Setting Boundaries Will Improve Your Mental Health — Here's Why
We’ve all been there: Despite a nagging feeling in the back of your mind, you say “yes” to something — a playdate in the midst of a stressful week; a night out with friends, even though you have a work deadline looming; or a late-night television binge with your partner when all you want to do is sleep. As soon as the word leaves your lips, you know it was the wrong answer and immediately regret it. Rather than ignoring your gut instinct, be respectful of your own thoughts and feelings and the overall relationship and decline without guilt. That’s called setting boundaries.
Keep reading to learn how a lack of boundaries impacts your mental health and why it’s important to set them as well as how to establish these personal limits.
The Importance of Boundaries
This tendency to say yes has always been encouraged, especially for women, but it has only gotten worse since the pandemic started. The circumstances of this past year have not only increased our stress but also the responsibilities and demands we face each and every day. Many factors contribute to overextending yourself — anything from devaluing yourself or fear of upsetting others or others' needs/desires not being met to limited (or no) support or a desire to control the environment.
A lack of boundaries can be particularly problematic for women. We take on the burden of so many facets of daily life; it is something we are taught to do from our mothers and socialized to believe is our gender's responsibility. Furthermore, women tend to feel responsible for the experiences of others, so we often overextend ourselves to benefit others, especially our loved ones. Women hold the needs of others in their minds constantly, leading to strong pulls to be always thinking of and doing for others. Feminists use the term mental load to describe this phenomenon.
The first step is recognizing the need to set boundaries. Boundaries are loving to both yourself and others in your life. Unfortunately, knowing you need better personal limits can be tricky. Look out for these signs of unhealthy boundaries:
You give more than you can and feel the depletion in your mind and body.
You feel guilty when you say no.
You don’t speak up when you’re treated unfairly.
You don’t respect the personal space of others, or they don't respect yours.
You constantly feel indebted or in service to others
As shown by the example above, it’s easy to see that a lack of boundaries can lead to resentment, remorse, irritation, and stress. As a result of these feelings, some people may struggle with other mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and/or substance abuse.
How to Set Boundaries
So how do we break this vicious cycle of overextension and resentment? With boundaries, of course! You need to understand that setting limits are loving. It’s loving and respectful of yourself, your needs, and your time, but it’s also loving and respectful of others.
Speaking of your needs, your own self-care is often the first thing to be sidelined. Make an effort to schedule in time for self-care. Whether it’s reading a book, going for a long walk, or taking a bubble bath, do something for yourself and treat it as a non-negotiable event on your calendar. You’ll notice that this time allows you to be more present when you’re parenting, working, or helping others.
It’s also helpful to create a schedule and a budget. Both documents will serve as tracking sheets, allowing you to outline the days and weeks ahead, set goals, and divvy up responsibilities when possible.
Lastly, consider therapy. Many of us recognize that therapy can teach you coping techniques or support you as you work through a relationship hurdle, but did you realize it can also help you establish boundaries? Setting these personal limits is challenging, and having a professional to guide you can make all the difference.
Before we close, let’s acknowledge that it’s hard to say “no.” Rather than only seeing the negative in your “no,” look for the positive. “No” means you’re respecting yourself, your limits, and the relationship. It means you’re paying attention to your feelings, wants, and needs. It means you’re nurturing your self-confidence, which in turn enables you to better define who you are and what’s important to you as well as better care for yourself and others. What could be more important than that?
If you or a loved one is struggling, reach out to Dr. Kelli Malkasian, PsyD, C.E.D.S. at Coral Reef Counseling, and schedule a free consultation or telehealth appointment today.