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Learning to Say No: Setting Boundaries for a Healthier Lifestyle

As we usher in the new year, let's explore a resolution that might not be on the top of your list but holds profound potential for transformative change – setting boundaries. Boundaries play a pivotal role in the journey of behavior change. Before we can unlock the doors to our aspirations, it's essential to establish and uphold boundaries that act as guiding principles. When it comes to our health, the tendency to overlook it until it reaches a critical point is all too common. By neglecting to set boundaries, we inadvertently compromise our well-being.

Perhaps the reluctance to set boundaries stems from a desire to avoid making others uncomfortable. However, this inclination often results in minimizing and neglecting our own needs. While it may feel uneasy, especially for those with a natural tendency to please, setting and maintaining healthy boundaries is in everyone's best interest. It serves as the catalyst for personal growth and sustainable change.

If you find yourself exhausted from consistently prioritizing others over your health, now is the ideal moment to embark on a journey toward a healthier you. This article will delve into the intricacies of setting boundaries to enhance your well-being and provide insights on standing strong within these limitations to foster lasting behavioral changes.

How to Set Boundaries

Firstly, you need to be aware of what your specific needs are in specific situations. Setting boundaries require clarity and good communication. Here are some simple steps to assist you in getting started:

  1. Clarity is Key: Clearly identify and articulate your specific needs in any given situation. Avoid over-explaining, as simplicity often enhances understanding.

  2. Neutral Communication: Maintain a neutral tone of voice when expressing your boundaries. This helps in conveying your message without unnecessary emotional undertones.

  3. Politeness Matters: Politely state your need or request, ensuring that your communication remains respectful. This fosters a positive atmosphere for effective dialogue.

  4. Embrace Discomfort: Understand that setting boundaries may evoke feelings of discomfort, such as guilt, shame, or remorse. It's essential to acknowledge these emotions and accept them as a natural part of the process.

What are Personal Boundaries?

Personal boundaries are the invisible, yet crucial lines we draw to map out our level of comfort with others. Personal boundaries typically fall into the following categories: physical, emotional, sexual, workplace, material and time. For the purpose of this article, our focus will be centered on the dimensions of physical, emotional, material and time boundaries.

Physical boundaries can be defined as protection for your body. They mostly relate to your physical needs, such as food, shelter and rest. They may also protect your personal space and rights to privacy. In the pursuit of vital health, the establishment of physical boundaries is a key pillar. By adhering to these boundaries conscientiously, one can not only address existing physical concerns but proactively prevent potential illnesses. Having physical limits allows you to achieve a healthy balance between appropriate rest, proper nutrition and physical activity. Examples of physical boundaries range from politely asking someone uncomfortably close to you to move, establishing house rules and expectations, establishing personal space limits, expressing your physical health needs at home or at work, etc.

Here are some examples of how to express physical boundaries:

"I would like to keep our groceries and/or meal prep separate."

"I will close my bedroom door, when I need solitude and/or rest."

"Would it be possible to get a physical assessment to improve my working conditions?"

"I would prefer that you let me know before inviting guests over to the house"

"I am not drinking at the moment, but thank you for offering."

"I would love to stay, but I need to go home to rest."

"Thank you for the invite, but I have to say no."

"I can't exercise today, my body needs rest."

Emotional boundaries are set to protect yourself from overwhelming feelings or emotional triggers, without judgement from others. It also allows you to take care of your mental health before anyone else's. Establishing emotional standards sets a precedent that you are not accountable for how others feel, only for yourself. This serves as clear indicator of what you will and will not tolerate for the sake of preserving your mental sanity. Consequently, strong emotional boundaries can contribute to your goals by improving mental clarity. Emotional boundaries could be expressing your tolerance threshold about a certain behavior to your partner, telling your parents to give you space to make your own decisions, explaining to a friend that certain topics can trigger emotions for you and best be avoided, removing social media access from an ex, etc.

Here are some example of how to express emotional boundaries:

"I would prefer if we do not speak about calories, macro's and body weight at meal times."

"I do not have the mental capacity to listen right now, is it possible for us do this another time?"

"I need someone to listen without judgement and opinions, are you available to do that right now?"

"I am feeling triggered/overwhelmed, can we hold hands?"

"I am not ready to discuss this just yet"

"I will need some time to process what you have shared with me, can we talk about this again later this week?"

Material boundaries (financial boundaries) are the boundaries we set to protect our resources and possessions. It is respecting our rights to spend money and utilize material, but also setting limits on how we choose to spend and share these possessions with others. This also includes asking for fair compensation at work. Material boundaries allow you to live purposefully and builds awareness, resulting in benefits to our mental and physical health. Cultivating healthy financial habits can significantly influence impact one's life and should never be overlooked. These boundaries could be sticking to your budget limits, firmly expressing your limits when borrowing certain items, setting a rule for not lending money or items to friends and/or family member, etc.

Here are some examples of how to express material boundaries:

"Sorry, I cannot join you for lunch, I am cutting back on eating out costs"

"This sounds like a great deal, but I will need to look at my budget before I buy."

"As much as I would like to travel with you, I have decided to invest on other things this year."

"I appreciate the work we've been doing here, is there a possibility to discuss salary and/or benefits?"

"Can we settle a plan for how we will all pay our part before going?"

Time boundaries allow you to manage your time efficiently and find a healthy balance between your work and personal life without getting interrupted by other people's needs. Practicing time boundaries releases you from doing things you do not want to do so you can focus on the things that you actually want to do and achieve. It frees you from being around people that do not value your time and energy. Setting a time boundary can be asking for more flexibility at work to complete workload, limiting your screen time by setting "do not disturb" prompts on your phone, having a clear set schedule for work and personal use, etc.

Here are some examples of how to express time boundaries:

"I reserve my evenings for family time"

"I will respond to my emails tomorrow morning"

"I won't have time to make it to the party this weekend"

"I do not look at my phone after 8PM."

"That does not fall during my work hours, can we re-schedule?"

"Can we discuss the possibility of reducing workload and overtime?"

"I may not be able to respond to you right away, but I will as soon as I am available."

"Without a 24 hour cancelation notice, I must charge the session."

Holding Accountability to Your Boundary

Accountability strengthens the foundation of maintaining the boundaries you set for yourself and others, fostering self-confidence and cultivating self-respect. Keeping accountable to your standards instill assurance in your capabilities and demonstrates to others that you are to be treated with upmost respect.

While upholding boundaries may present challenges, it is a practice that requires patience, discipline, and energy. It's crucial not to be disheartened by occasional setbacks, recognizing that adaptability and flexibility are integral components of effective boundary management. Here are some friendly tips to help you stay accountable:

  1. Reflect on Your Desires: Assess whether the boundary aligns with your true intentions and desires.

  2. Embrace the Power of "No": Practice the art of saying "no" when necessary, asserting your boundaries confidently.

  3. Maintain Open-mindedness: Listen to others without attachments, fostering open communication.

  4. Stay Flexible: Understand that boundaries can evolve, and flexibility is essential in adapting to changing circumstances.

  5. Reflect on Your Feelings: Take time to evaluate your emotions after setting a boundary, gauging their impact over varying timeframes.

Clear communication and accountability to your expectations contribute significantly to the development of your relationships. By consistently holding yourself to the standards you've set, you pave the way for thriving connections and a more empowered sense of self.

Still struggling to set boundaries? Reach out directly to to book your first free coaching session.

Written by:

Kelissa Ouellet

B.Sc Nutrition, Personal Training Specialist, Certified Life & Wellness Coach

NB, Canada


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