Why boundaries can support positive mental health

Published on December 16, 2021 |Last updated on January 19, 2022


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Whether it’s writing an essay, studying for exams, commuting or planning for the future, post-secondary is a busy time. Setting boundaries can have many benefits to your emotional, spiritual and physical well-being, including increasing your self-awareness, improving communication and feeling more in control of your life. Boundaries are the rules and guidelines we set that dictate how we behave in relationships — including with ourselves. Here, Good2Talk shares tips for setting boundaries and practical phrases you can use to communicate them.

How can I identify my boundaries?

Checking in with yourself regularly can help you to identify when and where boundaries can be useful. For example, this may mean noticing what brings you joy, energy and happiness and what makes you feel overwhelmed, uncomfortable or stressed. Reflecting on what impacts your emotional well-being can help you to understand and honour your needs while identifying what’s within your control. Is there something you can change by setting a limit, communicating a need, taking on fewer responsibilities, or saying no to a commitment?

There will inevitably be circumstances that are out of your control, like due dates for projects or the actions and opinions of others. Setting and communicating boundaries can be uncomfortable at first, so it can be helpful to start small and remind yourself and others why you’re setting the boundaries you are.

How can I communicate my boundaries?

When taking care of yourself

It’s common to forget to prioritize your mental health and well-being, especially when life gets hectic. Setting boundaries around your time, energy, finances and self-talk can set a foundation for other things going on in your life. Self-care and prioritizing your well-being whenever possible can help lead to a balanced post-secondary experience.

Setting boundaries with yourself can include: 

  • not answering your phone or putting it on silent when you’re busy or need to concentrate
  • unfollowing or muting an account on social media if it’s having a negative effect on your mental health
  • taking breaks from studying 
    • “I’m going to study for an hour and then make a snack”
  • limiting your screen time or time on a specific platform
  • scheduling time for rest and relaxation — setting a specific bedtime to ensure you get enough sleep, getting outdoors, doing activities that you enjoy, etc.
  • creating a budget or prioritizing how you’ll spend money
  • reaching out for support when you start to feel overwhelmed

When navigating relationships with friends and family

Setting boundaries in relationships can help others understand how you’d like to be treated and let them know how they can anticipate you to behave. When you’re clear about what is and isn’t working for you, your relationships can positively shift and feel more balanced. Other people may be inspired to set their own boundaries too!

Setting boundaries in relationships may include:

  • rescheduling plans or not attending a family or social event because of other priorities (as a student, your schedule may not always fit with friends and family)
    • “Thank you for the invite — I have to focus on my studies right now”
  • being clear about physical boundaries around health guidelines (e.g. with restrictions and comfort levels related to COVID-19)
    • “I’m not comfortable meeting indoors at the moment, so if you’d like, I can suggest an outdoor location that works for both of us” 
    • “It’s nice to meet you! I’m not comfortable shaking hands right now, so can we wave instead?”
  • distancing yourself from a situation that’s negatively impacting your mental health
  • honesty around how other people’s actions, decisions or words impact you
    • “It hurts my feelings when…”
    • “I need you to…”

When supporting others

It can be tough to support others at times when you don’t feel equipped with the tools or mental and emotional capacity to do so. It’s OK to let your friends or loved ones know you’re not in a place to support them, or to encourage them to seek help elsewhere. It’s possible to have empathy for someone else while also setting boundaries. 

This can include being honest about your ability, energy and time by saying things like:

  • “I don’t think I’m able to help you right now”
  • “I don’t think I have the tools to support what you’re going through”
  • “I’d love to help — I just don’t have the capacity right now”

Support is unique to everyone and it can be helpful to ask someone directly to find out the type of support they’d like. This can help you better understand how to respond, while also modeling this boundary for others. You could try asking:

  •  “Would it be helpful to hear my thoughts?”
  •  “I know you’ve had a long day, are you up for discussing this right now?”

The following resources from Kids Help Phone may be helpful to learn more:

It’s natural for your priorities to change over time, and setting boundaries takes practice. For support identifying and setting boundaries, Good2Talk’s professional counsellors or volunteer crisis responders are available 24/7. We’re Good2Talk whenever you are!

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