Set Boundaries to Manage Stress

October 21, 2021

For some of us, setting boundaries and knowing when to say “no” to things can be difficult. We may feel tempted to keep saying “yes” out of guilt, or struggle with an inner conflict, thinking that we can do it all. However, when it gets to the point where we are over-stressed and over-scheduled, setting boundaries can be crucial for our mental health. 

While the seemingly simple act of not taking on anything more can be hard for us, the alternative of not being able to say “no” can be much more detrimental. Learning how to stick to boundaries can be one of the greatest favors that we can do for ourselves and for those around us. Ultimately setting boundaries will reduce our stress levels and help us focus on what’s most important. 

Signs You May Need to Set Boundaries 

There are many signs that you may benefit from setting boundaries to reduce stress. These could be boundaries in any area of life, like work, relationships, family, or other obligations. Here are a few: 

  • You find yourself saying yes to things that you’d rather not do, to avoid upsetting or disappointing others. 
  • Feeling resentful when people often ask too much of you. 
  • You find yourself upset because you are doing more for others than they are doing for you.  
  • The stress you feel about disappointing others is greater than the stress of doing things that inconvenience or drain you in your effort to please them. 
  • You find that most of what you do is for other people, and they may not even much appreciation for it. 

How to Say “No” to Reduce Stress 

First, take time to evaluate what your current boundaries are or what you think they should be. Consider what you value most, like time with loved ones or self-care, and decide what you’re not willing to sacrifice in your schedule. Know that everyone has different boundaries, so it’s important to communicate with others so that they are clear about yours. 

One way to avoid feeling overwhelmed is to practice saying “no” to new commitments. You can start small with this. If you’re not quite comfortable yet saying “no” outright, then simply give yourself more time. One easy phrase to use is, “Let me think about that and get back to you.” This gives you a chance to look over your schedule and evaluate how you’re feeling. Gradually, then you may feel more comfortable being direct in saying “no” when you know you need to. 

When saying “no,” here are a few more things to remember: 

  • Be firm. You don’t need to be defensive or overly apologetic. Just be sure to be polite.  
  • Be clear. Don’t lead anyone on when you haven’t fully decided if you want to say “yes” or “no” yet.  
  • Don’t feel like you have to make up big excuses. Simply saying, “This doesn’t fit with my schedule” is perfectly acceptable. 

Putting it Into Practice 

Learning how to be assertive takes practice because so many of us have been conditioned to consistently please others at our own expense. It may take time before you can fully determine what your bandwidth looks like and feel at ease drawing a line for yourself. Be patient and kind to yourself along the way. 

Lastly, remember that setting boundaries is important because whatever you choose to limit will give you the ability to do other things. It’s all about prioritizing what is best for you. Knowing when to say “no” will set a healthy example for others to respect their own boundaries as well.  

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