Have you been feeling stressed or anxious lately? If you probe a little deeper into those emotions, can you identify what is driving those uncomfortable feelings? Maybe your workload is too heavy or standards of completion unreasonably high. Perhaps you’ve just had a packed weekend full of playdates and birthday parties that have resulted in tired, cranky and high-needs kids. Or possibly you’re worried about how you’re going to care for your ageing parents.
Any and all of this can lead to anxiety.
While we think of anxiety as an internal challenge, often the causes of anxiety can come down to the expectations others place on us. And sometimes it’s difficult to know how to manage these challenges.
So, in this article, we explore how setting clear boundaries – and insisting that they be respected – can help you to manage your own anxiety in a proactive, healthy way.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is the most common mental health condition in Australia. In fact, one in four Australians will experience anxiety at some point in their life. But the good news is, anxiety conditions are treatable.
So what is anxiety? It’s not just feeling that little jolt of worry that spikes when something stressful happens and fades away when the threat has passed. An anxiety condition is when that feeling doesn’t go away, happens without a cause and makes daily life difficult.
There are many different signs and symptoms of anxiety. These can include catastrophising and obsessive thinking about a particular event, place or person, and completely avoiding certain things that make you feel stressed.
What are healthy boundaries?
Healthy boundaries are essentially guidelines that help to set expectations and limits around what is appropriate and how others can treat you, as well as what to expect if that boundary is crossed. They are different for everyone. What might be a crucial boundary for you might not be considered important to someone else. Culture, context and your own personal needs play a pivotal role.
Healthy boundaries are a normal part of life. While they can sometimes be misunderstood as selfish, they are actually vital to our wellbeing and self-care. Without boundaries, we can feel uncomfortable, taken advantage of and depleted. This can lead us to feeling bitter, resentful and unsafe.
And of course, communicating your personal boundaries clearly, early on, is just as important as setting the boundary itself. In the words of the great Brené Brown: ‘Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.’
How do healthy boundaries help manage anxiety?
- Ensure your needs are met. When you set healthy boundaries you prevent others from asking too much, having unrealistic expectations or taking advantage of you. Boundaries should also help you to avoid over-committing, protect your self-care time and mitigate situations or people that make you feel anxious. This should mean less stress and anxiety for you overall, because you have been heard and your needs have been met.
- Build healthy relationships and environments. Healthy boundaries are a sign of a healthy relationship, friendship or work environment. They encourage all parties to respect each other’s values and limits. And when they are working well, they can strengthen relationships and pave the way for trust and mutual respect.
- Empower yourself. Healthy boundaries require a fair amount of self-awareness as you need to identify what you are comfortable with, and what is unacceptable. They require you to get clarity on your personal limits, and respectfully communicate those to others around you. This helps to instil self-respect and self-confidence in yourself, and makes you feel empowered.
Examples of healthy boundaries
Healthy boundaries often come down to setting rules around how you want to be treated. These might be rules for yourself about not overcommitting to things that deplete your physical, mental or emotional energy. These might be rules for others that preserve your self-care time.
If you know that you need to set more healthy boundaries in your life but are not sure where to start, here are some great examples. Of course not all of these suggestions will be right for you and your family, so take what you need and leave what you don’t.
- Have a limit around how many activities you and your children participate in on the weekends. If this means saying no to a birthday party or playdate, so be it.
- Set clear parameters on your work time and what you will accept after-hours. For example, you may refuse to check emails or answer work calls on weekends. Or you may prefer to work Saturday mornings so you can have afternoons free with your kids. Whatever works for you is the right answer.
- Schedule in some regular, child-free, self-care time for yourself. Organise someone to take care of the kids, and refuse all other invitations and distractions.
- Communicate to family or friends if you do not feel comfortable discussing certain topics with them, for example offensive political views etc.
- Set boundaries with grandparents or other family members around things that make you feel uncomfortable. These could be unannounced drop-ins or giving certain foods or gifts to your children.
- Block out time on the weekends or afternoons for your family to spend together at home, regardless of what other events pop up.
- If you feel the pressure to stay too long at family events, communicate your boundaries early (but kindly). You can say that you are excited to be part of it, but can only stay until X time before you will be leaving.
- Limit your exposure to people or settings that drain your emotional and mental energy. Take the time to consider your feelings and honour them.