How Healthy Boundaries Can Reduce Anxiety
Unhealthy boundaries is a common underlying factor that contributes to the development and entrenchment of anxiety disorder and its signs and symptoms.
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What are boundaries?
Boundary is defined as: a line which marks the limits of an area; a dividing line.
A personal boundary is a line that separates me from you. More specifically, boundaries separate everything about me, including my physical space, thoughts, emotions, feelings, actions, needs, rights, responsibilities, and all of my personality and character traits from your physical space, thoughts, emotions, feelings, actions, needs, rights, responsibilities, and all of your personality and character traits.
You can think of personal boundaries as a property line that separates your “yard” from your neighbor’s yard. Everything within your property line is your responsibility and everything within your neighbor’s property line is his responsibility.
For instance, you have every right to cut your lawn because it’s within your property line. The property within your “yard” is your responsibility to look after. However, you don’t have the right to cut your neighbor’s lawn because it is within his property line, which is his responsibility, not yours.
Your skin is the easiest way to remember your personal boundary line. Everything within your skin is yours and your responsibility, and everything outside of it, isn’t.
“Any confusion of responsibility and ownership in our lives is a problem of boundaries.” – Boundaries, Drs Cloud and Townsend
Anxiety disorder is caused by underlying factors – those behaviors (thoughts and actions), situations, and circumstances – that motivate apprehensive behavior. For example, low self-esteem, perfectionism, performance-based self-worth, people pleasing, and unrealistic expectations are often caused or aggravated by unhealthy boundaries.
Healthy boundaries can reduce anxiety by alleviating many of these underlying factors. Healthy boundaries accomplish this by helping us know what things are our responsibility and what things aren’t. As such, healthy boundaries benefit us in many ways, including:
Healthy boundaries allow you to be your authentic self.
You “own” everything within your personal boundary. Consequently, you are solely responsible for how you think, feel, and act. With healthy boundaries, you get to behave any way you choose as long as your actions don’t cross the personal boundary line of someone else.
Boundaries allow you to live your life the way you see fit – authentically. No one has the right to tell you otherwise, other than you need to abide by the laws of the country you live in.
Living authentically – living life the way you choose based on your beliefs, values, preferences, decisions, feelings, and so on – can substantially reduce anxiety and stress.
Boundaries create healthy expectations
Have you ever said “yes” to something you wanted to say “no” to because you were afraid of upsetting the person making the request?
Healthy boundaries remove that threat. When you are living authentically, you can say and do whatever it is you want because you know you aren’t responsible for how other people react. They are.
Healthy boundaries give you the right and responsibility to do whatever you want without feeling responsible for how other people feel…because how they feel is their responsibility (within their “yard”, not yours).
People with healthy boundaries can say “no” as well as hear someone else’s “no.” Living authentically with healthy boundaries sets us free from owning someone else’s problem.
Healthy boundaries set us free to enjoy real relationships instead of ones that are based on guilt, control, and fear. Having healthy and authentic relationships can significantly reduce anxiety and stress.
Boundaries set you free from interpersonal anxiety.
Are you afraid of making mistakes because of what other people might think? Are you afraid to set limits on someone’s bad behavior because you don’t want them to reject you?
Healthy boundaries eliminate these types of fears…and many, many more. Healthy boundaries free us from the burden of what others think and feel…because that is their responsibility, not yours.
Many anxiety disorder sufferers struggle with anxiety because of interpersonal relationship problems.
Boundaries revolutionize relationships.
When people have healthy boundaries, they can enjoy deeply meaningful and authentic relationships without fear of saying or doing the wrong thing. Authentic relationships create security and stability.
Healthy boundaries can also protect you from abusers and controllers. They can also empower you to cut loose the crazy-makers whose sole purpose is to manipulate and take advantage of you.
When you know what healthy relationships look like, you’ll be far less tolerant of unhealthy relationships. Healthy boundaries can free your life from the many psychological and emotional burdens unhealthy relationships create.
Boundaries create safety
Healthy boundaries can keep you physically safe. When you know how to set limits on threatening situations, you are safer overall and with far less anxiety and stress.
