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Alcohol and Mental Health

11 Ways To Set Healthy Boundaries at Work

Published:
July 19, 2023
·
14 min read
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Written by
Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
July 19, 2023
·
14 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
July 19, 2023
·
14 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
July 19, 2023
·
14 min read
Reframe App LogoReframe App Logo
Reframe Content Team
July 19, 2023
·
14 min read

Meet our hard-working friend Lisa, perpetually caught in the whirlwind of juggling too many tasks. Her workdays spill into her nights, weekends are spent catching up on "urgent" emails, and her personal life blurs into her professional and vice-versa. When she’s home, she’s worried about work. At work, she’s managing personal matters in between meetings. Mentally it’s like she’s at least in two places at once, and never quite settled anywhere. Burnout is knocking on her door.

Lisa is forgoing all of the things that made her feel good — eating well, exercising, nurturing relationships — for work. She is stressed and exhausted, and she seeks solace in a nightcap. It’s the one thing she looks forward to these days.

At work, Lisa takes on too much and resents it. She is in dire need of boundaries. Work consumes her — yet it also seems increasingly less meaningful.

If her situation sounds familiar, read on.

This article dives into the science behind boundary-setting — and provides 11 practical and powerful strategies to set healthy boundaries at work.

Boundaries and Brain Science

Establishing boundaries in relationships directly influences our prefrontal cortex (PFC), a pivotal brain area with many responsibilities: problem-solving, critical thinking, decision-making, social conduct, and personality. What are some of the benefits to the PFC?

  • Less stress. By asserting healthy boundaries, we curtail our stress levels, thereby positively affecting our PFC. Stress can debilitate this part of our brain, so lowering stress through boundary-setting promotes its functionality.
  • Better decision-making. Boundaries foster improved decision-making, enabling us to make choices in sync with our values and priorities. This helps our PFC operate more effectively.
  • Improved emotional regulation. By setting boundaries, we enhance our emotional control. Emotional turmoil can limit our access to and use of the PFC; boundaries help us regulate our emotions and engage this brain region more effectively.

The act of setting boundaries can lead to less stress, better decision-making, and stronger emotional regulation. That sounds like a better foundation for productivity, no?

1. Practice Saying No

Saying "no" can be tough, but it's an essential part of setting boundaries. This single word can reduce our brain's stress response and promote feelings of control.

Part of saying "no" is discerning when it’s the right call. If your time, competence, or other resources are being taken advantage of, this is a good opportunity to reinforce your boundaries with a clear, respectful, and assertive ‘no.’

For instance, declining unnecessary meetings is one way to practice "no" when it’s appropriate and possible to do so. Confidently suggesting the matter at hand be resolved via an email chain can be a good option.

Ultimately, you’re the best judge here — of your coworkers and the situation.

Declining unnecessary meetings allows us to prioritize tasks effectively. Understand you won’t always be met with approval — and respond as you deem appropriate. Sometimes organizational change takes its time. Keep finding ways to reinforce boundaries around your personal output, time, and energy.

2. Be Assertive

Assertiveness is not just about voicing our opinions; it's about expressing our needs and boundaries effectively. This communication style empowers us, boosting our confidence and making us feel more in control of our work environment.

When we assert ourselves, we reduce our anxiety, foster better work relationships, and promote mutual respect with our colleagues. Moreover, practicing assertiveness reminds us that we are responsible for our choices.

We decide how we manage our work, how we respect our own boundaries, and how we allow others to treat us. By standing firm in our assertiveness, we pave the way for healthier work dynamics, enhanced self-esteem, and improved mental well-being.

3. Create an Exit Strategy

Having a fixed plan to end our workday can help maintain a healthy work-life balance. Setting a definite end to our workday provides our brain with predictability, a condition it thrives on. A predictable end of the day allows our brain to know when to switch gears and start winding down.

A good example is deciding not to check work emails during non-work hours or when at home. If that’s not possible, setting a timer for work tasks you carry out during non-work hours can help you prioritize — and find a stopping point. Implementing these sorts of boundaries can significantly reduce stress, as it helps divide our professional and personal lives, preventing work demands from seeping into our downtime.

This can help us be more present with the people we love and things we enjoy — deepening our relationships and relaxation.

4. Unplug

Drawing a line between digital and nondigital lives helps to create mental barriers that can safeguard our emotional health.

