Coping with stress
Stage 1: Analysing Your Boundaries
Ask yourself these questions:
- Do you sometimes doubt that you have a right to have your needs met, or make little effort to have them met?
- Do you avoid speaking up for yourself, and do you “let things go” without reacting to bad situations?
- Do you tend to avoid conflict? Do you let others have their way or allow them to make decisions for you?
- Do you sometimes agree to do things that you really don’t want to do – and later regret it?
If you answered mostly “yes,” then chances are that people see you as a “soft touch” who they can manipulate into doing what they want, without negotiation. It’s time, then, to start strengthening your boundaries!
Stage 2: Understanding Your Needs
You may believe that to get along with others, or to do the job that you’re paid to do, you need to give much more than you take. Perhaps you say things like, “Whatever you choose will be great!” and agree to do things that you don’t want to do, and shouldn’t have to do.
This may avoid conflict with others, but it can create conflict inside you. Anger and tension can build because you’re not getting what you need, and this can lead to bad behaviour or burnout. It’s far better to identify what you need and develop strategies to ensure that your needs are met.
So, think of times when you felt angry, tense or resentful, or times when your reaction to something embarrassed you. These were likely occasions when your needs were not met.
Ask yourself these questions:
- What need were you denied?
- What did you really want?
This process of self-reflection and positive reinforcement will help you to develop the emotional intelligence to understand and manage your needs. Don’t minimise your own self-worth – you deserve the treatment and respect that you give to others!
Stage 3: Setting Healthy Boundaries
Now that you understand the needs and boundaries that must be in place for you to be happy, you must change your behaviour – and let others know. They won’t figure it out on their own!
The key is to be assertive . This means being firm – but not aggressive – about your own rights, needs and boundaries, while considering those of others. When you’re assertive, you get your point across firmly and fairly, but with empathy.
An essential part of this is to practice saying “no,” politely but firmly. Many people find this hard. After all, we are social animals, and we like to be liked, and useful to others.
But if you say “yes” to everything, you risk not having enough time to do anything properly. You also risk not working on the things that are truly important, and you’ll end up feeling used or frustrated. Far better to say “no” more often, and to concentrate on meeting your needs.
Stage 4: Maintaining and Respecting Your Boundaries
Setting boundaries will likely give you an immediate sense of empowerment, but “holding your line” and maintaining them can be hard, especially if others are used to you not doing so.
You need to maintain a clear sense of what you will and will not accept, but be realistic and adaptable when necessary. Reset boundaries to suit your situation, and rethink ones that later seem too rigid. Remember not to isolate yourself or to simply stop collaborating .
When your boundaries are under threat, look out for the negative emotions that you associate with the situation and work to control them, while calmly reasserting those boundaries.