You’re trimming the crusts off your child’s sandwich. Your dog is howling over his empty food bowl. You’re making cupcakes for a work party. You’re worried you won’t get to the community garden in time to water the tomatoes. Uh-oh, you’ve said “yes” to more than you can handle.

But don’t stress. With a deep breath and some helpful tips, you can avoid this situation in the future by setting healthy boundaries.

It’s not uncommon for some of us to take on more than our plate can hold. But if you habitually say “yes” to requests from friends, family members and coworkers, you can become overbooked and fatigued.

People who enjoy pleasing others may need help saying one of the most powerful words in English: No. You can say “no” when a friend asks for a favor and you don’t have the time to do it. It’s not rude to put up boundaries around friends. You can pick and choose what is comfortable for you when you have the space for it.

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Just say “no” to boundary pushers

Unclear boundaries can leave you feeling overextended and burned out. Failure to set boundaries often leads to these types of experiences:

  • You may overcommit your time.
  • You may put others’ needs before your own too often.
  • You might feel responsible for others’ problems.

Many of us find it tough to set healthy boundaries. Teladoc Health Medical Group Clinical Psychologist Dr. Mary Chappell says, “Setting boundaries is difficult.” She continues, “Setting limits with people one loves can be more intense. Such limits can prompt feelings of guilt, shame, regret and even resentment.”

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Beat burnout by protecting your time and energy

When people say “no” to requests, it can lead to guilt. When you set a healthy boundary, you may feel guilty. The person on the receiving end may be disappointed, but this does not mean that you are wrong or selfish.1

Preserving your mental and emotional health is an act of self-care.1 The following examples show how to protect your time and energy:

  • You might be the office workhorse who stays late to finish projects. Say “no” to this habit and choose work-life balance.
  • It’s OK to offer a shoulder to cry on. But when friends or family abuse this privilege, it’s time to set boundaries.
  • Dr. Chappell explains that self-advocacy is critical. You must find your most powerful instrument: your voice. Your voice empowers you to create a healthy balance between giving of yourself and protecting your time and energy.

“We need to understand how we want to be affected,” Dr. Chappell says. “We then develop the language needed to communicate those needs. That language provides the tools for setting appropriate boundaries.”

Want to talk about how to set boundaries with your own family and friends? Learn more about how our Mental Health service can help.

Published August 8, 2023


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