You get what you tolerate.” – Dr. Henry Cloud

So, you swing by the store to pick up some ice cream and race to their house. You listen to them vent and binge their favourite Netflix show with them until it gets late. You remind them how great they are, make plans to reconnect later in the week and collect your things to go home. But, just as you’re reaching for the door, you hear their voice:

Picture this: your best friend just broke up with their partner.

“Please don’t leave! I’m still so sad.”

You can barely keep your eyes open, and you have class early the next day, but you’d be a bad friend if you left. Right?

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The next day, you stumble into class exhausted. You try your best to focus on the lecture, but it’s hard to concentrate because your phone is buzzing every few seconds. It’s your best friend.

“OMG look who my ex just followed.”

“Should I call them?”

“Let’s get lunch later – I need to talk.”

Your midterm is coming up, but you ignore your instructor’s lesson to text your friend back. After all, they’re still upset from the night before – you’d be a bad friend if you left them on read. Right?

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This is what relationships can look like without healthy boundaries.

A personal boundary is a guideline you set for how other people are allowed to treat you. They’re extremely important for maintaining healthy relationships, but setting them is an often overlooked part of self-care – especially for students.

In this stage of your life, you’re investing in your career, building relationships and carving out your place in the world. Amid all those responsibilities, it can be hard to draw the line between chasing your dreams and allowing yourself to be taken advantage of.

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Boundaries aren’t just for personal relationships, either. You can have unhealthy boundaries with your school life, professors, bosses or even classmates.

Basically, if something takes up any amount of space in your life, there’s a chance it can eat up too much of your time and energy.

Here’s your step-by-step guide to setting healthy boundaries in your relationships:

1. Look within

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Want to set boundaries but unsure where to draw the line? A good place to start is by examining how you feel when interacting with the people in your life.

Maybe you love calling your grandma, but it bothers you when she calls too late at night. Maybe you take pride in being a diligent student, but you’re feeling burnt out from forcing yourself through long study sessions.

The best place to set a boundary is wherever you start to feel overwhelmed.

2. Speak your mind

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Your loved ones aren’t mind readers. Once you know where you want to set your boundaries, it’s important to communicate them assertively.

In the situation with your heartbroken friend, you could say something like, “I know this is hard and I want to be here for you, but I need to prioritize my schoolwork too. You can call me any time, except when I’m in class.”

3. Fight your fears

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Setting boundaries is one thing, enforcing them is another. It’s normal to feel worried or guilty when you have to correct people for crossing the line.

You might think, “Oh, but it’s just this one time.” “Sure, I don’t like when they do this, but they’ve had a hard week – I can’t turn them away.” “I’d be a bad friend if I said no.”

Doubts like these are temporary. Standing by your boundaries, even when it’s hard, will improve your relationships forever.

4. Leave some wiggle room

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Your life is changing all the time. Your boundaries can too. What you found acceptable at one point in your life might feel like a violation later on.

The beautiful thing about boundaries is they’re yours – you can adjust them to fit your circumstances whenever you want.

5. Find support

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Like any skill, building healthy boundaries takes practice. Never be ashamed to reach out if you need some help along the way.

If you need some guidance in setting boundaries – or in any area of your life – book a virtual appointment with the counsellors at the Student Wellness and Accessibility Centre (SWAC).

Conversations are safe, confidential and free for all Humber and Guelph-Humber students.

With support like this in your corner, your boundaries are bound to succeed.

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