• Sara & Colin Taylor

Boundaries & Burnout

Here's a multiple choice question to start this conversation on boundaries: To what degree do boundaries play a role in your personal and professional life?

A. Setting boundaries has been a priority for me as a form of self-care and professional fulfillment, and has become part of my burnout prevention.

B. Setting boundaries isn't essential because I work in a profession of service and have to give all of myself.

C. Setting boundaries is easy.

D. I know I have to set boundaries but it's a concept I struggle with constantly.

If you answered A or D, we're on the same page. However, looking at us, Colin and Sara, one of us is in the 'A' camp and the other is in the 'D' camp. If you know us, it's painfully obvious to see that Colin has become adept at setting boundaries to create a self-preserving fortress, and well, Sara continues to work on the whole concept of boundaries.

What do boundaries actually look like in practical terms? The first thing that may come to mind is saying 'no'. In fact, this has become a popularized mantra as in "no is a complete sentence". But many boundary issues don't reside within a 'no' response.

In an essay titled I Bounced Back From Burnout by Setting Boundaries, Priorities by Dr. Kimberly Becher in the American Academy of Family Practice, she illustrates practical boundary setting around common occurrences in family practice. Two examples include the following:

  1. Patient Expectations - She writes, "I do find myself a couple of times per week telling patients that we just have to stop for the day and that we need to see each other more often instead of for so long at once."

  2. Staff Expectations - She writes, "I tell staff point-blank when they ask me medical questions about themselves that they need to get on my schedule."

These examples may not apply to everyone in medicine, but likely resonate with many of you in some way, at some time, as they do for us. When we come from a place of giving so much of ourself, we can become resentful, stressed and overworked. These can in turn either create or fuel symptoms of burnout.

In contrast, when we set boundaries about what we're willing and not willing to do, we gain valuable self-trust that we're prioritizing our own needs. As it turns out, in an attempt to please others, we may end up creating discomfort for either ourself or someone else. When we're clear with others that we'd like to help out but can't, or don't have time or energy for something, then when we do show up, they know it's genuine.

Back to the multiple choice, 'C' - setting boundaries isn't easy for most of us, but definitely a skill worth fostering. Can you think of a scenario in either your personal or professional life where the need for setting boundaries might apply?


"Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others." ~ Brene Brown

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