Health Agenda

Mental Health

How to create healthy boundaries

We look at setting boundaries in 5 areas of your life, and how they can help reduce stress and strengthen relationships.

Charmaine Yabsley
July 2018

Finding balance can be difficult – making sure you have enough sleep, looking after your health and making time for quality relationships. The idea of setting boundaries may sound restrictive, but they can actually help you find balance.

Psychotherapist Jennie Miller and journalist Victoria Lambert have written in their new book that boundaries are decisions we make which govern our own behaviour and the way we interact with others. That can include how we spend our time, our emotional involvement and our independence and reliance on others.

We share Miller and Lambert’s suggestions for healthy boundaries in 5 areas, in an adaptation from Boundaries: How to Draw The Line In Your Head, Heart and Home by Jennie Miller and Victoria Lambert (Harper Collins).

Digital devices

In Australia, we spend an average of 10 hours a day on digital devices, reports Ernst & Young. What’s worrying is the effect all this online activity has on our mental health and relationships with others.

One example is a Columbia University study that found that we’re becoming so adjusted to using Google that our memories are changing. “We remember less through knowing information itself than by knowing where the information can be found,” says author Betsy Sparrow.

Digital boundaries

  • Note how many times a day you check your phone or email. This can help you realise if you need to reduce the amount of time you spend online.
  • Set a regular time to check your messages – this may be between 30 minute and 2 hour intervals.
  • Make time for relaxation or leisure – you could try putting your phone on silent between 8pm and 8am.

Work

If you work hard, balance can help prevent high levels of stress.

Work boundaries

  • Limit your work hours. If possible, turn your phone off when you’re with family and friends.
  • Add up the time you spend at work, plus the time you think or talk about it. How does this balance with time spent on yourself, or with friends and family? Try to find balance.

Relationships

Healthy boundaries help you create sustainable relationships, with partners or close friends. It may sound as though you’ll keep your loved ones at a distance, but boundaries help establish and sustain healthy relationships.

“Setting boundaries isn’t about ignoring the needs of others, it’s about not ignoring yourself,” say the authors.

Relationship boundaries

  • Don’t rely on the relationship for all your needs to be met. That can put too much pressure on you both. What you do outside the relationship can bring positive energy into it.
  • Assess whether you seem to have enough time for each other. If not, plan a surprise or share something together, whether it’s a TV show, activity or cooking meals together.

Parenting

Setting clear boundaries for your child will support and encourage their development. Boundaries for yourself are also important, so you have time to look after your own physical and mental health. This may mean saying no to your family when you need to.

Parenting boundaries

  • Set regular bed and wake-up times.
  • Eat together as a family as often as possible to discuss the day and family plans.
  • Make decisions based on what you feel comfortable with, not necessarily what your child wants, or their peer group has. This is especially important when it comes to mobile phones, social media and internet use.

Sleep

If you’re busy, you may end up going to bed late and waking up early. But when you don’t get enough sleep it’s difficult to make decisions, and you can overreact emotionally to situations you might otherwise shrug off.

Sleep boundaries

  • Keep a sleep diary and note each evening when you start to feel properly tired. Once you’ve recognised this time, make sure you allow enough time to wind down before you go to sleep.
  • Ban electrical devices from the bedroom and put e-readers on the night-time setting so it’s not as bright.
  • Try not to worry about the amount of sleep you’re getting. Instead, think of the time you’re in bed as ‘rest’, so that even if you’re not asleep, you’re still relaxing.

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