If you struggle to create and hold to the boundaries discussed above, unplugging might help you achieve that. In our hyper-connected world, it's easy for work to creep into our personal time. Emails, calls, tags, and messages can keep us tethered to our jobs round the clock.

To establish healthy work boundaries, it's important to disconnect digitally when we're off the clock. This could mean turning off work-related notifications after hours, designating tech-free periods, or even having a separate work phone. Creating these digital boundaries gives our brain the chance to shift away from work-mode, reducing stress, and improving our overall well-being.

5. Seek Help

Record what you do, when, and how long it generally takes you. If you’re taking on more than you should in your role, perhaps it’s time to have a conversation with your boss about hiring more hands — or about helping allocate some of your work to others who may have more availability.

Reaching out for help when overwhelmed reduces our brain's burden, thereby mitigating stress. It can promote a sense of shared responsibility.

6. Conduct an Audit

Regularly assessing our workload gives us a better understanding of our obligations.

This proactive approach provides us with a clear and accurate understanding of our commitments and responsibilities. This helps us manage our time — and stress — more effectively. We can then prioritize tasks, delegate when necessary, and prevent overloading and overwhelming ourselves.

Moreover, understanding our workload also offers us insights into our work patterns, letting us identify stress triggers and eliminate or manage them effectively. Consequently, our brain faces fewer stress reactions, promoting more focused, creative, and efficient work.

Remember, managing our workload effectively is a key step in our journey towards reduced stress and improved well-being.

7. Set Limits

By setting boundaries around our availability, we help our brain differentiate between work time and personal time.

This clear demarcation helps our brain switch off from work-mode, reducing stress and allowing us to fully engage in our personal time. This can lead to an improved work-life balance — and help us steer clear of unhealthy coping mechanisms, like drinking. Establishing and adhering to these limits is our passport to a healthier, balanced life.

8. Communicate Clearly

Clear communication about our working hours and availability helps manage others' expectations, reducing the potential for work-related stress and conflict.

Set yourself — and your coworkers — up for success by being clear about needs and expectations.

9. Delegate

Delegation is a powerful tool in our boundary-setting toolbox. When we delegate, we reduce our mental load, allowing our brain to focus more on tasks of higher priority and importance. This process leads to better decision-making and fosters creativity.

Furthermore, delegation reduces our sense of being overwhelmed, curtailing the stress response in our brain. It's about trust as well, and that’s a good thing — trusting our team to handle responsibilities increases their morale and productivity.

So, the next time we find ourselves juggling numerous tasks, let's remember to delegate effectively. Not only will this lighten our load, but it’ll also build a stronger, more efficient team.

10. Take Time Off

Our brain, like any other body part, requires rest to regenerate and function optimally. Chronic exposure to work stress can strain our brain, leading to exhaustion, decreased productivity, and even burnout.

Vacation days exist for a reason. When we take time off, we give our brain a much-needed pause to refresh and rejuvenate. This restorative process enhances our mental well-being, leading to increased creativity, sharper thinking, and improved emotional balance when we return to work.

Regular, short breaks during the day also serve a similar purpose, providing our brain with short 'power-off' periods that can significantly boost our energy and focus.

11. Reevaluate

Boundaries are not cast in stone. They may need to be adjusted as circumstances change or as our work — or role — evolves.

Regularly reevaluating our boundaries enables us to stay in tune with our current needs and work dynamics. Sometimes, we may need to have open and honest conversations with ourselves and our co-workers or managers about any necessary adjustments.

Are we taking on too much? Can a new project wait until we've completed the current ones? These reflections help us remain flexible and adaptive, ensuring that our boundaries serve their purpose effectively: to maintain a healthy work-life balance and keep stress under control.

Remember, it's okay to reassess and recalibrate our boundaries as we navigate the ever-changing landscapes of our professional life.

New Beginnings

Our brain is remarkably adaptable, and with the right strategies, we can train it to manage stress and foster well-being.

Starting today, let's make three simple commitments:

  1. Visualize yourself. Whether it’s saying "no" or imagining yourself thriving with better work-life balance, visualization can be a powerful tool to help build new neural pathways toward behavior change.

  2. Communicate. Clearly communicate your work hours, work load, and availability to your team. If you can’t take on more than you have, make that known.

