relaxing, but it’s definitely a joyful end to the day. Then obviously the skincare routine gets done every single night. I’ve even gotten my partner into having a skincare routine, so we do it together.

And then every night’s different. We make sure that we connect every night. That’s really calming, comforting, and reassuring to me.

TG: Tell us about a small change you’ve made in your life to improve your sleep.

CA: Stopping work earlier in the day. Sometimes I would work until 8:00, 8:30, or 9:00, and even though I would leave things that weren’t so in need of focus, I would just still be working. I feel like my brain didn’t really turn off. So quitting work a little earlier, especially emails and things like that, really did help me a lot.

Shutting down the communication via my phone has really, really helped me, whether that’s work or personal communication.

TG: What is your secret time-saver in the morning?

CA: I try not to rush myself. I hate the feeling of being rushed. Anytime I’m feeling that, I usually take 30 seconds or a minute and just sit. Even though that’s counterintuitive to when you’re in a rush to slow down for a second, I just do it because I hate that frantic feeling.

I always tell people that work for me, if you’re running late, I’d rather you just let me know and then take your time. Because I don’t want that frantic energy coming into the workspace or into your day. It’s not a good space to work out of, and I think it affects how you operate the rest of the day, especially in the morning, if you’re feeling that rush.

I know there are certain things that you have to be on time for, and I’m a really punctual person, but I think eliminating that feeling and taking a second is a really good way to reset your day. And it actually does save you time, because I think when you’re frantic the rest of the day and you’re feeling that, you mess up more. You aren’t focused, you aren’t at peace. So you inevitably aren’t at your full potential.

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