Boundaries for Anxious Folk. 10 rules for setting boundaries.

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People with anxiety often struggle with boundaries, and that’s partly because setting a boundary makes them anxious and not holding a boundary makes them anxious. And because many people with anxiety are sensitive and empathetic, they’re more likely to sacrifice their own needs and wants than to set boundaries on others. 

If you tend to be anxious, I bet the thought of setting boundaries makes you cringe a little. 

Someone with anxiety might say yes to every request at work, they might take on too many tasks, get overwhelmed, and feel stressed and exhausted because they didn’t say no. Relationships require a lot of boundaries, on your space, on your time, on your body and resources. And that’s just normal for healthy relationships, but dealing with toxic people requires even more intense boundary setting. 

If you want to manage depression or anxiety, you need to set boundaries.

Anxious people often swing between massively overbooking themselves and cutting everything out. They try to do everything for everyone, and then when they’re finally ready to say no, they swing to the opposite side, cutting people off or burning bridges. 

When you get good at boundaries, they are so clear that you don’t have to do some huge thing, you just send a small clear message about what you will and won’t let into your life. And when you get good at boundaries, your anxiety will decrease. Clear boundaries are essential to good relationships and personal well-being. 

In this video, you’ll learn the 3 faulty beliefs people have about boundaries, the beliefs that hold you back and keep you stuck and then you’ll learn the 3 simple steps to setting boundaries that you can feel confident about. 

What are Boundaries? And Why are They so Hard?

Sometimes when people think about boundaries they think what it means is telling other people what they can and can’t do. But boundaries really mean what you will and won’t allow in your life. It’s like a fence, with a gate. What do you keep out? And what do you let in? 

Good boundaries are based on values. They help you set limits on what you do with your time, energy and resources so that you protect what is most important to you. So of course I’m going to ask you to explore what you DO want. Getting clear on your boundaries might require you to sit down pretty frequently to reassess what you do and don’t want in your life. Anxiety is about uncertainty, the opposite is clarity. So write this stuff down. 

  • What do you want your life to be about?  I’m going to say no to my boss about that assignment, even though it might impact my promotion, because I choose to be less stressed and spend more time with my family. 
  • How do you choose to spend your time? Instead of “sorry I don’t have time for that” (which is better than setting no boundaries) say “My plate is as full as I’d like it to be right now, I’ll have to decline.” Good boundaries look like “I’ve intentionally chosen how I want to spend my time, instead of letting others determine my schedule.”
  • What kind of relationships do you want to invest in? What kind do you want to open your heart to? Before setting boundaries, it’s essential to recognize your own needs, feelings, and desires. Spend time reflecting on what makes you feel comfortable, respected, and valued and the kind of person that you want to be, the home that you want to have. “I want a family where we treat each other respectfully, so if you start getting heated, I’m going to take a  break and come back when you’re calm.”  

Relationships are probably one of the most complex systems in the universe, I mean that seriously. So I won’t pretend that we can really cover all of that in one video, but you can learn to set better boundaries. First, let’s talk about 3 faulty beliefs that stop you from setting boundaries. 

(1) Let go of the false belief that making others feel good is nice and saying no is mean. Be honest with yourself, most of the time, when you don’t set a boundary, it’s not because you don’t want the other person to feel bad, it’s because you don’t want yourself to feel bad about them feeling bad. It can actually be quite self-serving (in the short term) to avoid setting needed boundaries, you avoid them because you’re uncomfortable, not because it’s kind or helpful or the right thing to do. 


Sometimes setting a hard boundary is the kindest thing you can do. Telling your child no, you won’t buy them that toy, might make them feel sad, but can help them develop into a healthier human who can delay gratification. It’s not a balance between being nice sometimes and mean other times, it’s about choosing what’s best for yourself and others.  


If you don’t tell your spouse what you do and don’t like, you may be keeping them from feeling upset for a moment, but undermining the relationship in the long run. It may look nice, but it’s not kind, it’s not helpful. Being nice is trying to walk on eggshells and never upset anyone, being kind is doing what’s best for people. 

And, trying to make sure everyone else is happy all the time is actually poor boundaries, it’s codependent, you’re trying to control their emotions by bending over backwards for them. It’s not good for them or yourself. 

Allow other people to be upset. Allow other people to be responsible for their own feelings.


(2)The second false belief is that boundaries are about telling other people what they can and can’t do. 

With healthy boundaries, you set a limit on what you can control.  You can only control what you can control. Your time, your body, your emotions, your energy, your property.  Saying ‘You can’t talk to me that way” is not a boundary, it’s a command that you can’t enforce. “If you talk to me that way, I will hang up” that’s a boundary. “If you talk to me that way,I will not reply” “I will walk away”, “you won’t get allowance”, those are boundaries. 


