Some weeks, the demands at work and the needs of family can build and build until you’re ready to explode or drop to the floor in exhaustion, that is, unless you protect yourself by creating healthy boundaries.

“The word ‘boundary’ gets a bad rap, like you’re trying to keep something out, but they’re actually opportunities to help you navigate where you might need protection of your own personal space,” said Hillary Landry, well-being manager for Hartford HealthCare.

Boundaries are personal because each person has different levels of tolerance for stress and experiences varying responsibilities and situations that impart such stress. In addition, some people or situations in your life might require more boundaries in order to protect yourself, she said.

“It’s important to remember that having to set up more boundaries for that one family member or colleague doesn’t make them wrong or bad, it’s just how you choose to navigate them to conserve your emotional energy,” Landry explained.

In order to effectively establish boundaries, however, you first need to identify your personal triggers, or what Landry called “red flags” or warning signs.

“Think of the stop light – red tells you to stop, take time to pause, reflect before you can move to green,” she said. “We all need to feel empowered to do this.

She offered the following guidelines for recognizing your red flags and establishing healthy boundaries:

  • Be transparent. Once you’ve established what you can and cannot do in a specific situation – whether it involves a colleague, patient, family member or friend – be sure to communicate that clearly and kindly to the other person.
  • Be flexible. Boundaries are not physical walls built around you. You alone can decide when to relax your boundaries or eliminate them altogether. Feel empowered to have a courageous conversation when you feel expectations are unreasonable.
  • Say no. This one word can establish the boundary quickly. You don’t need to explain, or feel guilty when saying it.
  • Practice. The more you set and maintain healthy boundaries in your work and personal life, the easier and more comfortable the task will get.

“It takes a level of self-compassion to be able to monitor and triage yourself better,” Landry said. “This internal awareness is important to be able to navigate and advocate for yourself. It increases your confidence and supports your emotional, physical and mental well-being.