10 Tips to Create Healthy Boundaries During Self-Quarantine

Living with others while maintaining your space and sanity.

Posted Apr 29, 2020

A healthy relationship requires the space to be yourself and to maintain your personal integrity. So what happens to close relationships when we are suddenly thrown together with others in a “shelter-in-place” situation?

Prior to this pandemic, we had the freedom and flexibility to practice making and keeping our personal boundaries because we had the freedom to move around and control our environment. Not so easy now. We are confined to our homes, often with family members or close contacts on a 24/7 basis, and have no place to run and hide. This is such a unique and strange situation. We have really no precedent, other than past pandemics, to tell us how to behave and we are being asked to adopt new behaviors so rapidly that we have little time to process what is happening.

When we think of healthy boundaries in this unique situation, we need to think out of the box. While psychological and emotional boundaries are always important to maintain, more emphasis is needed in this situation to create specific physical boundaries since everyone in your “quarantine group” is living in very close quarters.

Here are some tips to help you create boundaries and space for yourself as well as for everyone else sharing the same space.

Take responsibility for yourself. You need to know what’s important for your own well-being, especially when you have to stay in place at home, day after day. By setting your own boundaries, you’re telling others how you want and expect to be treated, especially when you’re trying to create a daily routine. Don’t assume that people will automatically know what you need, especially since this is a situation different from any other.  It’s important that you tell others what you expect from them.

Encourage open communication. Invite anyone you’re living with to express what they need and expect in order to make their time in close quarters as comfortable as possible. Inevitably, there will be moments when people get in each other’s way or on each other’s nerves. Open discussion is essential, especially when there is a conflict.

Create a daily routine. It’s important to maintain an order to the day so that everyone at home knows generally what to expect as the day unfolds. It’s probably a great idea to keep part of your usual routine; for example, get up at your regular time and get on with your day as you might if you were not confined to home. Keep enough of your own personal routine and navigate around others’ routines as the day unfolds. Encourage others at home to do the same.

Assign household chores. If everyone is intimately sharing space for a considerable period of time, it’s important that everyone chip in to take care of the running of the house so that the job doesn’t fall to just one person. Although each person may have their own responsibilities (working from home or homeschooling), there’s plenty of time to contribute to the upkeep of the home. Expecting that one person should do this for everyone is unrealistic, and selfish. This is a unique situation that’s a great opportunity for people to care for their own space and to take responsibility for the home you’re all occupying together.

Set aside “alone” time. Every day should include time for yourself. Reading, listening to music, working on creative projects, meditating, taking a walk, working in your garden, exercising, playing an instrument, etc. It’s essential to set limits so that you can recharge your own battery. Taking much needed time away from others will help you relax and clear your head.

Create personal space for everyone. Every person in your quarantine group needs to designate a space that is their own. This may be one’s own room, a den, a porch, a piece of the garden, anywhere that others don’t enter unless invited, a place to retreat to that creates a “psychic” boundary between you and everyone else.

Create a work schedule. Especially if you are working from home, it’s important to make sure you can work in a comfortable environment, uninterrupted by anyone (except for an emergency). You need to make sure that people understand that working from home is going to work even if you are in the next room. If you need to, post a sign on your door indicating that you’re busy at work and when you plan to be available to others. Likewise, create a homeschooling schedule for children so that they know they have a regular routine for home studies.

Designate family or group time. This may include meals but even more importantly, are times during the day and evening when people get together to talk about their day and issues that come up about sharing space and living arrangements. Or, it could be to watch a movie or show, to discuss a book people are reading together, to play games as a family, etc. This provides healthy engagement with family and a sense of continuity, especially for young children.

Establish a healthy support system. You may not be able to see and spend time as you usually do with friends, colleagues, and some family members but there are a lot of ways to stay in touch with those you care about. This may particularly apply when you feel stressed and anxious and just want someone you trust to listen to you and lend understanding and support. Email, phone calls, FaceTime are always available. We are seeing virtual parties and cocktail hours with close friends so that people can still enjoy time together while physically apart. And this applies to children, especially teenagers, who are missing friends and may be spending a lot of time on social media.

Put “life issues” on hold. Being together 24/7 can put a strain on relationships. It’s especially hard when you're confined with family members and/or significant others that are difficult to deal with even during normal circumstances. Some people may choose to bring their personal issues into the crowded space that quarantine requires. Some people demand a lot of attention and may not be getting it when there are many other people in close quarters to deal with. Some people find fault and complain. Some people pick fights. Resist the temptation to engage them. Save these bigger issues and personal differences for another time. Remember, your main job during “shelter-in-place” is to stay home. Be safe and healthy.