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If you’re feeling particularly overwhelmed, know that you’re in good company. We’re entering year three of a global pandemic and have had to live well outside what has long been the realm of “normal” for most of us. It’s no surprise we feel out of control, to say the least, and are craving more of a consistent schedule that brings us peace of mind.
One of the best ways to achieve this desirable well-being is by setting boundaries or, in other words, creating limits that help protect your mental, physical and emotional health. This can look like anything, according to Saba Harouni Lurie, licensed marriage and family therapist and owner and founder of Take Root Therapy in Los Angeles — including what sort of topics you are willing to discuss with work colleagues, how you allow your family members to speak with you, and what time you choose to stop responding to emails.
“It’s important to set these boundaries because, without them, we may wind up feeling out of control of our lives and experiences, which can be incredibly destabilizing,” she says.
Setting boundaries is especially important when it comes to topics of conversation that you may have with friends and family members. “Families are also just inherently complicated, and ensuring that there is a different expectation of treatment than when you were a child will only help alleviate some otherwise inevitable tensions,” Lurie says.
While it can be challenging to get the hang of it, setting boundaries can become second nature — and save you a ton of sanity along the way. Here are five topics experts suggest setting boundaries for this new year.
One topic that should be off the table, unless it’s something you specifically want to talk about, is dieting — or anything having to do with eating habits. In fact, Lurie warns that, when unwarranted, these types of conversations can be incredibly damaging and harmful to adults as well as children. “This form of body shaming, if left unchecked, can result in body dysmorphia and eating disorders, among other things,” she says.
Rather than sit through an uncomfortable conversation involving your body and/or diet, she recommends vocalizing how this topic makes you feel and asking that the conversation instead be shifted to a different topic. “You may receive some push back or be told you’re being ‘too sensitive,’ but in advocating for yourself, you’ll be showing your family how you wish to be treated moving forward,” Lurie adds.
2. Exercise Routines
Fitness has changed so much in the last few years, especially as a result of the pandemic. Perhaps you used to have a gym membership that you’re no longer comfortable maintaining — or you used to participate in group workouts that were provided by your employer but now you work from home. Whatever the reason for your change in an exercise routine (or lack thereof), it doesn’t need to be a focal point of conversation during social gatherings.
Lurie suggests keeping the topic off the table by switching the conversation. If you’re feeling as if you no longer have much to contribute to the topic of exercise, say so. Tell your friends or family members that exercise is something you’re trying to get back into and would love to talk about it at a time when you have more to contribute to the conversation.
3. Hot-Button Topics
It’s important to keep the conversations light when celebrating each other’s company should be the main focus. For this reason, it’s a good idea to leave argumentative topics out — especially politics. “We often associate our political views with who we are as people and our morals and values, so it can be especially difficult to feel like that is being challenged or criticized,” Lurie says. “While there is a time and a place for political discourse, realistically, you won’t be changing your grandparent’s mind about immigration over dinner.”
4. Your Personal Life
While this is more of an umbrella topic that encapsulates several micro topics, like your living and dating situations, it’s worth mentioning because it does not need to be discussed in a social setting. Whether it’s who you choose to identify with, how you choose to live your life, or your relationship status or parenting status, most of these topics contribute unnecessary stress and anxiety as you worry about being “found out,” Lurie warns.
Instead, she recommends having a conversation with your family about how their criticism affects you. “Set the expectation that you will not be receptive to the same treatment this year,” she says. “Your personal life is personal, and you are not obliged to share that with anyone, even your family.”
Any Topic You’re Not Comfortable With
If you don’t see a specific topic on this list but it’s one that makes you feel uncomfortable, it’s worth setting boundaries around, notes Sharon Greene, LCSW, who specializes in treating anxiety and depression for children, adolescents and adults with Providence Saint John’s Child & Family Development Center in Santa Monica, California.
“It is important to plan ahead and think about how you can respectfully communicate your boundary, if these topics arise,” Greene says. “If the topic does come up, respectfully acknowledge it, communicate your boundary of not wanting to discuss it, and bring up another topic that you are comfortable with.”