Put A Finger Down, Boundaries Edition.

Put a finger down if…

  1. You are struggling to find work-life balance.
  2. You are emotionally drained because you can't say no when others ask for help.
  3. You never have time to do the things you want to do. 
  4. You want to say "No" but don't know how.
  5. You spend more money than is budgeted. 
  6. You think you are a people-pleaser.

If you put a finger down for any of the above points, it may be time to assert clearer boundaries for yourself and others. Don't worry, this article will tell you how!

What are boundaries?

For the purposes of this article, boundaries are limits that you put on yourself. These boundaries can be emotional, time-related, monetary, or anything else. They are lines that can be drawn to prevent from over-stretching yourself emotionally, financially, and/or energetically.

Why have boundaries?

Like me, many people are suffering from the Too-Many-Things-Are-Pulling-Me-In-Different-Directions syndrome. Between the demands of school, work, extracurriculars, friends, and family obligations, it can be easy to say "Yes" to more responsibilities or activities than what we can sustain.

Doing more than is sustainable can lead to burnout, self-disappointment, and disappointing others in the long-run. On the other hand, if you set clear boundaries for yourself and others, it can help you notice when you are doing too much or when your work-life balance is suffering. Boundaries are an essential part of self-care. Once you know your boundaries, you can work towards establishing a better balance between school, work, and other aspects of your life. That way, you can prevent burnout and focus more time on accomplishing your goals and what is important to you!

So… How do you set boundaries? 

Setting boundaries is all about knowing what you want to prioritize in the big-picture, and focusing on activities that will strategically get you there. Here is a step-by-step guide:

Step 1. Define and rank your current priorities on what you want to accomplish. 

Your priorities are the top goals you want to accomplish or specific aspects of life that you want to focus on. Come up with a list of 3 to 5 items and rank them in order of importance. The ranking will help when you need to decide between working towards conflicting priorities.

For example, one student's top four priorities, in order of importance to them, could be: 

  1. Get a GPA of 3.5 this year.
  2. Spend more time with family.
  3. Save $2000 for a holiday.
  4. Take more time to relax on the weekends by taking Sundays free as a rest day. 

Step 2. Decide what rests within those priorities and what rests outside of them.
For every opportunity or task that is presented to you, ask yourself: does this align with the priorities I listed above? For example, if your boss at your part-time job wants you to take on extra shifts during finals, but your current priority is to work towards that 3.5 GPA, now may be the time to refuse those shifts.

Step 3. Say "No" to things that rest outside of your priorities.

It is often helpful to define boundaries right at the start of an activity rather than when those boundaries are about to be crossed. For instance, if you can only dedicate five hours per week for a part-time job, it is important to let your supervisor know before they schedule your shifts. However, some boundaries may need to be communicated at the time they are crossed. If your friend is coming to you for emotional support, but you are not emotionally capable of supporting them at that moment, it will be important to let them know at that time. 

Some phrases you can use to say "No" firmly, but politely, are:

  • "I would love to listen to you and support you, but unfortunately I don't have the emotional capability to support someone else right now. Can we set up a time to talk on another day, or can I give you some resources that you can reach out to?" 
  • "Because of my heavy course load, I can only dedicate 8 hours to this job every week. I would be very appreciative if you could only schedule me for that time."
  • "Thank you for reaching out to me with [this opportunity]. I really appreciate your offer! However, I will need to politely decline at this moment. I would love to work with you if further opportunities arise in the future!"

A side note: it's perfectly okay to do something that does not directly benefit your priorities, as long as it benefits you in a different way. If something makes you happy or healthy, but doesn't relate to your priorities, just do it! (Just keep in mind the big picture of where you want to be.)

To open up a conversation with someone else about boundaries, it can be helpful to discuss expectations. You can ask questions like, "What are the expectations of this job/role? What is the time commitment like every week?" You can also discuss your expectations and boundaries, and then check in with the other person to see what they think of it.

Step 4. Periodically check back on your priorities and boundaries.

After you have defined and asserted your boundaries, it is important to periodically look back at your priorities and see if they have changed. If they have changed, are your boundaries still aligned with those priorities? If not, it's time to go through steps 2 and 3 again!

As a last point, saying "No" to people can be hard! To make it easier, you can practice in the mirror to yourself or practice by saying no to others.

Okay, that's all! I hope you can use this article to say "No" when you need to! Being assertive about boundaries is a great skill to have. I refuse to make this article any longer. Bye!

All the best,
Rachel Yang

Author Bio
Rachel Yang is a 2nd year Master's student researching the genetics of ovarian cancer at U of A's Department of Oncology. She started volunteering for the Peer Support Centre in Fall 2021. In her free time she volunteers, watches Netflix, and tries to be active by running (late) to class.