Good, clear boundaries focus on what you can control and let go of what you can’t. Stop trying to change other people, this makes you helpless, instead focus on setting limits on what comes into your fence and what goes out. 


Don’t freak out about weeds in your neighbor’s lawn. Just focus on what you can change. 


This requires you to allow other people to fail. I don’t have to fix it.  Allow other people to succeed.  I can allow someone else to be wrong. Allow things to not go perfectly. Good boundaries aren’t about control, they’re about clarifying what you can and can’t control, what you do and don’t choose to control. 


(3)Don’t wait until you “Feel” something to set a boundary. Don’t wait for your child to agree with you to set a boundary. Don’t wait until you don’t feel guilty or anxious to say “No” to someone. Because you care about people, it’s hard to see them upset. But you have to be willing to feel uncomfortable in order to do the right thing. You can’t just wait until the feeling goes away before you make the choice to do it. 


Because you might have a habit of avoiding things that make you anxious, setting boundaries in relationships is hard but you really can do this, and the more you do it, the better you’ll get at it. Once you figure out the principles, what to do comes more naturally.

3 Steps to Setting a Boundary.

There are 3 steps to setting a boundary. 

  1. Make a request
  2. IF-THEN
  3. Be Consistent. 

(1) The first level of any good boundary is to make a request. Will you please stop shouting, it’s hurting my ears. This is also a good time to make an explanation. Hey neighbor, I’ve noticed that your dog keeps pooping in my yard. I really don’t like finding poop in my yard. Would you please pick up after him? Thanks so much. 

Good communication skills come in key here. Clearly and assertively communicate your needs to others. Use “I” statements to express how you feel and what you need, e.g., “I feel overwhelmed when I have too many tasks. I need to say no to additional requests right now.” Being assertive means expressing your thoughts, feelings, and needs in an open and honest way while respecting the rights of others. It’s neither passive nor aggressive. It’s straightforward, respectful of yourself and others, and it’s direct and clear. This first step is also a fine time to listen to their needs, to empathize, to problem solve or even negotiate a mutual solution.

When you look for examples of boundaries, most of them are actually requests:

  • “Please ask before you borrow my things.”
  • “I’m not ready for that level of intimacy.”
  • “Please give me at least 48 hours notice for meetings.”
  • “I can’t be your therapist. Please talk to a professional about these feelings.”
  • “I’m not comfortable with hugging. I’d prefer a handshake or a wave.”
  • “Please don’t raise your voice at me.”

The power behind requests comes from your relationship with them, when you have a stronger relationship, you have more power to ask for something. Status and social norms also impact that power differential. But when talking and requesting doesn’t work, it’s time to move onto the next step.

(2) The second level is much more active. Set a clear and assertive limit. These often look like IF-THEN statements. You use your locus of control to explain what you will and won’t allow.  

If you can’t control something, it’s a request. “You can’t talk to me like that” is not a boundary, it’s a request. You can’t force someone to stop talking. You can control what you do, whether you listen, argue, go quiet, hang up, walk away, record them, impose a consequence. (I’m not saying all of these are good options, I’m just saying, this is what you CAN control. You can only control your actions.  IF-THEN. “If you speak to me like that I will hang up.” “If you speak to me like that, you will have to take a time out. If you speak to me like that I will report you to HR. If you speak to me like that I will not speak to you again.” 

The power behind boundaries comes from your action on what you can control. 

Here’s some more examples:

  • “I don’t lend money to friends.”
  • “I can’t stay late at work tonight; I have prior commitments.”
  • “I don’t take work calls on weekends.”
  • “I don’t accept friend requests from coworkers on my personal social media.”
  • “I turn off my notifications after 9pm”
  • “I don’t share my laptop with anyone.”
  • “I need our discussions to be constructive. If they’re not, I’ll need to step away.”
  • “You don’t get any screen time or friend time until you’ve done your chores.”

This is usually not the place to make a lot of explanations or negotiations. It’s okay to say “no” without offering a lengthy explanation. You don’t need to justify it. “This isn’t up for discussion”.

(3) The third step is to Stay Consistent: Once you’ve set a boundary, it’s important to be consistent in upholding it. If you’re inconsistent, people may become confused or may not take your boundaries seriously. Enforce consequences. This is probably the hardest part, but do your best. It’s going to be worth it. 

OK, I know boundaries can be complicated, but I hope these steps can help you set better boundaries, even if you are a little anxious. And that as you do, you can help solve some of the issues that underlie that anxiety. Good boundaries are a sign of respect for yourself and others and they’re really essential for healthy relationships, workplaces and just good mental health in general. 

If you want to learn how to break the anxiety cycle in 30 days, please click the link below. 

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