Occupational Hazards

Keeping your mind and body in balance at the office.

Setting Boundaries at Work: Steps to Making Them a Reality

Is self-care possible at work? Consider boundaries.

One way to understand boundaries is to think about them as your limits or parameters in relationship to something or someone. The first step in setting boundaries is to identify when and in what context they are needed. Maintaining your boundaries in a particular situation refers to knowing and respecting your limits - what you are willing and able to give, as well as tolerate, without compromising your own physical, emotional, or spiritual health.

Examples of professional boundaries include the following:

-Schedule a regular lunch break daily to restore your energy and help manage stress. If it's not possible to take a walk, then give yourself time at your desk to read a book or magazine.

-Balance periodic social breaks to chat and connect with your co-workers and colleagues with uninterrupted alone time for you to focus on your day's agenda and priorities. Arranging for uninterrupted time may involve: closing your door in the afternoon; responding to phone calls or e-mails at specific times; and alerting family members and friends of the best hours to reach you. Clients often express discomfort at asserting their needs for uninterrupted time. It is, however, a very valuable professional and personal skill to learn.

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-Maintain your desired work schedule without allowing others - co-workers, employers, departmental crises - to compromise your ability to leave on time for the majority of your work week.

-Make "work talk" off limits during lunch hour, as a general rule. This includes office gossip and criticism.

-Minimize multi-tasking each day to avoid burnout by week's end.

Some flexibility around boundaries is healthy, however, the tendency is to overextend and over accommodate at the costs to one's self, health or family life. Consistency is important to avoid giving mixed messages between what you say and what you do. Keep the promises you make to yourself, and be clear about your needs and expectations to others. Taking care of our health and well-being will not only make us more effective, creative, energetic and responsible employees, but better partners, parents, friends and individuals.

Dana Gionta, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist in Connecticut, where she works as an educator, clinician, and consultant in the area of health and wellness.

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