Often, when we’re struggling, it may feel hard to balance how we’re feeling with the expectations that may be placed on us by family, friends, school or work. We may feel that there are demands which, even if well-intentioned, are not helpful and could be making us feel worse. Setting healthy boundaries for your personal space, relationships, time and energy and having some tools to help you communicate these boundaries, if needed, can help prevent you from doing things that you don’t enjoy and feeling used or exhausted.
So how can you build healthy boundaries for yourself? You might want start by thinking about the activities that matter most to you and prioritise them. For example, you may be focused on schoolwork or exams, or you might be learning a new skill or have an ongoing interest, like painting, sports or writing, which brings you joy that you want to ensure you’ve made time for in your week. You may prefer to have an evening to yourself every week where you watch your favourite shows rather than feeling forced to go out. Writing down all the activities that you may be expected to do in a week might help you prioritise those activities and identify those that it really wouldn’t matter if you did not have the time or energy to complete and those that you simply don’t enjoy.
Setting boundaries with friends and family can be quite difficult at first especially if you aren’t used to expressing what your needs are and having this heard by others. There are lots of Interpersonal Effectiveness worksheets online which can help you communicate your needs without seeming aggressive or neglecting the needs of others. Remember that you have a right to say yes or no to things without feeling guilty or having to always explain your reasons.
Finally, you can also set boundaries for using social media to limit its impact on your mental health. You can curate your social media feed so that you are only seeing positive or inspirational content from trusted sources which may help you avoid negative or ‘toxic’ comments and content. Unfollow is your friend. Taking some time away from technology can also help free up time to focus on those relationships and activities you do enjoy which can be especially helpful if you are finding things a bit tough.
What young people have told us:
'Its healthy to set boundaries. I always feel better when I set boundaries and take time for myself.'
'It can be hard to do but having boundaries can protect your time and energy and help you feel better.'
There isn’t much academic research in the area of self-care for young people who are living with mental health issues. We are trying to find out more about what works for different people so we can better advise other young people what to try.
If you’ve tried this activity when you were struggling in relation to your mental health, please let us know if it helped you and how by clicking on the ‘Did this activity help you’ button.