Know Your Boundaries (And Use Them!)

I have an allergy to nuts. When I eat certain types of nuts, my throat swells and I have trouble breathing.  Therefore, I have to be very clear about what I can and can’t eat.  When people cook me or buy me something to eat , I always ask them if there are any nuts in the food.  Although in most cultures it is rude to refuse food, in this case, my life and health is more important than being polite.   Recently, I also discovered that I was carb sensitive, meaning that eating carbs makes me gain weight.  Once I eliminate as many carbs as possible from my diet, I lose weight instantly.  Although it is important for me to maintain physical health, I will give myself the freedom to eat carbs if someone brings me to a carb-crazy restaurant or bakes me cookies.  My sensitivity to carbs is not destructive to my health, but I should limit my interaction with them in order to stay healthy.  Eating carbs every once in a while is fine, but eating them over a long period of time could make me sick.

Just like our physical health is affected by certain types of food, our mental health is affected by certain types of situations.  Certain situations trigger anxiety in certain people because of their past experiences.  Someone may have drowned as a child, so deep water may scare him.  Someone may have been betrayed by a close friend, so she may be scared of commitment.  Just as we should know ourselves and our personality types, we should also know our boundaries.  We should know what makes us anxious, and we should avoid them.  There are some situations that could lead to stress, but do not trigger anxiety.  When we go for long periods of time under these conditions of stress, however, it could result in anxiety.

Personally, I would have a panic attack if I was working with people who do not follow structured plans.  Every time I had been in a disorganized situation, my stomach would get in knots and I would have difficulty breathing.  When I learned that lack of consistency makes me anxious, I began to communicate my boundaries with my co-workers, supervisors, and classmates.  If I had to work on a group project, I would tell my partners that I need deadlines or else I would be upset.  I also take responsibility for my boundaries by establishing my own deadlines when possible.

A less serious boundary is my bedtime.  I go to bed early, and when I am tired, I become irritable.  Lack of sleep does not give me anxiety; it only gives me stress.  However, as time progresses, the less sleep I get, the more anxious I become.  Therefore, I try to get enough sleep each night.  If I do not get enough sleep, when I am hanging out with my friends or I am about to have a serious conversation with a loved one, I will make it known that I am irritable.  If someone says the wrong thing when I am tired, I will get angry because I am more sensitive without sleep.

There are times where we may feel called to do something uncomfortable, but understand the implications of that decision.  Although it is good to make choices that are beyond our comfort zone sometimes, going against our comfort zone could cause anxiety.  Being aware of this normal emotional reaction will help you prepare yourself to handle your anxiety.  In another post, I will talk about practical ways to handle anxiety, such as deep breathing exercises.

By remaining unaware of boundaries (or by neglecting to make your boundaries clear), you are creating more anxiety within yourself.  We all need boundaries in order to survive.  People will understand if you have boundaries, and if they don’t, well, at least you’re taking care of yourself.  As you think about your boundaries, think about what gives you anxiety.  Think about the last times you have had anxiety; think about the situations and the people involved.  When you identify your boundaries, make them clear to the people around you. It is helpful to have an accountability partner to help you keep your boundaries.  By freely stating your boundaries, you are protecting yourself as well as people you encounter from unnecessary anxiety.  At the same time, you should take care of yourself by honoring your boundaries.

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