Establishing healthy boundaries

Anna Malesiewski, Assistant Editor

Boundaries can be healthy.

Sometimes, I think the word “boundaries” has a negative connotation.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a boundary is defined as “something that indicates or fixes a limit or extent.” Boundaries are not just for physical matters, they must be applied to our mental states as well.

Especially in the age of social media, boundaries can be hard to establish. The general expectation is that we have to be accessible all of the time. Ignored texts are considered rude, being left on “delivered” is seen as an offense and not responding to comments can incite rage. The digital world can be so noisy, and it can be exhausting to keep up.

Some days, I love the communicative aspect that social media brings. Some days, I am thankful for the ability to reach out to those I can’t always reach out to in person, especially during COVID-19.

But sometimes, I dread opening my social media apps. I dread unlocking my phone, and my notifications build up. These notifications build up even more when I am not responsive, and as a result, texts and Snapchats demanding to know where I am and what I’m doing ensue.

This is not healthy. Despite what the culture we live in may insinuate, being accessible all of the time is not normal. It can be damaging to mental health, and it can be emotionally draining.

So what can we do to combat this in the digital age?

We can set boundaries.

Establishing boundaries is so important in protecting mental health. We need time to recharge, refresh and take care of ourselves. You cannot pour from an empty cup.

Not having boundaries can lead to psychological damage or a loss of identity. If no boundaries are established, we risk losing ourselves to meet the needs of others.

How do we set boundaries in a healthy way?

Let’s start with school or work. Setting boundaries can look like ignoring work or school-related emails after hours (unless it is absolutely necessary), setting aside time after work or classes to unwind and unplug or keeping a separation between work and personal time. These things can help prevent frustration and burnout.

What about personal relationships? A good way to set boundaries is to communicate the need for at least one night alone a week to practice self-care. This time is important, because if we do not recharge, our emotional “batteries” could die, and we might end up lashing out or doing something out of character. For me, this time is non-negotiable.

Another way to set boundaries in relationships is to reach the realization that we are NOT therapists. Helping and supporting your friends is different from acting like their full-time therapist. Taking responsibility for and becoming personally caught up in the problems of other people can be psychologically damaging. If this is happening to you, have a conversation with your friend or significant other, and possibly suggest that they see a licensed mental health professional instead of relying on you to fulfill that role.

Boundaries when it comes to social media and technology may be the most difficult to establish. One way that I establish boundaries with the virtual world is to use the “Do Not Disturb” feature on my phone. When I turn this on, there are no notifications in my face, and it feels like I have more of a choice to engage in them when I want to as opposed to being bombarded all day.

If I am having a bad mental health day, a simple thing that I do to avoid worsening the situation is to stay off of apps that foster comparison. When I am not feeling my best, I like to avoid apps such as Instagram and TikTok and spend that time doing something that is healthier for my mind.

In order to set boundaries, you have to believe you deserve them. And the fact of the matter is, we all do. You have a right to say no to the things you do not want to do. You have the right to be assertive. You have the right to have your needs met with just as much urgency as everyone else’s are met. You have a right to fall short of unreasonable expectations. You have a right to peace and solitude.

So the next time your “battery” feels drained, consider setting some healthy boundaries. We all deserve to honor our needs.


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