Setting boundaries in the best of times can feel hard an unfamiliar.

But now, in the midst of COVID-19, as we’re all trying to remain as social as possible while still social distancing, setting boundaries seems even trickier. 

How can we balance the need for our own space with the need to remain connected in these hard times?

If you’re new to boundary setting altogether, check out our post on 8 Ways Setting Boundaries Can Transform Your Relationships to learn how setting boundaries actually enriches our relationships.  

But why should we be prioritizing boundaries now?

Boundaries are there to protect your energy. The purpose of setting a boundary is to help protect your sense of self and give you time to rest, reflect, and take care of your own needs without having to worry about someone else’s. 

Right now there are a lot more worries in the world. We are worried for our own health, the health of our loved ones, of our neighbors. We’re worried about job security. We’re stressed about having to stay inside most of the time. We miss our friends, our coworkers, our regular routines. This is stress and strain on a massive scale, which means acts of self care (like setting boundaries) are more important than ever. 

So how can we go about setting (+ communicating) our boundaries while social distancing?

Setting boundaries while social distancing will probably feel a little counterintuitive. You may even feel guilty for it (that’s normal to feel!). But even though you miss your friends and loved ones, you still need to prioritize your own health and wellness. Which means, you can’t be expected to be “on” all of the time just in case someone wants to chat. 

The first thing you need to do is: figure out where your energy cap is. How long can you stay on the phone before you need some time to recharge? What’s your limit on reading/watching news before it starts to feel heavy and unmanageable? How much work can you do before you’re too burned out to do something you enjoy? These are questions you should ask yourself as you figure out exactly what your boundaries are. 

Other questions to consider can include:

  • How much time each day do I spend on my phone?
  • When I am taking care of myself (cooking a meal, moving my body, resting, engaging in hobbies, etc.) do I commit my energy to it 100% or do I let myself get distracted or pulled away easily?
  • Am I constantly anxious from information overload?

These kinds of questions will help you to figure out exactly where your boundaries should be. 

If you’re making yourself anxious by checking the news every hour, set a limit. Let yourself check the news once a day. Maybe when you check your email, or at lunch. Set aside a few minutes to get yourself informed, but then make yourself step away once that designated time is over. 

If you’re constantly being distracted from your own needs by your phone, or trying to squeeze in your own self care when you have a spare moment between skyping with friends & family, then it might be time to set a limit on how long you can spend on the phone each day. 

Communicating this need can feel uncomfortable. There’s not really an excuse we can give anymore for “having to run!” but that doesn’t mean we should be expected to be available all the time. And while it can feel uncomfortable, it doesn’t have to be a negative conversation. 

Here are some examples of how to go about that conversation:

When you’re feeling burned out:

Instead of saying: “I’m tired, leave me alone.”

Try saying: I’m glad to hear from you, and I want to make sure we save space for each other. But this is a weird time and I’m finding my energy is more drained than usual. I need to take some time to rest and process on my own tonight.  Let’s plan for [another time]. 

Why: Clear communication will help to let the person know that you do still value them, but that you need to prioritize your own wellbeing. And suggesting a different time lets them know that your relationship and connection is still important to you. 

When constant communication is making your daily routine harder:

Instead of saying: Stop texting me every five minutes, I’m working and don’t have time for this.

Try saying: Hey! I miss you and would love to chat. My attention is divided right now, since I’m trying to get some work done. Can we save up all these conversations for after [time] when I have the mental space to give you all my attention?

Why: We’re all forming new routines! Some people might not realize that they’re distracting you from something you need to be doing. Give them the benefit of the doubt while still being clear about what you need. 

When you’re just spending too much time with whoever you’re quarantined with:

Instead of saying: You’re ALWAYS around, can you just leave me alone?

Try saying: Being quarantined has made me realize how much alone time I actually need! Can we set aside some time each day to be alone in separate rooms, so we can enjoy it more when we come together? 

Why: We’re not meant to be around each other 100% of the time. But snapping out of frustration is just going to make everyone feel bad. Instead, say what you need, and end it by giving another idea for being together that shows that it’s not them you’re frustrated with, but the situation. 

These of course are not all of the situations you may find yourself in. But the basic principle of:

  1. Explain your need
  2. Offer a solution
  3. Reaffirm appreciation for the relationship 

Is a good roadmap to follow when learning how to navigate boundaries in this weird time. For more ideas, check out our post on How to Talk About Boundaries Firmly But Kindly. And remember, we’re all going through this together!