How learning to care less in all aspects of life can be the ultimate healthy boundary


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I’m taking a personally led crash course in how to stop caring (or, at least, care less). It’s called the “Hide Alerts,” and I love it. I have an empath’s heart, an anxious idler’s brain, and the lungs of someone who visits the gym once every three weeks, so—rest assured—I get drained running around, trying to fix everyone’s problems and meet every expectation foisted on me. That’s why keeping push notifications—text, email, social media, you name it—to a minimum whenever possible is a basic for of self-preservation. While what works for me may not work for you, what’s key for setting any healthy boundary—personal, professional, or otherwise—is striking the sweet spot of, “I can care about you and still care about me.”

Some boundaries are specific, like blocking someone on social media,” says clinical psychologist Aimee Daramus, PsyD. “Other boundaries might depend on how you’re feeling that day. If you’re having a low-stress day, you might have more time to listen to someone’s problems, but when you’re already having a stressful day, you might only have so much to give.”

Of course, the natural caretaker may have a hard time turning people down and steering clear of emotional vampires, and the conscientious employee have a hard time not bringing home work. So if you’re find it hard to emotionally and physically de-invest and understand how to stop caring so much, find tips below for setting up little fences in both your personal life and your career.

How to stop caring so much about what your peers think and expect

1. Look back at your history with someone

Are you drawn to constant complainers who don’t have a vested interest in returning the favor when you have something you want to vent about? Be aware of those who take without giving, and adjust your expectations—and the amount of emotional energy you’re willing to devote to them—accordingly.

“If they have a pattern of showing up when they need something, but they’re ‘super busy, so sorry!’ every time you need something, you might need to stop answering their texts unless it’s an emergency,” says Dr. Daramus. Of course, if their behaviors honestly don’t bother you, continue doing whatever makes you happy. Otherwise, consider this a classic case of the power that can come from being able to care less.

2. Don’t put more work into someone than they’re willing to put into themselves

Having someone in your sphere who, say, spends all of your quality time complaining about her good-for-nothing ex, but next thing you know, they’re back together (again) is exhausting. When you see your support and thoughtful advice go ignored time after time, it’s time to learn how to stop caring so much and instead provide distanced support.

“If you start feeling frustrated because someone is in pain about a situation, but nothing ever changes, you can always just listen without trying to ‘fix’ anything.” —Aimee, Daramus, PsyD

“If you start feeling frustrated because someone is in pain about a situation, but nothing ever changes, you can always just listen without trying to ‘fix’ anything,” Dr. Daramus says. “You can also let them know that you’ll be there whenever they’re ready to make changes.”

3. Focus on simultaneous self care

“If a friend needs you, and you feel too drained to cope, another option might be to do some [quiet] self care together instead of having an exhausting conversation,” says Dr. Daramus.

This is a good deflection that allows you to be there for someone, offer a calming sense of peace, and also restore rather than exhaust yourself. Suggest the two of you do something that will help you both feel better. Find a shared interest—whether that’s more of a cathartic night out or a cozy night in—and something that might keep conversation to a minimum, and you’re good to go.

4. Be specific about what you can offer, and set limits

“Don’t offer anything that’s too much for you right now,” Dr. Daramus says. “It’s better not to offer at all versus offering some help and then not following through or getting angry and refusing their calls because you feel used.”

To get comfortable with this boundary, Dr. Daramus suggests a basic, two-step pattern: empathize, then tell them what you have to give. A examples? “I’m so sorry you broke up, that’s painful. Want to meet at the coffee shop for an hour after work?” Or, “I’m too drained for anything heavy. Want to go to a class at the gym and then use the sauna?”

How to stop caring so much about work

Of course it’s not ideal if you feel totally check out from and uninspired by your job, but in order to shield yourself from the threat of burnout, it is helpful to set some boundaries that’ll allow you to foster balance in your life and maintain emotional distance from what you do and who you are. So instead of quitting the ideal of caring about your job, career coach Maggie Mistal suggests you instead think about caring for yourself while caring for your job.

1. Write out what your ideal day looks like

Specifically, pay attention to how your current days look compared to the ideal and any small changes you can make that’ll allow you to not stress so much. For example, maybe you’re not super-productive in the morning, so you ask your manager if you can establish a system that allows you to work from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. instead of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“In this case and a lot of others, sometimes bosses can be scared,” Mistal says. They might not want to adjust your hours out of fear that everyone else will want that too. Mistal suggests that you approach these asks with, “let’s just pilot this.” Establish a trial period (a month, two months) to your manager for seeing how it works, and if it doesn’t work for everyone involved, it can be abandoned. You may find that one thing actually doesn’t work, and you’ll be glad that you only test drove it for a month.

2. Don’t check your email after you leave

Nothing new, but Mistal confirms that the tip has been game-changing for her clients. It allows you to separate your work and your personal life by not accessing any notifications once it’s time to leave.

Also when it comes to compartmentalizing, you can decide to not talk about work—and to avoid gossiping or commiserating—outside of work, even if you’re with your colleagues at happy hour.

3. Try to let go of what’s not yours

This letting go, Mistal says, starts with recognizing what your “unique genius” is. “We each have this unique set of talents, interest, preferences, and experiences that make us a genius at doing certain things,” Mistal says. “This also makes us not a genius in other ways. And a lot of times, what I find is that most people have a lot on their plate that shouldn’t even be [there].”

Those tasks that aren’t your strength or don’t interest you can bog you down and make the day-to-day’s work feel longer. While you may not love every component of the job you have and its duties, you can take an audit of what you’re doing to assess what might be possible to move. You maybe surprised by what you can move off your plate and fairly re-delegate to others on your team or direct reports. Recognizing the responsibilities shouldn’t belong to you and are possibly taking time from successfully accomplishing what does interest you is a good place to start.

This 28-day ReNew Year challenge will give you more habits that support your emotional health. And here’s how to say no, without the associated guilt.

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