When living with the challenges of arthritis, setting healthy boundaries could be one of the most important tools in your kit.  

People with strong boundaries tend to have lower stress levels and higher self-esteem, mostly because they prioritise themselves and their wellbeing. Rather than this being selfish, or self-indulgent, healthy boundaries are one of the cornerstones of good mental health that ultimately leads to better relationships and a more fulfilling and enjoyable life.  

But what Exactly are Boundaries? 

Boundaries are best visualised as that invisible fence that establishes where your space ends, and someone else’s begins. They are the limits that you place around your time, emotions, body and mental health in order to protect your energies and to be able to attend to your own needs.  

In work and family life, weak boundaries can lead to resentment and anger. But, for people living with arthritis, the consequences can be even more serious, leading to flare-ups and complete burnout. Watch our video on Coping with Emotions. 

Signs you May Need to Strengthen Boundaries 

  • Are you a people pleaser - do you often find yourself saying ‘yes’, when you really wanted to say ‘no’? 
  • Did you sign up to something out of guilt or obligation, rather than because you really wanted to do it? 
  • Do you tend to overcommit your time to others and not leave enough time for yourself? 
  • Do you feel exhausted or burnt out by an overwhelming list of responsibilities or commitments? 
  • Do you tend to take on other people’s problems as your own? 
  • Do you tend to put others’ needs and wants before your own, or do you ever feel like you’re living your life for other people? 

5 Steps to Firm Up your Boundaries 

  1. Be clear about what your boundaries are: it’s no good setting boundaries if you don’t share them with the people that you interact with. When you clearly communicate what you are comfortable (or not comfortable) doing, it becomes clearer for everyone as to what is expected.  
  2. Avoid shifting boundaries when things get uncomfortable: while it may be awkward or uncomfortable at first, anyone who wants to be part of your life will ultimately respect your choices.  
  3. Reclaim precious time for yourself: self-care helps to prevent burnout, making it essential for anyone living with a chronic condition. Try to set a weekly or bi-monthly block of time that is just for yourself, doing something that you enjoy or something that helps recharge your batteries.  
  4. Start sharing the load: in order to put boundaries in place, maybe it’s time to have difficult conversations with family members about chores that could be shared, or care of elderly parents/children that needs to be divided between more family members, perhaps with a roster of care? 
  5. Accept that this will take time: keep practising and repeating your boundaries (some people may not like them at first so expect push-back!). Avoid apologizing or over-explaining why you’re putting them in place. Part of setting boundaries means dealing with a certain level of discomfort – even your own. 

Discover more tips on how to put down boundaries, and how to discuss your disease on one of our Living Well with Arthritis courses; course info 

Things to Say when your Boundaries are being Pushed 

When you receive an invitation you don’t want to accept: “Thank you for your kind invitation, but I will say ‘no’ as it doesn’t suit me right now (note: no excuses given!)”, or “I have been doing so much recently, and I really need some time to myself, so thank you but I’ll decline this time.” Resist the temptation of saying, ‘I’ll think about it’ - as this only causes more stress and delays your boundary (or makes it more likely that you’ll revert with a ‘yes’ and then resent it).  

When someone stays too long when visiting you: “I only have an hour, as there’s something I need to do afterwards.” 

When you are meeting up with a consistently late friend: “If you’re going to be late, I’d really appreciate it if you’d let me know ahead of time as I’ve somewhere I need to be after meeting with you.” 

When a conversation begins that you are uncomfortable with: “This is not a topic that I’m comfortable discussing right now,” or “I would rather not be part of this conversation.” 

When someone has a different opinion to you: “I respect your opinion, although I see things very differently to you on this.” 

When someone engages in ‘emotional dumping’: when a friend or loved one keeps draining your resources with their issues, you could say, “I am so sorry that you’re having a hard time right now and I want to be there for you, but I just don’t have the emotional or physical capacity right now.” 

Setting boundaries isn’t just important – it's crucial. 

Start today – it's worth it, and so are you!