Boundaries assist with self-care
Healthy boundaries give you the right and responsibility to manage your health. They also relieve you of the responsibility to manage someone else’s. This freedom not only allows you to say “no” to demands or requests you don’t want to perform, but it also gives you the opportunity to rest and recharge when YOU want to, in spite of how someone else might feel.
Remember, healthy boundaries give you the right to behave any way you choose regardless of what someone else might say or do. You are responsible for everything inside of your skin, including your thoughts, emotions, reactions, and the physical makeup of your body. Therefore, you get to decide for yourself how and when you’ll manage them. If someone becomes upset with what you decide to do, that’s their problem to resolve, not yours.
Imagine how much anxiety and stress healthy boundaries would remove from your life?
Boundaries reduce anxiety and foster good mental and emotional health
Imagine living life without fear of what other people think, say, or do. Imagine living life on your terms and no one else’s. That’s what healthy boundaries provide.
When you become the master of your body and life, interpersonal relationship problems and the stress they cause are vastly reduced, leading to better mental and emotional health overall.
Overall, boundaries define us in terms of “what is me” and “what is not me.” A boundary shows me where I begin and end, and where someone else begins and ends. Boundaries clearly define personal ownership – what I own and what I don’t.
Boundaries help us to take personal ownership of our lives. Taking personal ownership empowers authentic living and reduces anxiety and stress.
Types of boundaries
There are several types of boundaries. The most common include:
Material: those things you own, such as money, vehicle, home and property, clothes, personal devices, etc.
Physical: your personal space, privacy, and body.
Mental: your thoughts, beliefs, values, preferences, and opinions.
Emotional: your emotions and personal feelings.
Sexual: your physical and sexual being.
Spiritual: your beliefs and experiences about God or a higher power.
Internal: those limits you set on yourself.
Symptoms of unhealthy boundaries
Some of the more common symptoms of unhealthy boundaries include:
- Issues with anxiety
- Issues with depression
- Eating disorders
- Problems with guilt
- Impulsive disorders
- Issues with shame
- Relationship struggles
- Career advancement problems
- Physical and mental health problems
- Feeling like you are controlled by everyone and everything
- Often feeling the need to escape
- Feeling out of control of your life
- Feeling overwhelmed
And so on.
How to learn and apply healthy boundaries
There are many good boundaries resources available. Drs Cloud and Townsend have some of the best. You can find their resources here.
Working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to learn and applying healthy boundaries. While the overview concepts of healthy boundaries are easy to understand, there are many barriers to applying healthy boundaries. For instance, many people don’t like it when healthy boundaries are applied to them so they resist them, and do their best to discourage you from using them. An experienced therapist can guide and support you as you make healthy boundary changes, including with those who resist them.
There are also internal resistances to applying healthy boundaries (reasons YOU might not want to apply them). An experienced therapist can help you identify and address these internal resistances and help you overcome them so that your life can benefit from healthy boundaries.
Much more could be said. Recovery Support members can access more information about boundaries in Chapter 7 as we develop healthy boundary concepts.
The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to address anxiety disorder and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed - the underlying factors that motivate apprehensive behavior - a struggle with anxiety disorder can return again and again. Identifying and successfully addressing anxiety's underlying factors is the best way to overcome problematic anxiety.
- For a comprehensive list of Anxiety Disorders Symptoms Signs, Types, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment.
- Anxiety and panic attacks symptoms can be powerful experiences. Find out what they are and how to stop them.
- How to stop an anxiety attack and panic.
- Free online anxiety tests to screen for anxiety. Two minute tests with instant results. Such as:
- Anxiety 101 is a summarized description of anxiety, anxiety disorder, and how to overcome it.
Return to Anxiety Tips section.
1. Apple Dictionary, “boundary”.
2. Cloud, Henry, and John Sims Townsend. Boundaries. Zondervan, 2004.
3. Bockarova, Marianna. “4 Ways to Set and Keep Your Personal Boundaries.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 1 Aug. 2016.
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