How To Start Setting Healthy Boundaries

by Melanie Chisnall

Boundaries is a hot topic right now.

This global pandemic is forcing us to acknowledge plenty in our lives – things we’ve ignored or didn’t know we were missing. Maybe you’ve realised how little time you’ve spent doing the things that light you up – like enjoying hobbies (what are those again?), spending time connecting with people you love or exploring passion projects. For me, I’ve noticed how important setting healthy boundaries is when it comes to doing more of things that make me happy… beyond work.

So what’s so special about boundaries anyway?

Basically, it’s the foundation of self-care – and one of the easiest ways to start making positive changes in your life. It’s a BIG deal.

Are you being too nice?

I used to be nonchalant about putting myself first – or having the audacity to say no to something I really didn’t want to do. As admirable as it is to be the “good” employee, friend, partner, or business owner, constantly pushing what you want aside to make others more comfortable is a recipe for resentment, burn out, and a whole lot of negative feelings.

I’m talking from personal experience here as a former people pleaser.

I avoided conflict like the plague. I didn’t speak up because I didn’t want to draw attention to myself or seem like I wasn’t being a team player. When you’ve grown up as a goodie-goodie and a shy introvert, it’s a lot harder to stand up for yourself. So trust me, if this is you – I GET it.

But, things can change.

Over the years – and especially during 2020 (when we’ve all been forced to dig DEEP and get real about our lives), I’ve shed some of those layers. Somewhere along the way, with a lot of practice and self-work, I’ve finally mastered the art of saying no – guilt-free, mind you. Something else that’s new this year? I have zero notifications on my phone. I finally value my personal space and time and it feels amazing.

Healthy boundaries look different for all of us.

How many times have you said yes to things you really don’t want to do?
(Btw, I’m not talking about washing the dishes, sorry!)

I’m talking about things that leave you feeling unsettled. Maybe even a little resentful or angry. Maybe, like me, you don’t like causing conflict… Listen… Being nice and kind is one thing, but letting external people (and things) dictate how you live your life or spend your free time is quite another!

Setting healthy boundaries lets you connect with your needs and allows you to feel safe, relaxed and empowered to care for yourself. Talk about good reasons to make this a priority!

Can you relate to any of these statements?

  • You say yes to everything to avoid upsetting anyone. You’re overworked, underappreciated, and maybe even a little resentful. 
  • You reply to messages instantly because you don’t want anyone to feel like you’re not a good friend, family member, employee, or business owner. 
  • You solve everyone’s problems because you care. But somewhere down the line, you start noticing how one-sided the relationship is.

Nodding your head?

Yes? Well, then it might just be time to start putting a few small boundaries in place.

Let’s talk practical action.

How to start setting healthy boundaries

1) Identify what’s giving you the feels

Question – Where do you feel like you can’t be your true, authentic self? Where do you feel like you’re not in control? What makes you feel annoyed, anxious or angry?

Need some inspiration? 

WhatsApp messages used to stress me out a lot. I thought I needed to instantly respond to every single message and voice note from friends, family and work. This not only amplified my anxiety levels, but it also made me a negative nancy to be around. I was allowing other people to infringe on my personal method of communication, often during personal time.

That’s NOT a healthy boundary.

Here are a few more examples of unhealthy boundaries:

  • Not saying no because it makes you feel guilty or like you’re letting other people down
  • Being everyone else’s sounding board / personal therapist (note to empaths!)
  • Trying to please everyone just so that you feel needed
  • Staying quiet when someone disrespects you or emotionally hurts you
  • Allowing a lack of respect for your privacy
  • Letting other people define you or give your life meaning
  • Going against your personal ethics or values to please others
  • Allowing another person to take as much as they can from you
  • Emotional manipulation (e.g. gaslighting)

Zero in on what situations or things make you feel super uncomfortable.

2) Decide how you’re going to take positive action

Now let’s not overwhelm ourselves or make things more complicated than they need to be (please!)

I recommend starting with the thing you MOST want to create a healthy boundary around. Let’s say that’s WhatsApp. You don’t want to feel controlled by this app (or people messaging you at all hours) anymore. 

Here are five simple steps to change that:

  1. Be honest. Tell family, friends, and colleagues that you’re spending too much time replying to messages and you’ll be making some changes to better support your mental well-being, productivity, and personal time, etc.
  2. Turn off notifications. This is a game-changer. Go to your phone settings and turn off WhatsApp notifications. Try it – I promise, it’s just like pulling off a band-aid. You can thank me later.
  3. Respond when you have the time and energy to. Unless it’s life or death urgent, everything else can generally wait. This might take some getting used to if you’re a people pleaser, but trust me, if you have the notifications off, it’s a lot easier!
  4. Leave those group chats. You know, the ones with the constant drama or endless yapping because people are bored. If someone gets offended by you leaving, you could briefly explain your reasons in a private message.
  5. Limit who gets access to you on WhatsApp. Protect your personal time by keeping your personal life… personal! Emails are still a great form of communication. I’ve even told past clients that I’d be moving our conversations over to email for efficiency and better tracking. It’s no problem if you have a good reason.

When it comes to setting healthy boundaries in your life, there are literally so many things you can do. It all depends on what YOU want to prioritise first to build a foundation. Then, you can add more boundaries as you go.

Keep it simple.

I promise, it’s not as terrifying as you think – and the benefits? Well, they’re absolutely priceless. And just in case you needed the extra reminder for doing this, here you go:

Your health and happiness are important, too.

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