Here's how and why you should create healthy boundaries during the COVID-19 pandemic
The pandemic presents a unique challenge for many people. What do you say if a friend invites you to an activity that you think is risky? What if a family member won’t follow safety precautions in your presence? What do you say, and how do you say it? This is an exercise in setting and maintaining healthy personal boundaries.
What are personal boundaries?
Personal boundaries are the sets of rules we create that dictate how we interact with others and how others are allowed to interact with us. The boundaries we set and maintain are at our own discretion. We can keep our boundaries lax or make them more rigid, depending on our comfort levels, prior experiences, and the situation. Boundaries exist to protect us from mental, emotional, and physical harm.
Why are boundaries important?
Boundaries are important in all of our interpersonal interactions to protect our mental and emotional health. However, during a pandemic, they’re important for our physical health as well. Setting and maintaining boundaries can be difficult for those who are not practiced in doing so. To keep ourselves and each other as safe and healthy as possible, we have to set and maintain our own boundaries.
How to set and maintain your boundaries
Setting boundaries can be difficult for a variety of reasons. If you’re not used to setting boundaries, it can feel scary to do so. We might be afraid that our boundaries won’t be heard or respected. There is nothing wrong with setting boundaries. In fact, boundaries are normal and even expected in interpersonal relationships. This is particularly true when physical health and safety become involved.
You do not owe anyone an explanation for why your boundaries are the way they are. For example, if you have a high-risk condition and aren’t comfortable sharing your health information, you are not obligated to!
If you’re new to voicing your boundaries, start by making a list of what you are and are not comfortable with. If someone asks you to do something that is on your list of what you’re not comfortable with, you can say that you’re not comfortable doing that and suggest something else. For example, “I’m not comfortable eating in restaurants, but we could meet up for a socially distanced picnic.”
When you voice your boundaries, you are setting rules for interactions. You may have to set boundaries with the same person several times. Should this happen, remember that you are within your right to have boundaries. You may have the urge or impulse to negotiate or loosen your stated boundaries. Your boundaries are yours alone to determine and not open to negotiation by others. Although you are allowed to alter your own boundaries, you are not obligated by anyone to alter them until you are ready.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, boundaries protect not only your safety but the safety of others as well.
Skye White, LICSW is a mental health therapist at Catalyst Counseling, a group practice in downtown Woodinville, Washington. She loves to read, craft, and draw in her spare time. Before the pandemic hit, she loved to travel and see live music, so she now listens to music at home and enjoys cuisine from all over the world from the comforts of her living room.