Combating Burnout with Boundaries
Author: Sisi Chen, LMHC
Are you feeling burnt out? Does one aspect of your life take up all of your time and energy? Is it hard to find time for self-care and joyful experiences? Consider the gift of boundaries…
According to the American Psychological Association, a boundary (noun) is a psychological demarcation that protects the integrity of an individual or group or that helps the person or group set realistic limits on participation in a relationship or activity. In other words, boundaries are expectations and needs that help people feel comfortable in their relationships and interests. Boundaries are a form of communication, and help to define what behaviors are acceptable to each individual.
Without clearly communicated boundaries, people are left to assume or mind read, which leaves a lot of room for misinterpretations and causes harm when it may not be intentional. Some signs of poor boundaries or lack of boundaries are feelings of: being taken advantage of, resentment, increased stress, depressed mood, invisibility, low self-esteem and avoidance. All of these feelings can be summed up into a sometimes subtle, but very impactful, overarching feeling of burnout.
Burnout can be characterized by exhaustion, oftentimes triggered by chronic stress, and can lead to features that look a lot like anxiety and depression. People often associate and report burnout to be the “result of prolonged interpersonal stressors at work” which takes a toll on peoples’ mental health (Koutsimani P, et al., 2019). Burnout is also often associated with people reporting that their work takes up most of their time and energy, physically, mentally, and emotionally, which can feel incredibly exhausting and consuming. Establishing boundaries can prevent and combat burnout, and restore balance to peoples’ lives.
Boundaries are a form of self-care. “Paying attention to your needs is self-care. And like putting on the oxygen mask, you’ll have more energy for others if you apply it to yourself first” (Tawwab, 2021). Establishing boundaries is a way for people to reclaim their sense of self, emotional wellbeing, and time. In relation to work induced burnout, making time for non-work related activities is essential to restoring balance to a person’s life and identity. Boundaries protect mental well-being and limit exposure to stress. There has been a significant connection between people experiencing burnout and subsequent mental health challenges, such as anxiety and depression. So, if you experience burnout, consider setting more limits and boundaries to attune to your mental health needs. Establishing a limit for work related thoughts and practices opens up time for people to be more present in their relationships, engage in hobbies or sources of joy, and explore the other dimensions of their identity. Boundaries combat burnout because they help people to decide how much energy they want to preserve and how much to expend on a given task. These limits challenge people to hold systems accountable instead of feeling responsible for things that are not reasonably manageable by one person (without leading to feelings of burnout).
Here are some ways to establish healthy boundaries:
- Explore and define your values and be clear about what they are.
- Find comfort in saying “no”.
- Find comfort in hearing “no” without taking it personally.
- Practice vulnerability with trusted individuals.
- Communicate needs, limits, and expectations in assertive statements.
- Follow through with your actions if a boundary has been crossed.
- Respect others’ boundaries.
If you are struggling with establishing boundaries or experiencing feelings of burnout, contact a mental health professional to explore why and how you can reap the benefits of creating boundaries, such as: having more time for self-care, increasing self-respect, building healthier relationships, growing confidence in communication skills, and much more.
Behavioral Health Partners is brought to you by Well-U, offering eligible individuals mental health services for stress, anxiety, and depression. Our team of mental health professionals can accurately assess your symptoms and make recommendations for treatment. To schedule an intake appointment, give us a call at (585) 276-6900.
Koutsimani P, et al. (2019). The relationship between burnout, depression, and anxiety: A systematic review and meta-analysis. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6424886/
Tawwab, N.G. (2021) Set boundaries, find peace: a guide to reclaiming yourself.