When thinking about nourishing your mental health, it’s important to consider your support systems. While having a solid foundation of community is crucial, keep in mind that the benefits of those relationships are only as healthy as the relationships themselves. One way to ensure your relationships contribute to your mental health is by creating healthy boundaries.
It may feel daunting or even selfish to take this step for yourself, especially if you have to defend your boundaries against pushback from others. But your personal boundaries serve so many important purposes, like providing you with personal autonomy, improving your self-esteem and ensuring your needs—physical, mental and emotional—are prioritized. With that in mind, here are a few ways to set boundaries that benefit you.
You’ve heard of work-life balance—that elusive equilibrium between work and everything else. And while this concept is important, it can prove difficult in practice because it’s just not possible to entirely separate work from personal, and vice versa. Recognizing this, try embracing the idea of work-life harmony—the acceptance that, depending on what’s happening in your life, one area of life may need a little more attention than another, creating a healthy—and harmonious—ebb and flow.
This approach doesn’t mean having zero separation between your work and personal life. It’s simply taking away the pressure of striking a perfect balance, encouraging you to direct your attention where it’s needed right now, so your boundaries can meet you where you are. In other words, implementing fluid boundaries as opposed to rigid ones.
Of course, work isn’t the only place where we need to set boundaries. In our personal lives (including our relationships), the media we consume or how we choose to spend our free time, boundaries play a key role.
Drawing a line can be especially difficult when it comes to personal relationships. Our loved ones are the people who we lean on for support, and in turn we’re there when they need us. But what happens when it feels like their needs are overtaking our own?
Putting too much of our care and empathy into others can cause compassion fatigue, which is the depletion of energy through exceeding your emotional capacity. It can happen not only from relationships, but from focusing too much on the struggles of others (including news and social media!). That’s why it’s so important to recognize your emotional limits—and to protect them. This can include communicating the need for space in a relationship, ‘unplugging’ to disengage from sources of emotional stress or participating in activities that bring you joy and fulfillment.
Just remember, much like you give your boundaries some wiggle room, be sure to do the same for others. While we have our boundaries to look out for, other people will have their own, and it’s important to never disregard anyone’s limits. As with so many things in life, compromise is key.
You, You, You!
You can’t spell mental health without ‘me’, which brings us to some of the most important boundaries we set: the ones for ourselves. Our boundaries don’t always have to include others and can be a form of self-care, though not the enjoy-a-relaxing-bubble-bath kind. Boundary-setting self-care can feel like tough love at times—choosing to go for a walk and listen to a podcast to unwind after work instead of scrolling endlessly through TikToks, choosing to watch only one or two episodes of your favourite show instead of spending hours binge-watching or choosing to cook a nutritious meal at home rather than stretching the budget to order takeout.
It’s kind of like being your own parent, because you’re prioritizing what you know is best for you over what can feel like the more fun option while being careful not to be too rigid. Remember, it’s about recognizing and mindfully choosing what you need in the moment.
While there’s no such thing as perfection, practice makes everything easier, so look for the areas in your life where you can be more intentional in taking a stand for yourself.