Self-Care Tips

Establishing These 4 Types of Boundaries Can Help Alleviate Stress, Says a Psychologist

Saanya Ali

Photo: Getty/The Good Brigade
Stress is an inevitable part of life—no spoiler alert there. What you might not realize, though, is that it puts you in a state of emergency called “fight, flight, or freeze,” explains Aimee Daramus, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and professor. And that can impact how you sleep, eat, work or interact with others because your brain and body stop focusing on their regular functions in order to dedicate energy toward staying alive and safe. Fortunately, there are certain healthy boundaries you can set—four types to be exact—that can help you better manage stress when it crops up in order to keep it from creeping into other areas of your life like a viny house plant.

Yep, having healthy parameters in place can help stop you from emotionally dumping the feelings they derive where they don’t belong. For instance, wouldn’t you like to learn how to not bring the anxiety of a tough work day into a Zoom catchup with an old friend—or the gahhh feeling of moving homes into your evening yoga session?

“We don’t help anyone by getting burnt out and needing care ourselves. This is what makes these boundaries so important,” says Dr. Daramus. “We have to decide how much we can give to our friends, family and communities before we stop to recharge our own batteries with time away.”

To help you find this happy medium, Dr. Daramus is here to explain the four types of boundaries to set for yourself, depending on what kind of stress you are dealing with.

4 types of boundaries to set against…

1. Physical stress

The sitch: This is the kind of stress you feel when you have to keep going physically, like working late, staying up past your usual bedtime to finish your to-do list, neglecting to eat well because you can’t peel yourself away from your computer, or anything else that wears your body down.

The fix: Dr. Daramus suggests using a planner to make a list of tasks, and deciding that when those tasks are done so are you. Another way to set a similar boundary is determining that work is finished at a specific time no matter what, or treating meals and workouts with the same respect you give to work projects. Do this by adding them to your calendar and honoring them like you would other commitments.

2. Emotional stress

The sitch: Emotional stress is, just as it sounds—something that hurts us or intrudes on us emotionally. It could be reading too much about tragedies you have no control over or listening to the troubles of friends without expecting anyone to spend any time letting you vent.

The fix: According to Dr. Daramus, “you could set a boundary by letting friends know that you’re there to listen but that you’re going to need a chance to express yourself so you can feel like someone cares.” If doomscrolling is what’s bringing you down, consider capping your screen time or opting to mute/unfollow media sites or accounts that tend to send you into a stress spiral.

3. Social stress

The sitch: This can be one of two things—you can be worn out from too much socializing or (especially given the events of the past year) worked up about not having enough of it.

The fix: If you can’t take one more Zoom happy hour where you’ll have the same conversation that you did at the last five Zoom parties, let yourself skip it for once. Instead, read, listen to music or engage in another hobby that fills your cup. The opposite rule applies if it’s not having enough events on your social calendar that’s causing your feelings of unease. Reach out to a friend and suggest a FaceTime or socially distanced date to connect.

4. Burnout

The sitch: Burnout is when your stress reaches the point of making you physically or mentally ill and is probably going to take a few different kinds of boundaries to battle, especially if you have multiple responsibilities.

The fix: Dr. Daramus recommends letting people know soonest when you feel overwhelmed so you can start to pump the brakes. Take frequent opportunities do something that makes you feel like your life belongs to you instead of to everybody except you, even it it’s small or a short timeout. Try to keep your relationships, including work ones, as reciprocal as you can. And avoid taking everything on and assuming people will do the same for you. Most importantly, ask for help when you need it.

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