Mental Health Matters: Setting Boundaries
As Early Years professionals, it comes naturally to put others first. Caring for others is part of our M.O, and being both nurturing and empathetic are essential components in being good at our jobs. So in our work life, and also at home, we automatically defer our own needs for others. While this is a wonderful, and essential, attribute to have in a caring profession, it can have negative effects on our personal life and mental state if healthy boundaries aren’t set.
Setting personal boundaries helps maintain space, both physically and mentally, for your needs. You may already have strong boundaries in place and be happy with the balance of your needs and others’ in your life, but if you’re finding that you’re spending so much time helping others that you cannot take care of yourself, it’s time for a change.
For example, you may have a friend who has gone through a divorce and is really struggling with the upheaval. Being supportive and a shoulder to cry on is an invaluable gift and will be appreciated. If after a while, however, you find yourself at said friend’s beck and call at any time of day, without being able to share your own problems and feel the same support from them, this is an unbalanced relationship and will lead to them becoming dependant on you or taking you for granted, and to you feeling unappreciated and burning out.
‘When you continually move your needs to the back burner, you suffer, and you don’t get to connect with others in a fulfilling and energy-boosting way. Instead, it can feel like a chore.’ Melissa Coats, Counselor
When your work life consists of caring for children, who as perpetual motion machines are wonderful, inspiring and tiring in equal measure, healthy boundaries in the rest of your life are even more important!
Setting boundaries can be daunting. If you’re used to saying ‘yes’ all the time, that first ‘no’ is going to be a big change. But the more you start saying no, the easier it will be.
If you don’t know where to start, journaling may help pinpoint where the issues lie. For example, “Adam asked me to help him organising his fundraiser again. He’s going to call this evening. I really needed an early night but I didn’t feel I could say no”. By keeping a record, you can see where the biggest demands on your time and energy are coming from and then judge if they are reasonable or not. Make a note, for the next time the issue comes up, to have a respectful but firm ‘no’ prepared.
We’re not saying it’s an easy change, or that you have to say no to everything (unless you want to!) but the more you set and stick to boundaries, the more others will respect your time. You will feel more in control, have more energy and, when you do help others, have much more to give now you’re not running on empty!
Healthy boundaries will reduce your stress levels, increase your self esteem and lift your mood in general, meaning you’ll be the best you can be whether at home with friends or family, or knee deep in a messy play activity.