HOW TO SET BOUNDARIES WHEN WORKING VIRTUALLY
Just as I was about to unmute myself at the meeting, my mom yelled, "Saniya, come down and get your food!!" Unfortunately, billions of students have lived through this moment in the past year. Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us have been confined into smaller spaces and are spending more time with our families than ever before. Although being given this time may be a blessing for some, many students have reported increased family disputes over time, feeling suffocated, frustrated, and burnt out. This is a consequence of the blurring of the work-home life boundary during the pandemic. To overcome this challenge, psychologists suggest that setting healthy boundaries within the family is the only antidote.1
What is a health boundary, and what is its significance?
The term "boundary" is often associated with a line that separates physical quantities. However, very few are aware that one can also set boundaries to ameliorate their emotional and mental well-being. Healthy boundaries are an essential component of self-care where individuals recognize or communicate their own needs and take active steps to meet them. Setting boundaries can establish one's identity, improve self-esteem, and help one understand what emotions/events are in or out of their control or responsibility.2
Here are some of the ways you can set healthy emotional boundaries to improve your
mental health while working at home during the pandemic:
1. Identify your needs and clearly communicate them
When working from home, you may be spending too much time at work, snowballing into a
burnout or you may be spending a significant time only looking after your family's needs. However, it's crucial to slow down and take a moment to put yourself first and assess your needs. To do so, it's important to ask yourself: Do I have the mental capacity to deal with this task? Am I willing to take out time for this specific activity? Are my body sensations overstimulated? Once you have identified your needs, it's important to communicate them firmly with others and yourself.3
2. Identify your triggers and prepare for them
As they say, it's better to be safe than sorry! To protect your mental-wellbeing, it's essential to identify your triggers and prepare for them well in advance. A "trigger" is a difficult or uncomfortable situation. To identify your triggers, you must be mindful of your body sensations and mental state at all times. I usually meditate or journal to understand how my body reacts to certain situations, helping me identify my triggers. But your trigger point may present itself in a different manner. Once you have identified your triggers, you should plan and find a suitable coping strategy to take the best care of yourself. If you are socially anxious, a tip might be to practice role-playing a conversation in front of the mirror to prepare yourself for that stressful situation!4
3. Learn the art of saying "no";
For a long time, we have been taught that saying no is considered disrespectful. Many
individuals, including myself, tend to people please as we feel guilty for saying "no". However, this can be highly detrimental to your mental health as you should respect your body's needs. If you don't have the time or emotional capacity for something, it's okay to communicate that firmly with the word "no." It is important to understand that this does not make you a bad co-worker, friend or daughter; you are simply protecting your well-being. A few ways you can say "no" is by being assertive yet respectful and using more "I" statements.4 For example: " I appreciate you reaching out to me, but I have a lot on my plate, and so I can't devote the time to be of quality help to you."
4. Claim your space
It is crucial to recognize that your time, space and emotional state are finite resources and so should be used wisely. You can respect your space and time by claiming your space. Using headphones is a great way to disconnect from the rest of the world and tune into your inner emotions! Keeping your routine intact is also a great way to make time for yourself.
Transitioning into virtual learning and spending ample time with your family after months of independence can be a daunting experience. However, it's a process that will help you learn how to set healthy boundaries and build a better relationship with yourself and others.5
Written by: Saniya Nagpal
Year III, Honors Psychology, Neuroscience, and Behaviour