By Sarasota Memorial Hospital IRF Services Social Worker Crystal Brooks, MSW, LCSW
When living with chronic disease, setting healthy personal boundaries to protect your own mental and physical health can be the key to long-term resiliency.
If our boundaries are overly loose, they don’t effectively filter out those things that might be detrimental to our overall health. And when they’re overly rigid, they may cut us off from some of the very things we need in our lives.
Establishing healthy boundaries for the future will include addressing limits to how we handle events in our lives now, and recognizing when the boundaries we have set—or failed to set—are affecting our mental or physical health.
Here are some common examples of how we sometimes let our boundaries get too loose or too rigid, to the detriment of our own resiliency.
“Loose” or “porous” boundaries enable too much of our energy reserve to be designated elsewhere, at the expense of our own mental or physical wellness.
Examples of loose boundaries include:
1. Not being able to say “no” when you want to.
A key factor in managing a chronic disease condition is delegating energy and time to self-care. If we are able to manage our time well by setting limits on activities that we do for others, then we have more time available for this self-care.
Sometimes, we may feel guilty if someone asks us to do something and we say “no,” but setting healthy boundaries means that sometimes we need to. And no one should ever feel guilty for taking care of their own physical and mental health.
Practicing the ability to say “no” can also show others that you have limits, and make them less likely to continually come to you for things that they may be able to do themselves or ask someone else to do.
2. Being too involved in others’ problems.
It can feel good to help others, but over-involvement can lead to neglect of our own self-care. Resiliency is best gained by careful management of our energy reserves and dedication to our self-care and perseverance. While it can be a nice distraction to help others with their problems, making sure to “put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others” is a key factor to setting healthy personal boundaries.
3. Being overly critical or negative about our abilities.
Setting healthy boundaries includes how we talk to ourselves. And our resiliency to overcome the challenges that come with chronic disease starts by keeping a positive framework.
Evidence-based strategies such as cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness can help train our brains to be present with our thoughts and take control of whether they are positive or negative.
“Rigid” or “closed” boundaries are often attempts to protect ourselves from harm, but can inadvertently cause us to miss out on experiences which are vital to our health and meaningful in our lives.
Examples of rigid boundaries include:
1. Avoiding situations because of fear of outcome.
People who live with chronic disease sometimes avoid medical appointments and support groups due to fear of the information that may be learned. While multiple medical appointments may be overwhelming at times, avoidance can lead to further complications of the disease, which then makes the disease process even harder to manage or prevent.
Some avoid social support groups for fear of becoming emotional or vulnerable. But grief is a normal process that occurs with the onset and progression of a disease, and is best managed by allowing ourselves to feel its effects. Support groups and counseling services can be wonderful ways to learn and process our emotions surrounding the disease, which allows the body to feel some normalcy and adapt to the changes that have occurred.
2. Never asking for help
The essence of self-care and resiliency is the ability to identify when we cannot do things alone and then having the ability to ask for help. But too often, we find ourselves avoiding help available to us. For example:
- Not accepting help from neighbors or friends who would like to provide rides or meals in times of sickness.
- Not calling a family member for help, out of fear it will bother them.
- Not speaking up at work and delegating tasks when you know they are too much for you to handle, for fear of being looked at as “weak” or “not a team player.”
The only person hurt in these situations is the person who uses all their energy on tasks that could have been managed effectively and efficiently by someone else.
Healthy boundaries are going to look different for everybody, but here are six guidelines to help setting healthier boundaries:
- Take time to express your needs honestly to yourself and to others.
- Do not apologize for doing the things you need to do to feel physically or mentally fit.
- Set time limits for your involvement in activities outside of your own self-care time.
- Accept help from others who want to ease your daily task burden.
- Make a commitment to yourself to seek help from several support options, such as counseling, books, educational seminars, and support groups.
- Value all the efforts you have put forth to take control of your chronic disease process – keep the opinion you have about yourself positive!
Learn More About Prioritizing Mental Health with Terry Cassidy, Executive Director of SMH Behavioral Health Services:
As an SMH IRF Services Social Worker Crystal Brooks, MSW, LCSW focuses on health education and counseling. She specializes in mental health and stress management for those with chronic illness and their families. Her passion to help for those living with chronic disease is rooted in her own experiences living with chronic disease.