Tips for Setting Boundaries to Reduce Stress

Posted by Nicole on November 10

Are you super stressed? If you are nodding emphatically, think for a moment about some of the reasons why.

Maybe you would answer, “Well, I need to attend a work event tomorrow, and then the day after, I agreed to help with my cousin’s baby shower, and two days after that, I have a party to go to, and I also need to rehearse four hours this week with my dance troupe.”

Or, you might say, “Well, my mother keeps bugging me on the phone for three hours a day.”

These are both examples of situations where you are exposed to more stress than necessary because you are not setting boundaries.

In short, you do not know how to say “no.” as a result, you find yourself either overcommitted with your schedule or unsure how to avoid or end unwanted contact.

In this post, we will go over some tips for setting healthy boundaries. Hopefully, doing so will reduce your stress.

But first, let’s talk about why boundaries matter.

Why Setting Boundaries is Important

There are a number of reasons why it is important to set boundaries. Some of these include:

  • Reducing stress. As we just mentioned, lacking boundaries is stressful. And when you are stressed out, it is hard to stay healthy.
  • Feeling safe. If you do not have any boundaries, it is hard to feel safe or have safe relationships.
  • Recognizing and avoiding abusive behaviors. If you have no boundaries in place, you probably are not entirely clear on your rights as a human being and when those rights are being violated.
  • Managing your time and space. Our time and space are both limited resources, and setting boundaries helps us to keep others from overwhelming either.
  • Respecting other peoples’ boundaries. If you have no boundaries, you probably do not recognize or respect those of other people as well as you could. Setting boundaries for yourself helps you learn your responsibilities to others.

Why is it Hard to Set Boundaries?

There are a lot of reasons we may have a hard time telling people “no.” But the most common reason is probably that you were taught not to do so.

If your parents did not recognize your “no” as a child, and/or didn’t set good boundaries themselves, you probably learned that setting boundaries was useless, or that you should feel guilty for trying.

But neither are the case. Many people will respect your boundaries, and there is no reason to feel guilty. So long as your goal is simply to protect your own options (not aggressively limit those of others), you are doing nothing wrong.

Tips to Set Boundaries More Effectively

Here are some simple recommendations that can help you to set healthy boundaries.

1. Learn about basic rights and responsibilities.

Before you can set effective boundaries, you need to have a basic understanding of human rights and responsibilities in interaction.

While that might sound pretty straightforward, a lot of us didn’t receive a basic education in this area.

So, start out by learning about these rights and responsibilities. They will provide you with some basic guidelines to setting healthy boundaries.

2. List your basic wants and needs.

The next useful thing to do would be to make a list of your wants and needs, and what is and is not acceptable in your life.

Pay particular attention to “hard limits.” Figure out what limits you are able to be flexible on based on context, and which are absolutely inviolable to you.

A lot of these limits will probably fall under the category of “basic human rights,” and be broadly applicable.

But some may be specific to you as an individual.

3. Recognize that taking care of yourself is as important as taking care of others.

One of the things that makes it difficult for people to set boundaries is that a lot of us were brought up to put other people’s needs consistently ahead of our own.

There may be specific situations where that is appropriate, but in a general sense, it is important to realize that your needs are every bit as important as anybody else’s.

You owe it to yourself to treat yourself as well as you would anybody else, particularly since you cannot always depend on other people to do so. And it is in contexts like that where boundaries are most important.

In fact, setting boundaries is a key component of healthy self-care.

4. Practice assertiveness.

You might worry that if you try to establish boundaries, you will come across as aggressive. But that should not tempt you to be passive and not set boundaries at all. Instead, consider training yourself in assertiveness.

5. Be consistent, but not rigid.

Consistency with boundaries will help other people to relate to you without confusion. So, try to be consistent with them when possible. But do not confuse that with absolute rigidity. Chances are good your boundaries will adjust with time or based on specific situations or relationships, and that can be healthy.

6. Take responsibility for your feelings, and let others do the same.

Saying “no” to a commitment we cannot take on can be difficult because we worry we are hurting other peoples’ feelings.

But you have a right to manage your time as you must for your well-being. If someone else reacts to that by feeling hurt, that is not your responsibility. They probably feel entitled to your time, and that is on them.

Likewise you are responsible for your feelings when someone else tells you “no.”

7. Don’t set boundaries that impinge on other peoples’ rights.

It is important to remember that a boundary is only in place to protect yourself, not to limit others. For example, it is not a “boundary” to tell other people they cannot express their feelings, as that is one of their rights.

8. Be aware that there will be some shifts in your life.

Last but not least, it helps to accept going into the process of boundary setting that some things in your life will change.

Some people may get upset with you—and you may also realize some relationships are not viable.

But hopefully the relationships that are meant to last will become healthier. You also should find yourself with increased time, space, and sense of safety.

All told, those positive changes should lead to a reduction in your daily stress levels.

Learning to Say “No” Will Help You Avoid Unnecessary Stress

Now you know why boundary setting is important for managing your time, reducing stress, and improving your relationships and health. You also have some tips for doing so effectively. Setting boundaries is not easy when you are just starting out. So, be patient with yourself and practice. Over time, you will build confidence and self-esteem, and it will become easier.