Well-Being//

How to Set Healthy Personal Boundaries That Protect Your Well-being (and Your Sanity)

These tips can be applied to both our work lives and our personal lives.

Pimpan/ Shutterstock
Pimpan/ Shutterstock

“I’d estimate at least half of my frustrations with others are actually frustrations with myself for failing to set clear boundaries and stand by them,” writes Atomic Habits author James Clear in a recent newsletter. We know that setting boundaries can help protect our well-being, but when we don’t make those boundaries and expectations clear — whether it’s with friends or colleagues or mere acquaintances — we can end up feeling frustrated or even trapped.

We asked our Thrive community to share with us the tips that help them set the boundaries they need to avoid feeling frustrated or stuck. Which of these will you try?

Try a “yes detox”

“I love the idea of doing a ‘yes detox’ to set boundaries. Oftentimes, we get in the habit of saying ‘yes’ before we even hear the question we’re being asked. But when we constantly give, we can end up feeling overwhelmed. To stop this behavior, the ‘yes detox’ mindset helps us say ‘no’ to things we don’t want to commit to. Instead of saying yes right away, you take five to eight hours to think about whether or not you really want to commit to it. This shift shuts down the pattern of saying ‘yes’ to everything, and makes our decisions more intentional. It can help us set the boundaries we need with those around us, and allows us to live a more peaceful life as a result.”

—Belinda Ginter, certified emotional kinesiologist, Ontario, Canada 

Speak up when meeting times don’t work for you

“When we don’t speak up about the boundaries we need, we could end up feeling resentful. We decided to book our daily team calls at 7:30 am to get everyone aligned before the day started, and one teammate would always join clearly annoyed and curt. It turns out that he was resentful of these calls, as they interfered with his ability to train for a marathon. Once we surfaced the issue, we adjusted the time of the daily call. We need to remember that it’s okay to ask people to make changes if they interfere with your schedule. I have even started asking for some video calls to be switched to phone calls only so I can take the call while walking around.”

—Donna Peters, career coach, podcast host, faculty, Atlanta, GA

Articulate that you’re offline on weekends

“I generally don’t mind answering an email on Saturday as long as it’s a quick reply, but if it’s an email that I need to sit down with and review attachments, I definitely wait until Monday morning. During these past few months, my boss would email or text me at hours when I should already be done with work and I would reply right away, sometimes even pushing working hours beyond what’s reasonable. Now I have transitioned to politely say that I am away from my desk for the day and reassure him I will take care of it first thing tomorrow. It is important to set those boundaries to avoid exhaustion and working unnecessary hours that will inevitably frustrate you.”

—Martin Sevillano, architectural designer, Los Angeles, CA

Tell someone how long you have for a call

“I’ve found that clearly communicating boundaries when getting on a phone call with someone can be a great way for me to avoid feeling stuck for longer than I had planned on a phone call. Language I’ve used is. ‘Hey! I’m so excited we’re getting the chance to catch up today. Before we dig in, I just want to let you know I have an hour before I need to get to some other things I have planned for my day.’ This way, I’m expressing my genuine excitement about the conversation and also communicating my own boundaries before the conversation begins. Clearly expressing my needs up front keeps me from feeling dismissive later on in the conversation.”

—Cara Planitz-Clatanoff, founder of Sabia Wisdom, Tucson, AZ

Carve out time for yourself

“I have a family, a career as a doctor, and I’ve recently stepped into freelance writing as well. I manage to juggle all of my roles quite well, and I credit this smooth sailing to my ability to set boundaries with my time. Most of my day is spent at a clinic, where I focus solely on dealing with other people and their issues. When I get home, I spend time with my family, cook, and do any necessary household chores. Then, I make sure to always spend some ‘me time,’ whether by reading, listening to music, or writing. When I don’t take that time to myself at the end of the day, my entire week feels more chaotic, and I can sense that pressure building up.”

—Dr. Nandita Ranjit, doctor and writer, Kerala, India

Be clear about your preferred communication method

“I had to start putting a line in my client contracts that explain that email and Zoom are my preferred ways to communicate. At one point, I had a slew of clients texting me, Instagram messaging me, emailing, and calling. That’s the beauty and curse of social media and being so digitally connected. I found every second of the day that something was pinging me and it felt impossible to keep up. I’d also catch myself responding at nighttime when the notification would pop up on my screen. I had to set limits for myself and clients to have the most effective and efficient communication.”

—Lisa Pezik, business strategist, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Take time for deep breathing

“I’ve had trouble setting boundaries in the past, but I’ve recently started teaching part-time instead of full-time, and it’s given me the ability to step back and make time for self-care. One thing I’ve learned is the importance of making time for deep breathing, even if it’s just for five minutes. Concentrating on nothing but my breath, in addition to letting the tension go in a key part of my body, has allowed my brain to feel less fogged — something that I have struggled with in the past. It’s made me realize that metaphorically, I have been holding my breath for far too long and it’s time to let go and consider what deserves my attention and what frustrations are occupying too much space in my head.”

—Amanda Edmanson, primary teacher, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Let yourself cancel if necessary

“We are way more willing to cancel plans with ourselves than with others. One way I’ve been able to set boundaries is to start guarding commitments to myself, and being okay with cancelling plans if I need some alone time. Protecting time for yourself is just as important than attending all of your meetings. If you have time set aside and someone wants to encroach, ask yourself if you would cancel the plan if another person were expecting you. If the answer is no, think about holding your ground and your appointment.”

—Dena Lefkowitz, lawyer coach, Media, PA

Make your exercise window a non-negotiable

“When I joined an at-home exercise program and started carving out time to move each day, I realized how useful it was in setting boundaries. At first, my kids were interrupting me every time I tried to work out, and then we finally agreed that for half an hour each day there would be no interruptions. While the short-term health boost of having a daily workout has been incredibly useful, the longer-term exercise in setting clear boundaries and reinforcing them was a change that contributed to our family dynamic and my own sanity.”

—Diana Wu David, entrepreneur, Hong Kong

How do you set your own boundaries to protect your well-being? Share your ideas with us in the comments.

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