Setting Boundaries During COVID-19: How to Do It and Why It Matters
The spread of COVID-19 has changed pretty much every part of our day to day lives in the United States, including the dynamics in the relationships we have. We’re all dealing with the weirdness of this year in our own ways, but it’s not always easy, especially when everyone is going through so much. The constant trauma of the coronavirus pandemic is exhausting, mentally, physically, and spiritually. One way to limit the exhaustion you feel is to set firm boundaries about what you are available for during COVID-19. Your needs and wants have probably shifted a lot in the past six months, and boundaries are a practical way to communicate them to the people in your life.
What are boundaries?
Boundaries help us maintain relationships that are important to us while also allowing us to ask for what we need. Instead of straining relationships, boundaries should be a sign that the relationship is valued.
We tend to misunderstand what boundaries mean. We might think they’re too harsh, or that they’re restricting us unfairly. However, boundaries are actually just about protecting our energy and prioritizing our mental health. They help to prevent us from burning out, and allow us a degree of control over the way we spend our emotional and mental energy.
Why are boundaries important right now?
Boundaries are one way we can protect our energy. When you set a boundary, you give yourself time to rest and reflect, time to take care of your needs, and to protect your sense of self and stick to your values.
Right now, the world is filled with chaos. There’s a global pandemic. We’re in the midst of a national reckoning about racial injustice in this country. It’s an election year. We’re all filled with worries, a lot more than we typically are. We’re worried about our health and the health of the people we care about. We’re worried about our jobs and losing our income. We’re sick of staying inside all of the time, but we’re aware that it is the best way to keep people safe. We miss the people in our lives we used to see every day. We miss the way things were. The stresses we’re dealing with are serious, and they’re on a massive scale, which means that self-care (like getting enough rest, or setting boundaries) is more important than ever.
Some examples of boundaries:
- Saying how you feel, even in uncomfortable situations
- Stating your needs
- Asking for help
- Reminding yourself that others are responsible for their own feelings
- Saying no without guilt
- Teaching other people how you want and deserve to be treated
- Making time to recharge on your own
In the middle of a global pandemic, our boundaries will probably change. That’s a good thing! Boundaries aren’t meant to be static, you should change them as often as you need to in order to feel protected. Depending on what you’re going through, your boundaries might be totally different one year to the next.
The important thing to remember is that when your boundaries change, you need to communicate those changes, so people can continue to respect your boundaries.
Examples of COVID-19 Specific boundaries:
- No COVID talk in the evenings
- Scrolling social media less to minimize stress
- Asking others to wear masks around you or to maintain distance
It might feel weird to set boundaries while you’re already feeling limited due to social distancing and pandemic restrictions. Sometimes, you might feel guilty when you set boundaries, especially when you know the other person is struggling as well. However, it’s still important for you to prioritize your own health and wellness by setting boundaries. If you’re feeling uncomfortable at the idea of setting boundaries, taking some time to practice what you want to say beforehand can be really helpful. Here are some ideas for how to articulate your boundaries during this time:
Instead of saying: “I’m too tired for this, go away.”
Try saying: I’m really glad to hear from you! We’re going through a weird time right now, and my energy level is lower than usual. I need to take some time recharge on my own tonight. Can we talk on Wednesday?”
Why: This lets the other person know that it’s not about them, it’s about you. It’s also important to let the other person know that you still do value your relationship with them by suggesting something you are available for.
Instead of saying: Can you stop interrupting me at work with your non-stop texts?!
Try saying: I would love to chat with you! I usually work from 10 to 4, though, so I’m not always available to chat, even if I’m online. Can we plan for a chat when I can give you my undivided attention?
Why: People can’t read your mind, and they don’t know what you’re doing at all times. They might be feeling a little lonely and vulnerable, so be kind while also being firm.
Instead of saying: Can you give me some space for five freaking seconds?! You’re always breathing down my neck!
Try saying: The pandemic and social distancing has really made me realize how much I need a alone time to recharge and feel good mentally. Can we plan for some alone time every day in addition to the time we spend together? That will help me be more mentally present when we do spend time together.
Why: Even though humans are social animals, we still need some alone time. This circumstance is unusual, and it’s okay to make adjustments based on it. Snapping at someone is just going to make them feel bad and you feel guilty. Even when you’re frustrated, saying what you need kindly is important.
In general, when you’re setting boundaries, follow this formula:
- Explain your need
- Offer a solution
- Reaffirm appreciation for the relationship
It takes some practice, but with time, setting boundaries gets easier. Do you need help with setting boundaries in your life, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic?
We can help! Contact us today.