To Prevent Burnout, Set Clear Boundaries

To prevent burning out, you need to set clear and firm boundaries for yourself


“When you feel yourself becoming angry, resentful or exhausted, pay attention to where you haven’t set a healthy boundary.”
— Crytsal Andrus

When Samantha met me for our first session, she said:

“I hate letting people down. I tend to take on far more than I can handle. But I want to be someone who excels in the tasks at work and home. This is creating problems for my work-life balance as I simply don’t know when and how to stop. I find myself annoyed and exhausted as a result.”

We can burn out pretty quickly if we don’t set clear and firm boundaries for ourselves. I find this is particularly true for mothers, business owners or anyone who is working with ‘babies’—literal of figurative responsibilities or projects that need nurturing and attention.

Here’s what you should be doing to create boundaries that respect your being.

Get clear about your priorities

In my coaching programme and workshops, I invite participants to work on an exercise called ‘Your True North’. They look at their life from an aerial perspective and then break this down into short-term goals. Some questions that help them determine their True North are: what needs to be accomplished and experienced before they die? What legacy do they want to leave behind in their personal and professional lives? This exercise gives them crystal clarity about what’s important and what’s not. If a mother is busy with work and children, she doesn’t have to volunteer with the PTA. From this clarity about priorities, we can move onto the next step.

Say no

When we know exactly what’s important in the larger scheme of things, we can easily say no to events, people and opportunities that don’t align with our True North and life goals. I recommend learning the art of saying no. Let ‘No’ be a complete sentence. Say it without apologies, explanations or justifications. Sometimes we get caught up in trying to defend or over-explain our feelings and decisions. It’s OK to be gentle yet firm and direct. Repeat yourself if faced with resistance or criticism.

Remember these words by Gemma Stone: “Saying no to what deeply doesn’t matter means you say yes to what does.”

Create inner boundaries with morning rituals

According to Ayurveda, mornings from 4am to 10am are like spring season, setting us up for the vitality and creativity needed for the summer [which lasts from 10am to 4pm]. Creating morning me-time rituals can help significantly in setting clear intentions and moving our energy forward with clarity and focus. This time allows us to connect with our inner self and our boundaries. These rituals don’t have to be complicated or time-consuming. Writing in your journal, a 10-minute meditation, a short walk, reading some affirmations, a quick dance, a cup of tea or coffee enjoyed leisurely are some examples. Tune in to see what practice you need to centre yourself and prepare emotionally, mentally and energetically for the day to come. This will help with prioritising and setting boundaries.

Tune into feelings and bodily sensations

Shakira wasn’t joking when she sang “hips don’t lie”. In fact our entire body serves as a navigational mechanism that can steer us clear of unhealthy, toxic people and experiences. While our mind might rationalise having our boundaries encroached upon, our body will not entertain any such breaches. I ask my clients to use this faithful, powerful ally when making decisions. Through our bodily sensations we can tell if our boundaries are being trespassed. When an opportunity, task or conversation comes up, how does your body react? Does it feel tight, contracted, heavy? Or does it feel light and expansive? Another technique is to feel the end result as if it has become a reality right now. How does that feel in the heart, body and mind? If it feels uncomfortable you probably need to protect your boundaries now.

Speak your truth with authenticity and power

Our words are powerful tools to relay our boundaries to others. We might be very good at setting inner boundaries as discussed in point number three but unless we come across with clarity and power at the time of conversation, our words are of no use. Disempowering words and expressions such as “Does that makes sense?”, “Kind of”, or the use of undermining qualifiers as we communicate our needs and boundaries result in us being taken less seriously. It’s important to be able to communicate clearly, authentically and powerfully both at home and at work. Start practising at home by yourself and keep these words by Frank Outlaw in mind:

“Watch your thoughts, they become words;

watch your words, they become actions;

watch your actions, they become habits;

watch your habits, they become character;

watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”

Building healthy boundaries is not something we’re taught as children at home or in school. It’s an acquired life skill that is as important as budgeting or taking care of our health. As we learn this skill and get better at standing up for ourselves, we find more joy and vitality available to us in our daily life.

In which area of your life do you need to create healthier boundaries for yourself?

This was first published in the May 2015 issue of Complete Wellbeing

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