  3. Take breaks. Take a short break during the day in between major tasks to relax and recharge. Whether it’s a 5-minute walk around the block or a quick stretch break, it’s good to find ways to take care of your body and mind throughout the day.

Meet our hard-working friend Lisa, perpetually caught in the whirlwind of juggling too many tasks. Her workdays spill into her nights, weekends are spent catching up on "urgent" emails, and her personal life blurs into her professional and vice-versa. When she’s home, she’s worried about work. At work, she’s managing personal matters in between meetings. Mentally it’s like she’s at least in two places at once, and never quite settled anywhere. Burnout is knocking on her door.

Lisa is forgoing all of the things that made her feel good — eating well, exercising, nurturing relationships — for work. She is stressed and exhausted, and she seeks solace in a nightcap. It’s the one thing she looks forward to these days.

At work, Lisa takes on too much and resents it. She is in dire need of boundaries. Work consumes her — yet it also seems increasingly less meaningful.

If her situation sounds familiar, read on.

This article dives into the science behind boundary-setting — and provides 11 practical and powerful strategies to set healthy boundaries at work.

Boundaries and Brain Science

Establishing boundaries in relationships directly influences our prefrontal cortex (PFC), a pivotal brain area with many responsibilities: problem-solving, critical thinking, decision-making, social conduct, and personality. What are some of the benefits to the PFC?

  • Less stress. By asserting healthy boundaries, we curtail our stress levels, thereby positively affecting our PFC. Stress can debilitate this part of our brain, so lowering stress through boundary-setting promotes its functionality.
  • Better decision-making. Boundaries foster improved decision-making, enabling us to make choices in sync with our values and priorities. This helps our PFC operate more effectively.
  • Improved emotional regulation. By setting boundaries, we enhance our emotional control. Emotional turmoil can limit our access to and use of the PFC; boundaries help us regulate our emotions and engage this brain region more effectively.

The act of setting boundaries can lead to less stress, better decision-making, and stronger emotional regulation. That sounds like a better foundation for productivity, no?

1. Practice Saying No

Saying "no" can be tough, but it's an essential part of setting boundaries. This single word can reduce our brain's stress response and promote feelings of control.

Part of saying "no" is discerning when it’s the right call. If your time, competence, or other resources are being taken advantage of, this is a good opportunity to reinforce your boundaries with a clear, respectful, and assertive ‘no.’

For instance, declining unnecessary meetings is one way to practice "no" when it’s appropriate and possible to do so. Confidently suggesting the matter at hand be resolved via an email chain can be a good option.

Ultimately, you’re the best judge here — of your coworkers and the situation.

Declining unnecessary meetings allows us to prioritize tasks effectively. Understand you won’t always be met with approval — and respond as you deem appropriate. Sometimes organizational change takes its time. Keep finding ways to reinforce boundaries around your personal output, time, and energy.

2. Be Assertive

Assertiveness is not just about voicing our opinions; it's about expressing our needs and boundaries effectively. This communication style empowers us, boosting our confidence and making us feel more in control of our work environment.

When we assert ourselves, we reduce our anxiety, foster better work relationships, and promote mutual respect with our colleagues. Moreover, practicing assertiveness reminds us that we are responsible for our choices.

We decide how we manage our work, how we respect our own boundaries, and how we allow others to treat us. By standing firm in our assertiveness, we pave the way for healthier work dynamics, enhanced self-esteem, and improved mental well-being.

3. Create an Exit Strategy

Having a fixed plan to end our workday can help maintain a healthy work-life balance. Setting a definite end to our workday provides our brain with predictability, a condition it thrives on. A predictable end of the day allows our brain to know when to switch gears and start winding down.

A good example is deciding not to check work emails during non-work hours or when at home. If that’s not possible, setting a timer for work tasks you carry out during non-work hours can help you prioritize — and find a stopping point. Implementing these sorts of boundaries can significantly reduce stress, as it helps divide our professional and personal lives, preventing work demands from seeping into our downtime.

This can help us be more present with the people we love and things we enjoy — deepening our relationships and relaxation.

4. Unplug

Drawing a line between digital and nondigital lives helps to create mental barriers that can safeguard our emotional health.

If you struggle to create and hold to the boundaries discussed above, unplugging might help you achieve that. In our hyper-connected world, it's easy for work to creep into our personal time. Emails, calls, tags, and messages can keep us tethered to our jobs round the clock.

