Setting healthy boundaries

With October 10 being World Mental Health Day, it is a good reminder to think about mental health. This year it feels especially appropriate as the last 18 months have been unusually tough for everyone, putting strain on our mental health.

The last year and a half has been a depressing time, filled with anxiety. As well as being forced to isolate and worrying about both our own health and that of loved ones, we have been facing much uncertainty. These are all major contributing factors to both anxiety and depression. A study on mental health and Covid-19 in China reportedly estimated the prevalence of anxiety to be around 31.9%, and depression around 33.7%. Even if you’ve managed to live your life free of anxiety or depression up until now, it is both likely and entirely understandable that you might be taking some strain,

There is not much one can do about the uncertainty or other external factors, but one way in which we can take back some control of our lives and look after our mental health is by setting personal boundaries.

Benefits of setting boundaries

Learning how to set boundaries is a very useful skill for both your work and personal life. If you are studying online, is also especially useful. So what do we mean by setting boundaries? Boundary setting is not so much about creating a physical space and cordoning it off so much as doing so in the figurative sense of marking off time for yourself and setting your own priorities. At the most basic, it is about learning to sometimes say no to people when you are asked to do something.

It isn’t about being selfish and ignoring your friends, family and coworkers. There’s a saying that you cannot pour from an empty cup and boundary setting is more about saving enough energy for yourself. Always saying yes to things puts you at risk of burning out, which will leave you unable to be of much help to yourself or others. In the end, by setting boundaries in your life you will be better able to help out others when they do need help. Setting boundaries will help you avoid or cope with both depression and anxiety, which we will also look at.

Here are some benefits of setting boundaries in your life:

  • Build greater self-esteem
  • Get clear on who you are, what you want, and your values and belief systems
  • Bring focus to yourself and your well-being
  • Enhance your mental health and emotional well-being
  • Avoid burnout
  • Develop independence
  • Gain a greater sense of identity

Setting boundaries for your studies

The flexible nature of studying online means that you must mark off time for your studies and set boundaries around that time. Sure, if an emergency comes up, that may take priority, but few things are actual emergencies. When attending physical classes, people will know not to bother you during that time and will respect the fact that classes are a priority. When you can study in your own time, it is quite likely that people will try to take up your time if you do not set clear boundaries.

Here are some simple tips for setting boundaries:

  • Set your work hours
  • Communicate your boundaries clearly and openly
  • Learn to say no
  • Create a support system

Tips to reduce anxiety and depression

For severe cases of anxiety or depression, you should definitely consult a health professional. As well as setting personal boundaries, these are some other changes you can make to your lifestyle to help you cope with, or prevent, milder cases of anxiety or depression

  • improve your diet
  • get enough regular exercise
  • relaxation
  • meditation
  • improve your sleep habits to get enough sleep each night
  • spend time with other people, especially if they can offer emotional support
  • interact with pets and animals
  • reduce the use of alcohol and tobacco

Signs of depression

Depression is a clinical condition characterised by feelings of despondency and overwhelming sadness. Everyone feels sadness at points in our lives but when people suffer from depression the feelings do not go away. It affects women more than men and usually first occurs between the mid-teens and the mid-20s. The good news is that it can be treated.

These are some of the common symptoms of depression:

  • low mood, feeling sad, irritable or angry
  • loss of energy to do certain things
  • losing interest or enjoyment in activities you used to enjoy
  • reduced concentration,
  • becoming tired more easily
  • disturbed sleep and loss of appetite
  • loss of self-confidence and self-esteem
  • feeling guilty or worthless.

Signs of anxiety

Anxiety refers to an entire class or group of conditions. Anxiety is characterised by an overwhelming worry or stress related to the feeling that something bad is going to happen. Some common anxiety disorders are generalised anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder (and anxiety attacks), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Here are some symptoms that are common to most forms of anxiety disorder:

  • fatigue
  • restlessness
  • sweating
  • inability to concentrate
  • worry or obsessive thought patterns
  • nausea
  • insomnia
  • panic or anxiety attacks
  • irritability
  • isolation
  • change in appetite (could be loss of appetite or a increase in comfort eating”)

UP counselling services

The University of Pretoria has a full-time student counselling unit to help students who feel they are struggling to cope. Click on the links below to see more of what they have to offer, or call one of the numbers to speak to a trained professional.

National support services

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) offers a range of services, with several hotlines for the general public as well as for students.

  • Speak to a trained counsellor on 011 234 4837 or 0800 20 50 26 (8am to 8pm, 7 days a week)
  • Call the SADAG Suicide Crisis Line on 0800 567 567 or SMS 31393