Do you find that it’s difficult to separate your work life from your home life? Are you more accustomed to saying yes to people rather than no? Have you noticed that you often bring your work home with you in some capacity? If you feel like your work life is becoming indistinguishable from your personal life, maybe it’s time to rethink your boundaries.

Here are four ways to do just that.

1. Establish boundaries at work.

When you’re at work, what things make you feel frustrated, anxious, or overtaxed? Maybe you said you’d come in early, stay late, or take an extra shift when you didn’t want to? Take note of when negative feelings arise and the circumstances that may have caused them.

Next, think about the parameters you need to do your best work. These “parameters” are potential areas to consider for boundaries, and the feelings you experience when you disregard them are likely your body’s way of telling you to set some limits.

Then, examine how you’d feel if you’d made a different choice. Perhaps you’d have more time with your family or participate in the activities you enjoy. The boundaries you create for yourself in the workplace will make your job more enjoyable—give yourself permission to stick to them!

2. Acknowledge your limits.

When your profession involves caring for people, it’s easy to put others before yourself. But your abilities, whether emotional, mental, or physical, have limits. Acknowledge those limits, and don’t shy away from saying no if you’re stressed out, overwhelmed, or uncomfortable with something.

One way to know you’ve reached your maximum capacity is to think of your feelings on a spectrum, according to Dana Gionta and Dan Guerra, authors of From Stressed to Centered. The authors suggest rating your level of discomfort about a situation on a scale of one to ten. A rating of one to three tends to have a minimal effect on you, while ratings of four to six cause a medium impact on your emotions. Furthermore, a circumstance with a score of seven to ten will likely cause a high degree of distress. The authors recommend taking inventory of interactions or situations that produce a medium to high degree of distress and setting a boundary so that you can preserve your well-being.

3. If someone tries to push past your boundaries, discuss it as soon as possible.

Eventually, someone will push past the boundary—the safeguard—you’ve put in place for yourself. When that happens, try to address the interaction or circumstance at that moment, rather than waiting until a later time. If too much time passes, the person may not get the complete picture of your level of discomfort. But if you confront the situation as soon as possible, it can help you avoid unnecessary job drama and feeling overwhelmed, overworked, or resentful down the road.

4. Be mindful of your boundaries at home.

Sometimes, you may not be able to avoid bringing work home with you. But if that’s the case, try to stick to a planned schedule. For example, designate a specific amount of time to address work issues, then, stop when that time frame is up. While it may be tempting to ignore the timer, doing so can leave you feeling exhausted and drained.

As a health care professional, it’s essential that you honor the boundaries you’ve established for your home life as well, so you can feel refreshed and be at your best when you’re helping others.

Creating healthy boundaries doesn’t happen overnight; it takes time and practice. And, if your boundaries get a little off track now and then, you can always refocus your attention and reaffirm your commitment to the limits you set to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Jennifer Lelwica Buttaccio

Jenny Lelwica Buttaccio, OTR/L, is a Chicago-based, freelance lifestyle writer, licensed occupational therapist, and certified Pilates instructor. Her expertise is in health, wellness, fitness, and chronic illness management.

Latest posts by Jennifer Lelwica Buttaccio (see all)

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