This is the second part in a series of posts in which I share the skills I learned back when I volunteered for a program called Unitea while I was in university. You can read that first part, The Helping Skill, by clicking the link. At the end of that post, I touched upon using the skill on yourself. Carrying on with the topic of self-care, today I’ll be talking about setting limits, and strategies to discover those limits and expressing those boundaries to others.
I’m sure you want to help all the people you love, but nobody can do everything. We’re only human and we can only do so much at one time. And I think we all know what happens when we don’t set clear boundaries. We become anxious, irritable, overwhelmed, and bitter.
Every one of us has a certain amount of responsibilities we can take on before we reach that breaking point.
It reminds me of the Tarot card the Two of Swords. (Pssst, sneaky self-promotion – I do Tarot readings and you can check here for more information on how to get one.) In my Revelations deck, when the Two of Swords is upright it’s talking about balance, specifically in terms of mental balance as the suit of Swords focuses on matters of the mind. However, the reverse means being overwhelmed by doing too much and losing balance. The figure on the card looks like it’s about to fall off the tightrope it’s walking. The sword the figure is balancing looks like it’s about to tumble.
What I’m getting at here is that you don’t want to be like that figure wobbling on the tightrope. So, to avoid that, you need to manage your responsibilities so you don’t become stressed out. And if you didn’t have anxiety before then you’ll definitely develop it if you continuously stress yourself out. I know because that’s what happened to me in the last two months or so.
To manage stress, you need to know what facets of your life need to be monitored.
Support Network. You need good people around you that care about you. If you follow my Instagram account (and if you don’t here’s the link), then you know that I’ve talked about learning how to ask for help. I’m still working on learning the asking for help part, but I do have a lot of good people in my life. I cannot overstate how much it helps.
Sense of Control. We can’t control everything, that’s a given. But we can control some things. And that ability plays a big part in how we react to a situation and subsequently handle it.
Lately, I feel like life has tethered me to my depression and anxiety, and allows them lead me wherever they want to go. But sometime last week I broke through the mental fog and decided that I needed to take back control. So, I made a list of things I can control in my life right now.
In the end, my list consisted of six items. That might not seem a lot, but as of right now I can only handle doing two or three of those things daily. But the important thing is that I can focus on what I can do versus worrying about everything I can’t do. Even if you can only control one thing in your life, it’s more empowering to put your energy into that one thing than it is to let yourself wallow in your worries.
Attitude and Outlook. This one can be a huge hurdle for those of us living with mental illness. We can’t always feel optimistic and positive. That doesn’t mean we don’t try or that it never happens, but there are days where it is significantly harder to get to that point.
However, I think the important part is to recognize that we do try.
We do try to improve our mood and control our thoughts. Some days we do great. Other days we need a rest from fighting so hard and let our brain do its thing for a while (but hopefully, not too long).
This appreciation of effort can be admiring ourselves for how far we’ve come in our recovery journey or just being jazzed about the fact we got out of bed that day. Acknowledging what we can do goes a long way for maintaining a hopeful attitude.
Ability to Deal with Emotions. This is ties in closely with the previous point. Our emotions can often get out from under our control despite our best efforts. But we each have our own coping techniques that help us get through the day.
On this blog, I written a few posts that may help you with this if you need more ideas.
Knowledge and Preparation. If you know something stressful is on the horizon, try and get as much information as you can so you can be prepared beforehand. Knowing things like how long the situation or event will last or things you can do to calm yourself during the situation can make a big difference in how you deal with your stress. Knowledge is power and all that good stuff.
Okay. So, now we know why boundaries are important and how stress can affect us, but what’s the best way to set limits? Obviously, it’s not a good idea to wait until you’re ready to turn into Godzilla on the next person who asks you for something. I’ve been there – being Godzilla isn’t as cool as you’d think.
Here’s what to do instead:
Step one. First of all, you need to know what your limits are. You might say, “Well, duh! Of course, Jenn. That’s obvious.” But it can be deceptively difficult. For example, I have trouble setting limits myself because I often overestimate just how much I can handle.
I’ve learned that I need to rely on how I’ve behaved in the past and how I’ve reacted to certain amounts of stress. I can’t count on how I think I’ll feel in the future. Basing your limits off patterns is better than basing it on your own greatest expectations of yourself. The truth is that sometimes we think we can handle much more than we can.
So, be honest with yourself of what you can and cannot do. Work with what you know and not what you think will happen.
Step two. The next step is to let people know what limits you have.
People aren’t mind-readers and they won’t know what your boundaries are. They will have different limits or they might not know what else you’re taking on. And it’s not effective to use passive-aggressive behaviour to “tell” them what’s crossing a line for you. They still won’t know what the boundary is and instead everyone will be unhappy with the situation.
So, it’s your responsibility to let them know what you’re comfortable with doing and what you’re not.
Step three. Now, the real test! If you’ve figured out your limits and let people know what they are, the next thing you need to do is stick to your own specifications. Don’t let things slide just because you don’t want to inconvenience someone else or you don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings.
I mean, yes – if you feel up to taking on something extra and it doesn’t negatively affect your mental health, then go for it. But otherwise, take care of yourself first. If you have already clearly stated what you will and won’t do then they should respect your wishes. They might get angry at you, but their problem is not your problem.
Okay, fair warning. On these last two steps, I did not write much and I’m not entirely sure what I meant. But, I will endeavour to make sense of them, but if they’re not helpful, feel free to ignore them.
Step four. For step four, I wrote “debriefing and strategizing.” Following step three, if you cannot help them, restate why you have set your boundary. They may be more understanding if you explain why you cannot help them.
Now, you might not be able to do exactly what they’re asking, but you might be able to do something else. You can offer to help them with a part of what they need. This is a time when the Helping Skill would come in handy. You can help them brainstorm different solutions for themselves.
Step five. For this one, I simply wrote “mentoring.” So, I’m going to assume this means helping other people to learn to set boundaries. I think a lot of us have difficulties navigating where our limits are and how to stick to them. I think educating others about limits will also give them extra insight as to why they need to respect yours.
One way you can do this mentoring step is by sharing this post on social media. You can also share it with someone who you think might benefit from reading it.
Whew! That was a lot of information, but hopefully it was helpful to you. As I’ve said, I still have a lot of trouble with doing all this. So don’t feel bad if you have a hard time setting limits too. It’s a process and every small step counts.
Do you have problems figuring out your limits or reinforcing them? Do you have any additional advice that might help? Feel free to share in the comments.
Also, don’t forget to check out the Be Featured section in the menu under Guest Post. If you have a piece of art, a photograph, a poem, or whatever that you’d like to share. All the guidelines are listed on that page.