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With burnout on the rise and boundaries becoming more blurred by the week, it’s time for a re-evaluation. Sure, hard work has always been something to be admired but at the end of the tired, overthinking mess of a day, what are we really glorifying here, openly speaking?
Technology has flipped the switch on work-life balance, giving colleagues constant access to you and tempting you to be always available. We don’t need physical offices to get our jobs done anymore, so the excuses for not being able to get something done in record time seem to wither. Imagine though, if excuses weren’t necessary and a certain, polite, “no, I don’t have time for that”, would suffice?

Have you ever been in a work environment where you’ve had to do the ‘appropriate leaving time’ walk of shame to your car? Or perhaps you’ve felt a surge of anxiety turning off the active status on your remote digital communication platform long after the sun has gone down. The grind. The hustle. The boss babe (is there a reason “boss” doesn’t work just as well?). We live in a whirlwind of buzzwords that remind us that success means zero downtime, toxic productivity and ultimately, a personal life so overrun by work that health, family and joy start to fall by the wayside.

Without sounding alarmist, something needs to change. Collectively, there needs to be an unpacking of how it came to be acceptable for our mental health to be compromised by what we do for a living.

Boundaries, who needs them?

You. You do. And so does everybody else.

Taking your mental health seriously is the first on the agenda. To a fair few people, mental health still seems like this figment of our imagination and we do wonder sometimes, does it really deserve the attention you need/want to give it?

It absolutely does. You’ll see that when you take your mental health seriously, you’ll know where boundaries fit in and why they are so valuable.

Setting, implementing and upholding your boundaries
Boundaries are established after you’ve done some deep digging on what you will and won’t allow from the people around you. You need them in all spheres of your life to maintain your limits. Boundaries could be letting your mother know she can’t Facetime you at her whim twice a day or that you won’t tolerate possessive behaviour from your partner.

When we speak about work boundaries, in particular, we are speaking about the prepared, quick-defence (but not defensive) systems you have in place for situations that bring on pushing past what you are willing to do for your work.

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Firstly, figure it out

You can’t implement what you don’t know and you certainly can’t expect anybody to read your mind about what boundaries you have in place. Know what you value and where your time needs to be spent and where. If you value family and health and pottery, you’ll know that your boundaries need to protect these parts of your life.

Find out where you are being stretched thin and where your work is leaking into valuable time. Pinpoint what elements of your work-life that trigger anxiety or anger and have a solid understanding of what needs to change.

Say what you mean and mean what you say

Once you’ve figured out what your boundaries are, they need to be communicated. This doesn’t mean mumbling to your colleagues about your boss during your lunch break (which was cut short by a meeting that went on for too long). It means respectfully letting your work peers know what a) you’re comfortable with, b) why these boundaries are important and c) what the outcome of broken boundaries will be. Damn.

If workplace dynamics interest you, check out our thoughts on how to bring wellness into the workplace: 5 easy, effective ways to boost productivity & employee happiness

What can work boundaries sound like?

In case you need some inspiration on how to say what you need to say (with conviction) here’s how stating your boundaries may sound:

“Yes, I also think being on top of work emails is important and they will always be answered by 10 am Monday. On the weekends, however, I prioritise unplugging and won’t be available.”

“This is not something I want to talk about at work, if we could avoid bringing it up again I would appreciate it.”

“I have a hard stop on meetings that run over 5:30 on Wednesdays and Fridays, so if we could start with the essentials that would be great.”

Emotional responses vs steadfast explanations

Saying those sentences out loud might sound abrupt at first if you are somebody who has been conditioned to people please or in the case of many minorities in the workplace, pressured to be polite and amiable. Boundaries are not rude or catty or self-righteous, they are healthy and logical limits to protect yourself. Abruptness is not a bad thing, it just means that we have taken time to evaluate and cement where our values and comfort zones are – so we don’t need to waste 1000 words explaining ourselves. When we become emotional stating our boundaries we risk being defensive or overexplaining something that needs little explanation.

Somebody is going to push a boundary, expect that to happen. When it does, you will have unpacked and prepared for how to deal with that situation and you’re going to feel better for it. Mastering your emotional awareness and sense of clarity is something you can build into your daily routine (we unpack that in our blog here).

Boundaries are Self-Care

We’re going to be talking a lot about self-love for the next few weeks and best believe mental health is high up on the agenda.

This February, let’s dig a little deeper than sugar and synthetic teddies for Valentines Day. Let’s look into real self-love that lets you think well and work well. For each time you say “no” to something that doesn’t align with your values, you learn to trust yourself a little more. Living your life in line with what makes you happy and letting go of expectations and worries about the behaviour of people is one heck of a way to love yourself. Join in on the love and come check out our Instagram page to keep up to date with our conversations about life, love, wellness and food (heck yes).

Gemma Oberholzer

About Gemma Oberholzer

I guess you can say I'm a serial self-improver. Since I was a kid I can remember being weirdly thrilled at the idea of learning something new and figuring out how to use that new found knowledge to better myself. This perpetual learn-grow itch eventually lead me to the field of Health and Wellness and it's here I've been, fascinated for the last 8 years of my study and work life. From Human Life Scientist and learning the mechanics of physiology and intricacies of metabolic biochemistry, to Food and Nutrition Scientist where I deepened my understanding of diet and it's key role in human performance and health. Geared with this comprehensive education and better appreciation for human health, I've since been able to practically apply this in my career through the fields of research, product development, brand management and marketing. In 2018, I was finally able to bring all these learnings together and so my passion project, WellBe&Co, was born. WellBe&Co is a personal and corporate wellness company specializing in easy-to-implement, lifestyle-focused nutrition, training and health solutions. It's here that I've gained invaluable insights into the human-side of the health and wellness industry in a way that has enabled me to provide relevant content and value-adding services to individuals and companies alike and live out our mission to build communities that know better and grow together through better health.

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