Intentional Living

Want To Set Better Boundaries? Try These 4 Things

If you’re like us you’re doing a million things for work, planning another million, and trying to keep that balanced with friends, partners, and ethical living.We asked our community member Shelby K. Dwyer, LMHC of La Joie De Vivre for some tips on setting boundaries and preventing that emotional burn out from sneaking up on you while you save the world.

the back of a woman standing in a forest without boundaries

As a licensed mental health therapist, I’ll often have sessions with clients discussing boundaries, or rather a lack thereof. It’s typically brought up in a context where there is little awareness as to the apparent need for boundaries. Given that we live in a society where efficiency and always being productive is praised over taking time to slow down and rejuvenate, it’s clear that our level of persistent conscious awareness would be quite low.

Clients might mention that whenever they are around certain people, they feel exhausted, utterly drained, but can’t quite figure out why. They might work a stressful job and sometimes need to work twelve hour days, leaving them feeling frustrated and negative, losing sight of the fulfillment they typically get from their career. These symptoms of being “burnt out” often occur when boundaries are crossed and limits are pushed, so how can you identify the moment that happens in order to prevent negativity?

It Starts With Doing Nothing

No really – do nothing. Stop thinking, stop talking, stop trying to rationalize and stop complaining. Pause and take a conscious and deliberate breath in and out once, or ideally a few times. Without speaking or searching for a reason why or to find meaning, just pause and breathe. If you’re in the middle of a conversation with someone, don’t be afraid to ask for space; you have the option to remove yourself from the situation and change your environment, as well.

Plant Those Feet

Next, ground yourself. Take in your surroundings and remind yourself of where you are in this moment. Maybe silently describe the room you’re in, what you’re wearing, feel your body in the space; you might be sitting in a chair, walking, at a store, etc. Allow yourself to feel whatever it is that you’re feeling, but pull away any attachment to this emotion by being – breathing – in the present moment.

Putting Words To It

Once you feel more connected to your physical body and to the here-and-now, identify and name the emotion you’re feeling. I know, I’m getting so therapisty on you – but once we acknowledge how we are feeling in a specific moment, then we can try to decipher what is causing us to feel how we are feeling. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to find the perfect adjective; the point is to experience the emotion, without judgement on yourself or the situation.

Build Awareness

Next, allow your awareness to move from your emotions and connectedness to the moment, to beginning to understand what’s happening. What were you just thinking about? Did someone say something to you that stirred something up within you? Did you notice a shift happen in your mood? Basically, assess what the heck just happened that caused that discomfort.

The more comfortable you are with pausing in moments of intense activation, the more adept you will become in identifying when one of your boundaries has been crossed; it will also prevent you from having an immediate reaction. Let’s be honest, it can certainly be difficult to catch and remind ourselves to pause before reacting, but taking that moment will allow us to verbalize what it is that we need in that moment.

Work Boundaries

Let’s go back to the example of boundaries with work. We all need money to live and may be fully dependent on our current occupation. Sometimes we might feel overworked or stuck in a monotonous rut, having lost interest in our original passion: our chosen field of work. Life feels harder when you’re working forty-plus hours at a job you suddenly find yourself unhappy with; and yet, you still need to clean the apartment, meal prep for the week, support your partner, pick out your clothes for the next day, pay that bill, go to the gym…all in your spare time away from said job.


It’s so easy to fall into a negative emotion when we feel more vulnerable; but what would happen if you were to stop, pause, and breathe? To take a moment, a quiet moment, to check in with yourself, with your soul? It will help you realize what it is that you need, e.g., setting limits with your work, and possibly asking for support. This can help lessen the strain created, helping you rediscover meaning in your work.

Looking at the Bigger Picture

Remember: emotions can feel overwhelming, but they are fleeting and are not an accurate reflection of real life. They are our perception of what is happening around us and/or to us. They can be red flags informing us when something feels wrong, and they can let us know when we need to protect ourselves. Once we detach from the weight of the emotion by pausing to breathe and be in the moment, we can identify what we need and thus implement a much-needed boundary.

profile image of Shelby, our guest writer on setting boundaries

Shelby is a licensed mental health counselor with a love for living a wellness-driven lifestyle. Her passions include yoga, cats, yoga, deliciously healthy food, yoga, and shopping online for ethical clothing. In her profession as an individual therapist, her balance of an authentic, compassionate presence, an eclectic theoretical approach, and interjecting humor appropriately allow her to effectively support her clients in her full-time work. Shelby lives in Boston with her husband and two cats Colette “Coco” Louie and Seraphina.

Thanks for writing this for us Shelby! Check out more of Shelby’s work on her website La Joie De Vivre

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