Create Healthy Personal Boundaries
Creating personal boundaries is a way of putting yourself first. For many of us, it has been ingrained that putting yourself above others is being “selfish” with a negative connotation. However, as mental health becomes less and less of a taboo topic, we are discovering that meeting your own needs first is critical to feeling fulfilled and linked to higher performance at work and at home. It’s essential to establish and maintain boundaries, as the people in our lives sense when others have loose boundaries, or no boundaries at all, and tend to take advantage. If you’re constantly trying to meet the needs of others without elevating your own, you may start to feel resentful and unhappy and, therefore, you will not be at your best for your colleagues or your family.
Setting healthy boundaries will help you maintain and organize your life. These can be based on time, sleep, technology, social, emotional, relationships, and even material boundaries.
If you are overcommitted, you are more likely to underdeliver, both at work and at home. Set time boundaries for areas in your life to help you avoid taking on too much. For example, in your home life, if Sunday is your family day, then commit to saying no to any other social invitations. At work, say yes to projects and the right opportunities and carefully estimate your time before committing to a deadline to ensure that you are not overpromising yourself.
Sleeping is the optimum time for your body to self-repair and recharge. The benefits of consistently sleeping seven to nine hours per night include stress reduction, being more energized and alert, less inflammation in the body, reduced risk of depression, and a healthier heart, to name a few! Committing to a nighttime ritual is one of the best ways to ensure a good night’s rest. For example, if your goal is to be asleep by 10 PM, you may set boundaries to help you unwind and intentionally end your day. You could implement a no-call or no-text time after 8 PM. If you’re watching TV, choose shows that are funny and lighthearted, which are more relaxing for the brain than something that is scary or intense. If a shower or bath helps you decompress, make sure that this is part of your ritual. If you live with a partner, it’s helpful to share your sleep boundaries and intentions so they can be onboard and supportive.
Technology is a huge part of our professional and personal lives. It is both a blessing and a curse. While there are many pros to technology, there are also many cons. Too much technology—calls, texts, social media, apps, email, etc.—can make a person feel anxious, stressed, and/or depressed. Setting boundaries for technology can be difficult and hard to stick to, but implementing technology boundaries can free up time and emotions.
Therefore, set your boundaries with intention, know your “Why?” For instance, ask yourself how much of your phone or computer time is helping you to accomplish good things, such as work. Assess how much of your technology time is used on apps such as Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, Facebook, etc., and what you are gaining from this. Decide on boundaries that may help you curb the minutes or hours that you’re wasting away on screen time. Here are a few technology boundary examples:
- Set time limits for certain social media apps, or take a break from them altogether.
- Use “Do not disturb” while working or doing other important tasks.
- Commit to a no-screen time during your lunch hour.
- At the end of your workday, do not check or answer work emails.
Some people are afraid to say no to social invitations because they fear missing out or not being invited again. Before saying yes to everything, ask yourself if going to this event or that dinner will impede other things that are more important to you such as sticking to your bedtime routine or having dinner with your partner or family. Creating social boundaries may be as simple as making a rule that you will only partake in a limited number of social obligations per month. If you have trouble saying no to someone in person, commit to telling the person that you have to check your schedule or check in with your partner before giving your answer. This buys you time to decide whether or not the social event is something that you really want to do.
Emotional boundaries are established to respect how much emotional energy you want to expend. Taking on other people’s emotions, especially when they are negative, is exhausting and can lead to your own emotional turmoil. When you set an emotional boundary, you are setting a clear line of what is and what is not yours to deal with.
For example, if you have a colleague or friend that uses you as a sounding board or tends to go down a rabbit hole with gossip, you can choose to not have coffee with that individual, or you can firmly tell them that you’re not in a place to take in that information, but may be willing to circle back to that conversation another time.
Whether it’s a relationship between you and a colleague or an old friend from college, setting relationship boundaries will help you surround yourself with people who uplift you instead of bring you down. Don’t accept or excuse continuously bad behavior. Examples of relationship boundaries include not allowing others to manipulate you into doing something you don’t want to do; not allowing other people’s problems to dictate your life; and not waiting for people who don’t show up on time or break commitments at the last minute.
