We hear the word boundaries often, but what does it really mean? Boundaries can be either physical or emotional, or both! Boundaries can range from rigid and unwavering to too porous and too loose. Healthy boundaries can be found between the two. Sometimes, we may not even have boundaries.
Setting boundaries requires you to show love to yourself, to have compassion for yourself, or as in the words of Brenè Brown, “Talk to yourself like you would to someone you love.” We tend to have negative thoughts about ourselves; we are our own worst critics. When we are kinder to ourselves, we can shift from having too rigid or too porous boundaries.
We create healthy boundaries to ensure that we are mentally and emotionally stable. Having healthy boundaries helps you in practicing self-care! And, if we want to prevent burnout, practicing self-care is vital to have the space to live a life outside of work. A lack of healthy boundaries can leave us vulnerable to extreme stress levels, in financial trouble, feeling as though we have wasted time, or even finding ourselves with relationship issues.
Having the perfect work-life balance is crucial. According to WebMD, “Burnout is a form of exhaustion caused by constantly feeling swamped. It results from excessive and prolonged emotional, physical, and mental stress. In many cases, burnout is related to one’s job (Brennan, MD, 2020). Burnout may not be diagnosed medically, but burnout can affect your mental and physical health, so we must pay attention to the signs our bodies give us.
When we do not have healthy boundaries, we reduce our productivity ability. You might be scratching your head at this point, asking yourself, “How can I possibly be less productive?” Well, because burnout can affect you mentally and physically, it will reduce your energy, make you irritable or hopeless, and sometimes resentful. The stresses from work will seep into other areas of your life, e.g., relationship issues and social life decline. Long-term burnout can even make you more susceptible to catching the flu or a cold.
There are three types of burnout, according to WebMD:
The signs of burnout do not appear overnight; it is a gradual process dependent on your job’s factors. The symptoms can be subtle at first, but they can become bigger the longer they go unaddressed. The familiar feelings of burnout usually feel like overwhelming stress, but where it differs from everyday stress is feeling more tired, having negative thoughts about your job, and not performing (Brennan, MD, 2020).
So how do we employ boundaries at work? You must do your job. How do we say no?
The first one, which is the most important, is taking your breaks! This one is a mental and physical boundary. Our minds need a break from time to time, and focusing on one thing for hours at a time is not helpful. Breaks can help reinspire you or rejuvenate you, enabling you to refocus. But the most important break of all – your lunch break. Your mind and body need fuel to keep going. Missing meals not only makes your energy deplete faster, but it can also have long-term physical effects such as gallstones or GI problems. We need our bodies and minds to work, so we must take care of both. The work will still be there after your 15 and lunch, and you are legally required to take them anyways if you work a certain number of hours. A bonus? Taking your breaks is one way to practice physical self-care at work!
The second one is to ask for help if you need it. Sometimes we can be given so many things to do in the day, and since we cannot say no, asking someone if they can help is one way to reduce stress. Here is the caveat and why boundaries are important; do not feel obligated to help someone if your plate is full. It is okay to say no. It is okay to say, “I would love to help, but I have some things I need to work on.” No explanation is necessary; you have work, too. You may find yourself saying, “I’m not sure if I can take this on, too,” because that is the easiest way for you to begin to feel guilty. State the facts and stand firm. Saying no is an important mental and emotional boundary and a way to control your workload and time. One word can help you practice emotional self-care at work.
And finally, to practice social self-care at work, establish your availability expectations and communicate them to others. Getting a phone call from a colleague after you have left for the day? Unless you and that colleague are friends outside of work, that phone call is about work, and you are no longer on the clock. Save your mind the stress of being pulled back into your work life, and state your work hours and not bend them. If it was really that important, it would have been thought of and discussed long before you clocked out. If getting a phone call from a colleague after leaving is not bad enough, some people get calls on vacation! Please, do not answer that phone call. You deserve to take a break and enjoy your time with your family, your pets, a good book, whatever! Stand firm on those hours, and communicate them as many times as necessary.
Having healthy boundaries ties into practicing self-care, and when we practice self-care, we pour love into ourselves by honoring our wishes and desires. When we celebrate ourselves and show love, we remind ourselves we are just as important. Jobs can come and go, but you, my friend, only have one life. Live your life and enjoy it. There are too many memories to be made with our loved ones, and work cannot give you that.
Brennan, M.D., D. (2020, December 2). Burnout: 3 signs to look for. WebMD. Retrieved December 22, 2021, from https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/burnout-symptoms-signs
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