For many of us, the days are starting to blur as our work and personal lives mesh together into a giant gray lump during this pandemic.
Suddenly we are glued to our screens now more than ever, find it hard to ignore work emails even late at night, feel guilty when we can’t spend enough quality time with our loved ones, and drown in the overwhelm of COVID-19 news. And oh yeah, exercise...what’s that again?
If you’re nodding your head as you read this, then you’re not alone.
Why Boundaries Matter Now
A week ago, I asked my friends the question: “Do you struggle with boundaries?” And the answer was a loud booming “YES!” I was surprised at how many people were struggling with boundaries right now.
Did you know? Better boundaries can help you maintain your sanity, protect your energy, save time, manage overwhelm, and prevent emotional exhaustion during these difficult and uncertain times.
When the current world events evoke a sense of helplessness and a loss of control, we CAN reclaim our personal agency through better boundaries.
Powerful Pandemic Boundary Tips
In my own life and career, I’ve witnessed the life-changing magic of boundaries. Now I’m here to share some tips on how to set better boundaries during this pandemic and find better balance in your life + work.
1) Set blocks of time on your calendar for working on major deliverables and limit the time on each.
This will help you manage the time spent between different work tasks so that the hours don’t all blend together and you end up working non-stop. If it’s important, move it earlier in the schedule and prioritize it. Color code if you need to, so that you can visually see what is taking up most of your time.
When the crisis began, I had no clear schedule. As an entrepreneur, my plan of attack was working on everything all at once. When a new email popped up, I would immediately address it, and then drop whatever I was working on before. That was a recipe for blurred boundaries and near-burn-out, and my life is MUCH better now with dedicated time blocks where I can focus on what I need to.
2) Honor your own time boundaries and respect other people’s on video meetings.
You know you’re living in a new world when Zoom has become a verb. The good news is that we can meet our colleagues and friends from all over the world in an instant. But the bad news is sometimes these meetings drag on and on, well past the scheduled time. To respect people’s time, stick to an agenda and have someone facilitate the video meeting. You can also clearly express that you have to hop off once the hour is over.
Lately when I’ve been hosting video meetings, I do regular time checks and state for example, “With 10 minutes left in our meeting, what do we need to make sure we cover?” And when I’m joining a group call, if it runs over time and I have another engagement then I just politely type in the chat, “Gotta hop off now, thanks!” There’s no shame in gracefully exiting a meeting if you need to.
3) Manually schedule health breaks to stretch, go for a walk, drink tea, or grab a snack.
If you were working in an office before, you would’ve naturally gotten up to walk around, go out for lunch, or travel in between meetings, so try to do that at home too to get some movement. That way, you can practice exercising your physical boundaries and take care of your body.
I can empathize with you and know this one is harder than it sounds. I used to snooze the breaks and say to myself, “Just five more minutes of work and then I’ll take a break.” But guess what? Another two hours would go by and with a numb butt, tight hips, and rock-hard shoulders I could feel the stress and damage to my body from sitting for too long.
4) Feel empowered to say NO, without guilt. You have every right to say NO to other people.
During this pandemic, many of us are feeling a sense of helplessness. That may trigger us to feel the need to rescue others or help others at the expense of our own needs. However, when we ignore our own needs, it can lead to emotional exhaustion and resentment. Not fun, is it?
In the beginning, I felt guilty for saying No. So I kept taking things on in an effort to control the chaos and distract myself from the subconscious anxiety of adjusting to the new normal. One Saturday, I finally sat down to look at the list of things I was working on, and asked myself, “Hey, whose priorities are these? They aren’t even mine!” That’s when I realized I got stuck in the Helper loop. When I broke free of that and learned how to say No nicely to others, I was able to reclaim my time and energy.
5) Resist the temptation to get sucked into a media black hole. You don’t have to read every COVID-19 article you see.
There’s a difference between staying informed, and losing yourself in news articles. During this time, not only are we absorbing local news, but we are also bombarded with news from around the world as the situation develops. More often than not, these news stories can increase anxious thoughts or feelings of sadness as we hear of global pains. To manage that, maybe that means for you: less Googling, and more ignoring of news stories that pop into your feed.
At first, I was curious too. What were the latest stats? What were the infection and death rates? Inevitably I would come across a news story about an extremely tragic family loss and feel terribly heartbroken. Now, I try to limit how much I digest the news.
6) Recognize that other people’s emotions are not your emotions.
This one is HUGE. During this time of heightened digital connection and anxiety, it’s easy to get swept up in the emotions of people we know and love. Especially when people can share exactly how they feel and all their heated opinions in one single click on social media. But you have to separate them from your own.
A simple mantra that helps is, “What’s yours is yours and what’s mine is mine. Our feelings are valid but they don’t have to be each other’s.”
In my coaching business, I try to practice this as the things that my brave clients bring to our sessions are often deeply emotional. And during this pandemic, emotions are more intense than ever as old traumas are being triggered. As a wise mentor once shared with me “Be the sieve. Let it flow through you and don’t hold onto other people’s emotions.”
7) Stop feeling the need to respond to everyone immediately.
Seriously. STOP. In the absence of in-person interaction and with the rise of socially distanced digital communications across time zones it can feel like a barrage of messages coming through. Not only that, they are split across channels. Between Whatsapp, emails, Slack, social media private messages, and social media comments it can be madness!
Things that can help: Turn off your notifications, turn your phone on airplane mode, close extra browser windows, remove social media apps from the first screen of your phone, and the good ole tried and true: fight the urge to read every single message that pops up. If it’s not a good time for you, read it later.
I’ll be the first to admit, I still get caught in the whirlwind of digital communications sometimes. And I realized, if I’m not checking in the first place, then it reduces the urge to respond. As important it is to time block work, it’s also important to time block social media.
So there you have it, my top tips on how to set better boundaries during this pandemic.
Like a muscle, you have to flex your boundaries over time so they can get healthier and stronger. I believe in you! And when you do that, you’ll see major shifts in your life + work.
With love and light,
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