It’s safe to say that the past year has been challenging in many ways. From changing our lifestyles and adapting to new ways of socializing to losing loved ones and dealing with constant uncertainty, there’s a lot of processing that many of us are still moving through.
While it’s great news that so many people are becoming vaccinated and COVID cases are on the decline in the U.S., some people might still be apprehensive about returning to “normal” life. Going to concerts, shopping, and eating out might have been high on your list in the past, but if the thought of these activities makes you a little anxious, you’re not alone.
We spoke with Colorado Spirit’s Jean Bogar about ways to protect your mental health and set good boundaries as we navigate our reemergence into society. Here are some of Jean’s best pieces of advice on how to get started.
What Are Boundaries?
First and foremost, when it comes to post-lockdown life, determining what makes you feel comfortable is the most important thing. You can do this and help minimize feelings of stress or anxiety by setting up boundaries. But what exactly are boundaries?
According to Jean, “Boundaries are limits and values that we set for ourselves. As we know these and recognize these more, this will help us get back to doing the things we love or trying new things without fear or anxiety.”
In essence, boundaries keep us safe. They’re that little red flag that pops up in your mind anytime something isn’t quite right for you. It’s important to note that boundaries are different for everyone and one thing that might be a firm boundary for you could be a soft or flexible boundary for someone else.
Additionally, we don’t always keep the same boundaries for ourselves throughout our entire lives. While something like no smoking might be a firm boundary for you your entire life, you might relax on the idea that you don’t allow your children to eat sweets at their grandparents’ house. Our boundaries can change as we grow older, meet new people, or have new experiences that give us a different perspective.
But, like Jean says, “We don’t know all of our limits or boundaries. Sometimes we recognize them as they are being pushed or crossed.”
Types of Boundaries
So, how do we know when one of our boundaries is being crossed? First, let’s take a look at the different types of boundaries a person might have.
Emotional – this boundary focuses on your feelings and can relate to how much of your emotional energy you’re willing to spend on something.
Here’s an example of setting an emotional boundary: “I’m not in a good place to talk about that subject right now. I’ll let you know when I feel ready to discuss it.”
Physical – this boundary is all about protecting your space. This boundary helps you make sure you’re meeting your personal needs.
Here’s an example of setting a physical boundary: “I’m really hungry. I’m going to get some food and then we can keep working on this project.”
Material – this boundary is all about taking ownership of your possessions or finances. Material boundaries help you decide who to share with and to what extent.
Here’s an example of setting a material boundary: “I’m not in a position to lend you money right now, but I can give you a ride to work this week if you’d like to carpool.”
Sexual – this boundary helps you decide what you are comfortable doing with your body and with whom. Sexual boundaries involve a lot of emotional, mental, and physical aspects to consider.
Here’s an example of setting a material boundary: always be sure to ask for consent with any partner. This helps to establish mutual trust and respect.
Intellectual – this boundary has to do with your thoughts and ideas. Of course, people are allowed to have differences of opinion, but this boundary focuses on respect for those differences.
Here’s an example of setting an intellectual boundary: “I recognize that we have different points of view on this. Maybe we can have this discussion another time when we’ve cooled off a little.”
Time – this boundary focuses on protecting your time. A person can only do so many things at a time so deciding how you use yours is essential.
Here’s an example of setting a time boundary: “I can come over to visit, but I’ll only stay for an hour.”
Setting Boundaries After the Pandemic
Even just a few months ago, many places were still in full or partial lockdown, which meant that we had a lot of societal boundaries to adhere to like not leaving your house unless necessary or always wearing a mask. As vaccination numbers rise and COVID cases decline, most states have reopened for business and many places no longer require people to wear masks. This shifts the responsibility of setting a boundary back onto the individual which can be a tricky situation to navigate.
Jean gives the example of a friend who really wants to go to an amusement park, but you might be uncomfortable with the idea of spending the day surrounded by so many people. She says in these moments, it’s important to “step back and assess the situation. What is making you anxious? Acknowledge and identify how you feel, then decide if this is something that you need or want to address.”
In a situation like this, you might feel like your friend is pushing on a few different types of boundaries. When this happens, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and frustrated, but if you make a plan early and take away some of the stress of making decisions in the moment, you’ll be better able to handle these types of conversations when they pop up.
To combat this, Jean recommends deciding what you’re comfortable with early on. Do you have an immunocompromised family member at home? Maybe you decide to continue wearing a mask to social events, even if you’re vaccinated. What about large crowds? Make the decision early on to keep gatherings to small groups in more limited locations like an outdoor coffee shop. At the end of the day, your boundaries are there to make you feel safe.
Having Difficult Conversations Around Setting Boundaries
According to Jean, setting boundaries with another person doesn’t have to be a negative conversation, but you should be firm about communicating what you want and need. Going back to the amusement park example, Jean suggests setting a boundary in a conversation by saying something like this:
“I value our time together and right now I’m feeling a little anxious. I still really enjoy and value our friendship and at the same time, one of my needs is to feel safe. Maybe we can meet up at a park instead?”
By communicating early and often, you reduce the chances of getting yourself into an uncomfortable situation or agreeing to something you don’t actually want to do.
Taking Care of Your Mental Health After Lockdown
For Jean, the key to reentering the hustle and bustle of society is to take small, consistent steps. “Start small, then go slow and steady. And be kind to yourself. Remember that progress is not linear so don’t expect that you will suddenly be completely back to your old life.”
It’s essential to keep moving toward new goals so that you don’t feel like you have to start all over again. This might mean getting groceries one day, running to the post office the next, and getting dinner with an old friend the following day.
As Jean says, “We cannot control the virus. There are things we can do to protect ourselves, but we can’t control the virus and we can’t control or change other people no matter if they’re family, close friends, partners, etc. We can talk to them but the only thing we’re in control of is
Thoughts. We can stop our thoughts from spiraling.”
If you’re still feeling overwhelmed by the idea of going out, take some time to attend to your mental health. Jean suggests focusing on mindfulness and meditation activities like deep breathing exercises or finding other coping skills. Additionally, help to balance out your mental and physical health by getting enough sleep, daily exercise, and eating healthy. Jean also notes that finding a little laughter in every day can also work wonders for your mind, body, and soul.
As we navigate our way back into society, just remember to take it slow and do what feels right for you. Adjusting to a new normal will take time and have setbacks, but you will get there soon enough.
If you are in a crisis, please call us at 720-900-5685 or by calling the crisis line at 844-493-8255. The 24/7 crisis walk-in center and withdrawal management program is open at 4643 Wadsworth Blvd, Wheat Ridge, CO 80033.