Healthy Boundaries are True Self-Care

Published by Annie Barrett: 
September 25, 2023

“Boundaries are the distances we create between our various responsibilities… they are limits to what we share, when and how we engage, how much we share, and the like.” - Dr. Tracy Brower, sociologist and author of The Secrets to Happiness at Work

Boundaries are the limits you place on relationships and work that determine the physical and emotional space between yourself and others, or yourself and your work. 

Healthy boundaries lead to healthy self-respect and they are the most important pillar of true self-care according to Pooja Lakshmin, author of Real Self-Care. Dr. Pooja Lakshmin writes about boundaries as a crucial element of self-care in an article she wrote for women health care providers. She writes, 

“​​For me, setting boundaries means pausing whenever anyone asks me to do something, and remembering I have three choices. I can say yes, I can say no, or I can negotiate. For a long time, I didn’t recognize I had option 2 or 3.”

When asked to do something, take a pause and check in.

When something is asked of you, Dr. Lakshmin recommends taking a pause and in that pause, deciding how to answer. Will you say yes, no, or will you negotiate? The third response, negotiate, means that you can ask questions, get information and make requests before you say yes or no. The pause gives you the opportunity to respond rather than to react. The pause invites you to bring your full attention to yourself and your needs as well as that which is being asked of you. A clear no can mean a clear yes at another time or a clear yes for something else.

Lakshmin reminds us that setting boundaries is about recognizing you can make a choice. Sometimes that choice won’t be easy. Sometimes the choice leads to consequences that feel uncomfortable. This is because there is often tension between what you need and what other people expect of you. Often what’s hard about the boundary isn’t identifying the boundary, but being concerned about a potential backlash. We may worry about others feelings or about what others will think of us. 

Healthy boundaries ensure your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing and they improve your relationships with others.

In setting boundaries, Lakshmin argues we are actually educating the people in our lives in what it is that we need and expect of them. In the long run, this can strengthen relationships and improve work environments.

There are different areas of your life where you can hold boundaries.

  • Physical boundaries - boundaries that you hold around your physical being
  • Emotional boundaries - boundaries you hold around your emotions
  • Time boundaries - boundaries you hold around your time with others
  • Energy boundaries - boundaries you hold around your energy in relation to others

Tips for setting healthy boundaries and practicing healthy boundaries at work:

  • Consciously mark the boundary of starting and finishing work.
  • Take your breaks. Unplug during lunch.
  • Set a time to leave work and stick to it.
  • Take a pause the next time you are asked to do something extra.

Questions to ask yourself about boundaries:

  • Do you regularly take work home?  
  • Did you say yes to something you wish you had said no to this week?
  • Do you have boundaries of where and when you engage in work?
  • Do you have control over your workload? 
  • Can you set boundaries with regards to your workload? 
  • How do you respond when asked to take on an extra task, or if you’re contacted about work after hours?

Boundaries Inquiry

What is your growing edge with regards to creating healthy boundaries for yourself?