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  • Writer's pictureDanielle Morran

Anxiety and Boundaries: the Struggle Is Real

Boundaries can be challenging for everyone but for someone struggling with anxiety, the idea of setting a boundary can be terrifying.

Boundaries are the personal limits we set and maintain for ourselves within our relationships with others. They help keep us safe, help us identify what is important, and allow us to engage in healthy relationships. Boundaries are unique and are usually based on personal values or what is important to us.

Why is it so important to set boundaries, especially when you struggle with anxiety?

Personal boundaries are essential for healthy relationships and life. If you struggle to manage anxiety or are generally a more anxious human, boundaries can be essential for avoiding any additional anxiety.

Setting boundaries increases self-esteem, honors your needs and wants, avoids burnout, reduces relational conflict, and increases clarity around who you are and what is important to you.

If you have porous boundaries you can be left disappointed, hurt, taken advantage of, anxious, or left feeling resentment or burnt out. Porous boundaries refer to the idea that your boundaries are not solid and can be easily crossed by others. There are boundaries that you may hold firm in but for some, it can be helpful to be a bit flexible. If you have rigid boundaries you can be isolated, disconnected, lonely, or angry.

Why is it so hard to set boundaries when you struggle with anxiety?

Have you ever found yourself worrying about saying “no” to someone because you didn’t have the time to do what they were asking of you, and then on top of it feeling anxiety because you were worried about how they might respond? It's like a double layer of anxiety.

If you already struggle with anxiety the fear that comes along with setting boundaries can be an additional obstacle. The uncertainties that can come from setting a boundary may intensify your anxiety. You may fear that setting a boundary will lead to conflict or hurting someone’s feelings. The inability to predict a person's response to you setting a boundary is scary.

Saying no can feel uncomfortable, and being assertive is hard. If you struggle with anxiety you may find that you feel the need to please other people, even at your own expense. You may not be used to saying no, and it can be nerve-wracking.

Some people have anxiety specifically around abandonment. If you have a fear of losing people you care about you may be extra worried about how the person you are setting boundaries with may react, therefore you might avoid setting the boundaries altogether.

Individuals with anxiety may find that they struggle with self-confidence/self-worth. If you struggle with self-confidence you may find it challenging to hold boundaries because you don't feel deserving of boundaries. This can not be further from the truth!

Anxiety can hijack your amygdala (the brain's trigger for responding to threats), disconnecting your prefrontal cortex (the part responsible for rational thought). If you are disconnected from your emotions, it may be hard to know what you value or what is important to you. Or you could find yourself in a position where you didn't realize you had a boundary until it was crossed because your anxiety has essentially paralyzed your brain.

Did you know that there are 6 different types of boundaries?

Boundaries are categorized into physical, emotional, intellectual, sexual, material, and time boundaries. Setting boundaries within these categories can vary from person to person and sound very different.

1. Physical boundaries: boundaries you set that relate to your personal space, body, and physical needs. It includes your level of comfort with touch, your privacy, the level of rest you need, and what you put into your body. It may sound like: "I am very tired. I need to take a rest" or "I am really not comfortable with hugging".

2. Emotional boundaries: boundaries you set pertaining to your emotions and what you share emotionally with others. They are about taking ownership of our own feelings and avoiding responsibility for other people’s feelings. It may sound like: "I am having a really tough day and I need you to just listen, are you able to do that for me?" or "I know you are concerned but I actually prefer not to talk about it".

3. Intellectual boundaries: boundaries you set relating to your own thoughts, opinions, and ideas. Differences in opinions, as long as they are not hurtful or discriminatory, should be shared comfortably, without being put down. It may sound like: "I can respect we have differing opinions about this, maybe it's best to stop talking about it for now" or "I know you disagree with me which is fine, but I don't like how you just belittled me".

4. Sexual boundaries: boundaries that pertain to sexual touch and intimacy; they include sexual safety, consent, preferences, privacy, and comfort. It may sound like: "I don't want to have sex before knowing your health history" or "I want to try [insert desire], would you be comfortable trying it with me?"

5. Material boundaries: boundaries pertaining to your material possessions and financial resources. The right to spend your money as you choose, and to give or loan your possessions as you choose. It may sound like: "You might not spend money on [insert item] but I find value in it" or "Of course, you can borrow [insert item] but please just return it in the same condition".

6. Time boundaries: boundaries you set pertaining to how you spend, prioritize, and share your time. It may sound like: "I really wish I could help but I am really short on time today" or "It is important for me to spend time as a family, could we set some time aside this week?"

What can be helpful if you are anxious about setting boundaries?

Practice being assertive with a safe person. Maybe your want to set a boundary with your partner but you are feeling anxious about how they may respond. Rehearsing what you want to say with a trusted person like a counsellor can help you be assertive.

Start slow. Give yourself permission to reflect on the reasons for your boundaries and slowly implement them. Allow yourself to adapt, boundaries can shift and change as you learn more about yourself.

It can be helpful to explore your thoughts and feelings around boundaries in general. Here are some questions to think about or journal about.

  • Ask yourself what steps may you want to take to improve your boundaries and how you may accomplish these steps.

  • How might your relationships and life change if you choose to improve your boundaries?

  • Are you accommodating requests because you want to or because you are worried about potential conflict?

  • What relationships do you struggle with in regard to boundaries?

  • What are my limits and values?

Are you struggling with anxiety, setting boundaries, or both?

If you are considering counselling, contact Danielle at 403-454-9056 during business hours to discuss how Danielle's counselling services can help, or book a free 15-minute consultation online now.

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