As we continue to transition back to life outside and reconnect with family, friends, coworkers, and even partners, it’s important to think about healthy boundaries. According to Elyse Fox, the founder of Sad Girls Club—a nonprofit and online platform that aims to end stigma around mental illness—they’re a crucial part of self-care. “When you set a boundary, you’re advocating for your needs,” she says. Setting boundaries can be difficult, but with time and practice, doing so will help you become a better communicator, reduce stress, have more time for yourself, and build healthier relationships. Here, Fox shares four tips to get started.
Understand your limits. Sometimes, we overextend ourselves or remain quiet about things that bother us, which can lead to burnout, resentment, and self-destruction. Before agreeing to any commitments, ask yourself: Do I have the mental, emotional, and physical capacity for this? “It’s OK to cancel or reschedule plans if you feel overwhelmed,” Fox says. Tune in to how certain things make you feel—learning what is and isn’t acceptable for you is a key first step to setting healthy boundaries.
Be clear and assertive. Setting a boundary can be as simple as saying, “Please don’t touch my personal belongings without asking first,” if you’re living with a roommate. Make sure to communicate respectfully, but without any ambiguity. This goes for work situations (“I will only respond to emails during working hours”), and romantic relationships, too (“I like you, but I don’t want to have sex yet”). Setting a clear boundary can help you take action if that boundary is violated, e.g. “I won’t attend any more family gatherings if you keep misgendering me.” Practice saying “no” when you don’t want to do something. You don’t need to explain or apologize.
Give yourself space. Setting boundaries can make us feel awkward, uncomfortable, or even guilty. Having to reinforce them can also be draining. Give yourself time and space to get used to sharing and asserting your needs and limits. “These conversations are hard,” Fox says. “Set time for yourself and keep that commitment.”
Reflect and check in often. “We are growing, changing people, so sometimes our boundaries can also change and adapt. Check in with yourself to see if the boundaries that you set are impacting your life in a positive way,” Fox says. “Once you practice and [begin to] think about boundaries, it won’t be this heavy, scary thing; it’ll become a natural part of your life.” –Safire R. Sostre
Illustration by Bee Johnson
This article originally appeared in the Fall 2021 print edition of BUST Magazine. Subscribe today!
Safire R. Sostre is a freelance journalist with experience in print and digital media. She writes reported profiles and covers news and culture, usually through the lenses of identity and wellness. Their main goal as a writer is to amplify the stories of marginalized voices.