Balance and Boundaries

Are you stressed? Hey, did you know there’s an app for that? Seriously, and it uses your voice patterns while you’re talking on the phone to determine your level of stress. CNN’s Sanjay Gupta and WebMD creator Jeff Arnold are backing the “Sharecare” app that launched late last year.

According to the Sharecare website, “Users simply talk on their Android phone as usual – while, in the background, the app automatically monitors spectral data alternations in the user’s voice, identifying fractal patterns. Based on these patterns, the technology can determine the user’s mindset and stress type – like worry or irritation.”

This is a fantastic idea and a brilliant innovation. Even more, it’s actually an app that every single one of us needs in our lives because let’s face it, America is stressed out. Based on the annual American Psychological Association’s “Stress in America” survey, Americans are teetering on the brink with stress levels more than 30% higher than expected healthy levels.

If you’re like me, there seems to be more and more pressure every day for us to be able to do it all. Whether it’s at work, school, relationships or home, the question constantly seems to be how can we get it all done without overwhelming ourselves? As a counselor, the important part of that question is “without overwhelming ourselves”. Sure, we can work ourselves into the ground or worry about every little detail and event in our lives, but at what cost.

The key is balance.

Finding that balance of doing it all and managing stress in our daily lives can be difficult. One of the quickest ways to achieve balance is by setting boundaries. Setting boundaries is all about knowing what our limits are and what we are comfortable with at the end of the day. Boundaries are guardrails that we establish to keep us from careening off the road of life, so to speak. So how do we do that?

At The Life Change Group I worked with a client who was struggling to manage the pressures he felt at school, and still be supportive to his friends who were struggling in their personal lives. We talked through what parts of the dynamic between school and life were overwhelming him and then identified where he felt comfortable setting boundaries. His scholastic stressors could be managed with planning and discipline and learning when to ask for help on things like studying and test-taking. For his personal experience, he ultimately identified he was not comfortable ending any friendships, but rather wanted to set a boundary where he would not constantly look for a solution to his friends’ problems. He was content with simply being a good listener when needed. Over time, he learned to manage his stress by applying those guardrails.

Identifying our own sets of boundaries is a skill we have to learn in order to develop and cultivate healthy relationships. In order to develop that skill, we need to know what we are willing to accept and what we are not able to tolerate. If we don’t understand what our limits are, we can’t set strong boundaries with others and ourselves.

Here are three helpful tips to setting and keeping boundaries:

1. Identify which areas of your life are the most overwhelming.

Does most of your stress come from work, school or relationships? Can you further specify a certain person, group or situation? Sometimes when we try to juggle too much it is hard to even identify where our stress is actually coming from. Take a moment to reflect on the aspects of your life, weighing the good and bad, and zeroing in on where you are struggling. Some clients are very literal in this process and make lists on the computer. Others are more liberal in this exercise and devote brain power during a long walk. Whatever works for you is fine as long as you identify those key areas.

2. Identify where you can apply limits.

Once you’ve identified which areas of your life are causing the most stress, it is time to identify what you ARE and are NOT willing to do in order to bring a little more peace back into your life. At work, are you willing to leave the office earlier? At school, could you give up a club or a sport to give yourself more free time? With your friends, could you take on fewer of their problems? With your family, can you forego a luxury to reduce stress over money. In many cases these are not easy boundaries to set, but ultimately they will protect you.

3. Allow yourself to say “no.”

One of the hardest parts of setting boundaries is the worry that we are being perceived as acting selfish if we say no to others. With this increased pressure to do it all, we often feel that we have to handle it all as well. This is simply not true. In fact, the entire concept of setting boundaries to find balance and manage stress, is establishing times and situations where you do say no. That’s the whole point. Know when to say no.

At the end of the day, setting boundaries is not only about having a healthy balance; it is also about having a healthy relationship with ourselves and our daily stress. Our boundaries are our own. The more we set boundaries we are comfortable with, the easier it becomes to maintain balance in our lives.

And thank goodness there is an app to show that boundaries really do work.