To establish healthy work boundaries, it's important to disconnect digitally when we're off the clock. This could mean turning off work-related notifications after hours, designating tech-free periods, or even having a separate work phone. Creating these digital boundaries gives our brain the chance to shift away from work-mode, reducing stress, and improving our overall well-being.

5. Seek Help

Record what you do, when, and how long it generally takes you. If you’re taking on more than you should in your role, perhaps it’s time to have a conversation with your boss about hiring more hands — or about helping allocate some of your work to others who may have more availability.

Reaching out for help when overwhelmed reduces our brain's burden, thereby mitigating stress. It can promote a sense of shared responsibility.

6. Conduct an Audit

Regularly assessing our workload gives us a better understanding of our obligations.

This proactive approach provides us with a clear and accurate understanding of our commitments and responsibilities. This helps us manage our time — and stress — more effectively. We can then prioritize tasks, delegate when necessary, and prevent overloading and overwhelming ourselves.

Moreover, understanding our workload also offers us insights into our work patterns, letting us identify stress triggers and eliminate or manage them effectively. Consequently, our brain faces fewer stress reactions, promoting more focused, creative, and efficient work.

Remember, managing our workload effectively is a key step in our journey towards reduced stress and improved well-being.

7. Set Limits

By setting boundaries around our availability, we help our brain differentiate between work time and personal time.

This clear demarcation helps our brain switch off from work-mode, reducing stress and allowing us to fully engage in our personal time. This can lead to an improved work-life balance — and help us steer clear of unhealthy coping mechanisms, like drinking. Establishing and adhering to these limits is our passport to a healthier, balanced life.

8. Communicate Clearly

Clear communication about our working hours and availability helps manage others' expectations, reducing the potential for work-related stress and conflict.

Set yourself — and your coworkers — up for success by being clear about needs and expectations.

9. Delegate

Delegation is a powerful tool in our boundary-setting toolbox. When we delegate, we reduce our mental load, allowing our brain to focus more on tasks of higher priority and importance. This process leads to better decision-making and fosters creativity.

Furthermore, delegation reduces our sense of being overwhelmed, curtailing the stress response in our brain. It's about trust as well, and that’s a good thing — trusting our team to handle responsibilities increases their morale and productivity.

So, the next time we find ourselves juggling numerous tasks, let's remember to delegate effectively. Not only will this lighten our load, but it’ll also build a stronger, more efficient team.

10. Take Time Off

Our brain, like any other body part, requires rest to regenerate and function optimally. Chronic exposure to work stress can strain our brain, leading to exhaustion, decreased productivity, and even burnout.

Vacation days exist for a reason. When we take time off, we give our brain a much-needed pause to refresh and rejuvenate. This restorative process enhances our mental well-being, leading to increased creativity, sharper thinking, and improved emotional balance when we return to work.

Regular, short breaks during the day also serve a similar purpose, providing our brain with short 'power-off' periods that can significantly boost our energy and focus.

11. Reevaluate

Boundaries are not cast in stone. They may need to be adjusted as circumstances change or as our work — or role — evolves.

Regularly reevaluating our boundaries enables us to stay in tune with our current needs and work dynamics. Sometimes, we may need to have open and honest conversations with ourselves and our co-workers or managers about any necessary adjustments.

Are we taking on too much? Can a new project wait until we've completed the current ones? These reflections help us remain flexible and adaptive, ensuring that our boundaries serve their purpose effectively: to maintain a healthy work-life balance and keep stress under control.

Remember, it's okay to reassess and recalibrate our boundaries as we navigate the ever-changing landscapes of our professional life.

New Beginnings

Our brain is remarkably adaptable, and with the right strategies, we can train it to manage stress and foster well-being.

Starting today, let's make three simple commitments:

  1. Visualize yourself. Whether it’s saying "no" or imagining yourself thriving with better work-life balance, visualization can be a powerful tool to help build new neural pathways toward behavior change.

  2. Communicate. Clearly communicate your work hours, work load, and availability to your team. If you can’t take on more than you have, make that known.

  3. Take breaks. Take a short break during the day in between major tasks to relax and recharge. Whether it’s a 5-minute walk around the block or a quick stretch break, it’s good to find ways to take care of your body and mind throughout the day.

Reclaim Your Health With Reframe

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

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And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today!

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