The practice of setting boundaries for physical and mental health has always been important and will continue to be necessary post pandemic. From individuals with chronic diseases, to cancer survivors in early recovery, to parents with a newborn at home, there are a number of reasons that families may need to have stricter guidelines for social interaction. It is vital to be able to communicate these needs in order to stay healthy, maintain emotional well-being, and build strong relationships.When setting these guidelines, it can be helpful to know how to identify boundaries, how to establish boundaries, and how to talk about setting boundaries with family and friends.
Additionally, some individuals are unable to return to more relaxed protocols because of their physical health. Disabilities and chronic diseases can affect an individual’s immune system, making it more difficult to navigate public spaces and social events.
“This is yet another example of how disabled or chronically ill people are forgotten about,” said Ellen Gurung, an individual with lupus, in an article about COVID-19 and disability. “There’s so much focus on the impact of the pandemic on able-bodied people, the economy, and businesses, and there’s just very little focus on people who are at the most risk health-wise.”
Beyond the pandemic, the need for setting boundaries to promote physical and mental health may still arise. Immunodeficiency is linked to several health conditions ranging from autoimmune disorders to cancer. Having a weakened immune system puts individuals at higher risk for infections and other health issues, which may require extra precautions when engaging in public events and social gatherings.
In an article on the importance of setting boundaries, Ilene Strauss Cohen, PhD, said this: “Before you begin to set boundaries with others, you need to know what your boundaries actually are.” This crucial first step can help individuals better understand their needs, as well as those of their family, so that appropriate guidelines can be set.
How to Identify Boundaries
Reflect on individual needs. Individuals can think about what rules they would like to set for themselves and their family using the five things method to list five behaviors that:
they wish people would stop doing around them or their family
they would like people to stop doing to them or their family
people may no longer say to them to them or their family
Do some research. Given an individual’s needs and their family’s circumstance, they can search for activities that are lower risk and a better fit. For example, the CDC offers a safer activities guide for families that provides guidance on COVID-19 risks.
Seek out credibility.Individuals should make sure they are utilizing credible and authoritative resources, such as the CDC and state health departments.
Talk to a health professional.An individual’s health care provider can be a beneficial resource for health information and advice. Clinicians, nurses, and others who regularly provide care to an individual and their family can pair their expertise with their knowledge of the patient’s personal information to give individualized guidance.
How to Establish Boundaries
Write it down. Processing one’s thoughts on paper first can help to determine how to best communicate information with others.
Be straightforward. When having a conversation with a friend or family member, individuals can benefit from being direct and stating their needs clearly.
Establish consequences. When setting a boundary, it can be helpful to follow with what the outcome will be if they do not respect the boundary.
Have a plan. Because conversations around boundaries can be sensitive, it is a good idea to have a plan of action on how to safely exit the conversation if someone gets upset.
Don’t feel guilty. Individuals should remember that it is not their fault if a friend or family member is unhappy. Boundaries are meant to protect the individual’s physical and mental health.
Be consistent. Individuals should try to maintain set boundaries as much as possible so learned behaviors can be established.