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New Year, New Boundaries: How Setting Limits Can Improve Your Health in the Year Ahead

Setting boundaries is an important aspect of maintaining our physical and mental health. Boundaries are the limits we set with others to protect our time, energy, and well-being. It’s that time of year where many people are thinking about what they would like the year ahead to look like. Establishing healthy boundaries can play a part in your goals and help you take care of yourself and your wellbeing.

There are numerous ways in which setting boundaries can impact our health. One of the most notable benefits of setting boundaries is that it reduces stress by protecting our time and energy (something many of us feel like we don't have much of or are lacking!) When we set boundaries, we are more likely to say no to unreasonable demands or requests, preventing us from becoming overwhelmed and overburdened. Taking on too much and saying ‘yes’ to everything that comes your way, whether you're happy to do it or not can be a source of stress. Chronic stress has negative effects on our physical and mental health, including headaches, muscle tension, fatigue, anxiety, and depression.

Our relationships with others can also improve as we communicate our personal needs and limits. Setting boundaries and having them respected promotes healthy and respectful relationships with others. This can lead to a sense of connection and support, which is important for our mental health. In contrast, relationships where boundaries are not respected can leave you feeling unheard, frustrated and contribute to chronic stress and burnout.

You could consider setting boundaries as an important aspect of self-care. Self-care is the practice of taking care of ourselves physically, mentally, and emotionally. This might include activities such as exercise, sleep, healthy eating, relaxation, spending time with loved ones and anything else that nourishes you. There is not one "right" way to practice self-care, the aim is to feel more rested and energised, which is essential for maintaining good physical and mental health.

Although boundaries are beneficial, it can be really challenging to put them in place for a number of reasons. Saying ‘no’ or expressing your needs and wants can be hard due to being afraid of upsetting others or damaging relationships (e.g. If I say ‘no’, they’ll think I don’t care about them and be upset!). For some people, it may be related to low self-esteem or being conditioned to put the needs of others before their own. Others may not even be sure what their personal limits are, or how to go about communicating them.

Here are 10 tips to get you started with considering and setting boundaries for the year ahead:

1. Reflect on your values: A common reason as to why people don’t set boundaries is because they’re not sure what their boundaries are! Reflecting on our values can help us to set boundaries that are in alignment with what is most important to us. Identifying our priorities allows us to make decisions that are in line with the things that are meaningful and give us a sense of purpose.

2. Communicate clearly: Once you know what your boundaries are, it’s important to communicate them to others in a clear and direct way. Be assertive, but also be respectful and open to hearing the perspectives of others.

3. Learn to say no: Saying no is one of the most important aspects of establishing boundaries, yet can be one of the most difficult things to do (especially when we feel obligated or feelings of guilt bubble up). However, saying no is an essential part of protecting your space. If you struggle with it, practice saying ‘no’ in small ways and build on that over time.

4. Set boundaries in all areas of your life: Boundaries should be used in all areas of our lives, including work, relationships, and personal time. This can help us to create balance and prevent burnout, as opposed to letting one area take over.

5. Practice self-care: As already highlighted, taking care of yourself is crucial. Engaging in self-care activities such as exercise, sleep, and relaxation can help us to recharge and feel more energised. Make sure to set aside time for yourself and engage in activities that replenish you physically, emotionally, and mentally.

6. Use physical boundaries: In some cases, it may be helpful to use physical boundaries, such as closing a door or creating physical distance to establish and maintain your boundaries.

7. Set limits with technology: Technology can be a useful tool, but it can also be a source of stress and interruption. Try turning off notifications during designated times, set limits on your screen time, and create designated “tech-free” zones in your home.

8. Take breaks: Taking breaks can help to recharge, refocus and re-evaluate boundaries where needed. Schedule regular breaks throughout the day to to avoid feeling overwhelmed or overextended. It might be helpful to take time out from certain people or activities.

9. Seek support: Seeking support from a trusted friend, family member, or therapist can be helpful in setting and sticking to boundaries. They can provide a sense of perspective, guidance and help us to work through any challenges.

10. Respect the boundaries of others and be open to negotiation: While being firm in your boundaries is important, being open to negotiation and compromising in certain situations may be needed. Just as you would like your boundaries to be respected, respect the boundaries of others.

Considering and deciding exactly what your limits are could take some time and they may even change. Using the tips above can help you to start the year by creating and upholding boundaries that allow you to take control and put you and your wellbeing first.


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