How To Maintain Healthy Boundaries In Every Aspect Of Life

    Illustration of a woman setting boundaries
    Published: 11 February 2021. Written by: Marina Gask

    If you spend a large amount of your life feeling overburdened, stressed and seething, it could be that you haven’t made your personal boundaries clear to those around you. Here we look at how to put boundaries in place, how to stick to them and when to say no.

    We can all feel pressured to do things we don’t want to. Think about it: in a typical month, how many times do you find yourself narked at being taken for granted, overburdened by another unwelcome task on your ‘to-do’ list, or annoyed by a demanding friend or family member? These are all examples of life situations where having clear boundaries in your personal and professional relationships can save you from stress and grief.

    So what do we mean by boundaries? Simply put, it’s establishing what you find acceptable, whether that’s in your work relationships, friendships, family dynamics or love life. Says gravitas coach Antoinette Dale Henderson: ‘Boundary lines are usually directly linked to your values and represent those areas of your life where you’re not prepared to compromise.’

    Defining your boundaries and making them clear to those around you can take some trial and error, but it’s worth persevering. Psychologist Jess Baker explains: ‘Apart from needlessly causing stress, anger and anxiety, not having clear boundaries can mean you end up exhausted from having to say yes to requests for help when you know you’re already overburdened.’

    This is a growing problem in our work lives. In a recent study conducted via The Mental Health Foundation, 80 per cent of HR managers surveyed believed working from home encouraged e-presenteeism – a culture where workers always felt they had to be ‘on’ and available to others. Often working above their contracted hours since lockdown, the average UK worker is putting an extra 59 hours, or 7 working days into their job over 5 months.

    Billionaire businessman Warren Buffet famously said: ‘Successful people say no to almost everything.’ But how can this be done without causing offence? Here are some problems you might be faced with with some useful solutions to navigated them:

    Illustration of a woman video calling a friend

    Problem 1: Your friend keeps moaning about something that’s triggering for you

    We all have our sensitive subject areas – body image, salary, parenting and love life are common ones. And if you dread conversations with a friend who keeps pushing your particular buttons, they may or may not be oblivious. Either way, you need to tackle it head on, both for the sake of your mental health and a more honest relationship.

    How to create your boundary…
    Says Jess: ‘Acknowledge what they’re saying by repeating it back in their own words: “I can hear you’re not happy about that and haven’t been for a while. How can I help you?” In this way you’re letting them know you’re on their side and validating their feelings. It’s highly likely they’ll refuse that help, in which case say “OK, well in that case would you mind if we avoid discussing this subject in future, but focus on the areas where we can really support each other?”. In this way you’re sticking to the facts, being fair and offering them an ‘out’. They may think you’re being stroppy or that you’re really hurt, but don’t rise to it. ‘Remain calm and factual and they’ll get the message eventually,’ adds Jess.

    Illustration of woman slumped at desk

    Problem 2: Being asked to do something you don’t want to do but you’re scared to say no

    A neighbour wants you to babysit again, a work friend needs a favour or someone is requesting some free advice. It’s nice to be helpful and doing little favours often creates a good will scenario – maybe you’ll eventually need to ask for a favour in return? But what if these favours are becoming a habit, leaving you exhausted and stressed out? ‘Think about why you want to say no. Is it the task, the person or being busy? This may be someone you don’t want to risk burning your bridges with,’ says Jess.

    How to create your boundary…
    Says Jess: ‘Be firm but polite and say: “Actually at the moment I really don’t have the time or capacity. So either I could do it for you next week or put you in touch with someone else”.’ You’re letting them know you’re not prepared to be taken for granted but don’t want to come across as completely unhelpful. ‘Stick to the facts and try not to lie, as lies can come back to bite you. The important thing is to offer a creative solution that you may or may not be a part of,’ adds Jess.

    Illustration of a video call

    Problem 3: A relative frequently expects you to drop everything and give a sympathetic ear to their problems

    Of course you want to be there for your family and help them when you can. But are you being taken for granted? Are they uninterested or unsympathetic when you have a problem? Or even unavailable?

    How to create your boundary…
    Express how you feel and make sure they hear you. Says Jess: ‘You can’t change their behaviour but you can change your own. So just be clear that you have a life too. Say, “I’m in the middle of something, so can we talk about it later?” You may find they’re a little taken aback that you’re not prepared to be on speed dial anymore, but if you’re firm and clear, they’ll get the message. “But be prepared for the fact that your relationship may cool for a while,” says Jess.

    Looking to improve your interactions? Whether they’re with a friend or partner, here are 5 ways to more successful relationships.

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