Material boundaries may not apply to everyone, but for those that it does, this is about setting limits—and not overextending yourself and your wallet—on material possessions. For example, shop therapy may make you feel great at the moment of purchase but may lead to stress down the line if you are overspending. Conversely, if you’re always giving or lending money or items to a family member, neighbor, or colleague, you may build up resentment over time, especially if they tend to not pay you back or return the item at their leisure. Verbalize clear boundaries, such as telling them you will say yes this time but not necessarily in the future. Then stick with your boundary of saying no the next time they ask you.
How to Maintain Your Boundaries
Once you’ve set your boundaries, how do you keep them? The answer lies in knowing your limit and knowing your values, and listening to your mind and body. Ask yourself:
- Am I taking on too much? (Recognizing your limit.)
- If I value my family, and saying yes to this social invitation will result in me not being present for my family, do I still want to say yes? (Recognizing your values.)
- Is this making me feel anxious, overwhelmed, happy, depressed? (Listening to your emotions.)
- Are you saying, “I’m exhausted!”? (Listening to your body.)
Recognizing the emotions your mind is signaling and the feelings that your body is expressing will help you keep the boundaries that you have set.
Setting Boundaries for Yourself in the Workplace
Setting boundaries with colleagues or in an office can sometimes feel more complicated. There are many stressors at work that add to our internal monologue about whether to speak up for ourselves, take that extra risk to show our leadership skills, or respect the chain of command. Here are four tips on how to establish healthy boundaries in the workplace.
Be a clear communicator. If you’re uncertain or don’t understand something, ask for clarification. Respond directly and honestly in verbal and written communications. Clear communication will establish boundaries about your intentions and will leave no room for misinterpretation. For example, if a colleague asks if you will have something completed by a certain deadline, respond with your honest answer (even if it’s not what your colleague is expecting) and state why this is the case.
Own your worth. Knowing what your strengths and weaknesses are at work allows you to say yes to some projects while saying no, or asking for additional help or resources, on others. In the long run, colleagues will learn where your skills lie, and you will be given work that aligns best with you.
Identify your non-negotiables. A non-negotiable boundary is not open for discussion or modification. Some examples of non-negotiables include: if exercise during your workday is a must, schedule it into your calendar as if it were an appointment and reschedule it immediately if you must cancel. If you wish to not be bothered by non-emergency work emails or calls in the evenings, make that clear to your colleagues and include your work hours in your email signage. If you are asked to work overtime, ask about monetary compensation and/or extra time off for the extra hours.
Know your daily energy and workflow. When do you routinely feel more energized and when do you feel more drained? When possible, schedule meetings and engage in larger tasks when you are feeling more energized and catch up on smaller tasks like returning emails and doing paperwork when your battery is running low.
Five Ways a Firm Can Create a Culture of Healthy Boundaries
When a firm supports boundaries in a workplace it can help avoid potential toxic situations, enhance the overall happiness of employees, and reduce the chance of subpar work or burnout.
Here are five ways that an employer can create a culture of healthy boundaries:
- Create clear structures during work time. For example, having structured agendas during meetings to avoid wasting time in drawn-out meetings.
- Expect professional boundaries to be in place at all times during work. For example, using professional verbal and body language in the office; no slang words or swearing or flirtatious actions or words tolerated.
- Respecting employees off time. For example, refraining from contacting employees about work if they are on vacation, on a leave of absence, or after their work hours.
- Encouraging employees to create their own boundaries in the office. For example, encouraging employees to speak up if they feel uncomfortable about a project or a situation.
- Encouraging employees to create their own boundaries outside of the office. For example, not shaming an employee for not checking or answering an email or call outside of their set work hours.
People who set boundaries—in the workplace and in their personal life—will gain respect because they are respecting themselves. They will feel more satisfied and happier in the present and will have more enriched relationships in the future.
Erin Clifford is a holistic wellness coach based in Chicago, Illinois.