Knowing Your Boundaries (Overwhelmed Series #2)

Last week I introduced the Overwhelmed series. For the next couple of weeks, I will be providing tips and strategies that not only help you handle the feeling of being overwhelmed, but also prevent future episodes of being overwhelmed. This week’s strategy is to know your boundaries.

Boundaries give structure and definition to our relationships and to other aspects of our lives. We all fulfill multiple roles in our lives. For instance, I am a counsellor, but I am also a mother, a daughter, a wife, a friend to many, an arts-and-crafts-er, etc. Each of our roles has time allotted to it, and when we start saying “yes” to more stuff than we can handle in the allotted time, we feel overwhelmed. Knowing our boundaries means that we can give each role the quality of attention that it deserves, and keep ourselves from feeling stretched too thin.

I know boundaries can be quite challenging. The truth is, boundary setting is a skill, and it takes practice to learn how to be good at it. If you’re struggling with setting boundaries, here are some tips on starting the practice:

Use a script

Having a script to use when you first start out can be helpful, especially if your automatic response tends to be “Yes”. To make a script, imagine a situation where you said yes when you really wanted to say no. Consider an effective way of turning down the request, and write it down. It is likely that this answer is applicable to numerous boundary-setting events, and having it handy can help ease you into the practice of setting boundaries.

Here are some examples of scripts that you might find helpful:

  1. I have a lot on my plate right now, and I wouldn’t be able to give the task the attention is deserves. It would be best if you asked someone else to handle that.
  2. Thanks for asking, but this week is pretty hectic for me. Can we schedule something for next week? (OR “Can I get back to you when I know I have some time?”)
  3. That sounds like an interesting/exciting task/event. Do you need an answer right now, or can I get back to you about this later? I currently have a lot on my to-do list.
  4. I’m not sure. Can I get back to you?
  5. No. I am not able to do that.

Check in with yourself

Knowing your boundaries means you know your own limits. Before you commit to something, pause and ask yourself a couple of things:

  1. Does this fit my role?
  2. Do I have time to commit to this?
  3. If I don’t have time, but this is important: What items on my to-do list can be delegated to someone else, or postponed indefinitely?
  4. What are some good reasons to say “yes” to this?

The more you check in with yourself, the more you develop a strong relationship with your boundaries. By developing this relationship, you have empowered yourself to step away from constantly feeling overwhelmed, and step into feeling confident about your decisions.

Work Your Way Up

Knowing your boundaries takes time, and setting boundaries with other people is a skill that needs to be developed. Maybe you’re reading this and realizing that boundaries is an area that you truly struggle with. It can be overwhelming to try to set all of the boundaries at once (which is definitely counterproductive in a blog series on helping you not feel overwhelmed!). Start small. Consider one or two areas where you can practice setting a boundary, and commit to doing so. Setting these small boundaries will help lessen the stress on your overloaded to-do list, and you can work up to the bigger boundaries.

Enlist Help

Getting to know your boundaries and setting those boundaries with others is a big job, and you might need some help. Talk to someone you trust (a friend, partner, or family member usually) about how you are feeling, and about what you would like to accomplish with boundaries. This person may be able to help strengthen your resolve in creating this life change.

If you’re truly struggling with getting to know your boundaries, talking to a counsellor is a good idea. Counsellors can help you learn about yourself, the roles you hold in life, and how to create more structure in your life. They can also help you navigate the response you experience from others as you change your script from always saying “Yes” to discerning when it is healthier to say “No.”