Written by Jenn Berger, Silver Wheel Coaching Company www.silverwheelcoaching.com
Years ago I dove down a research rabbit hole to better understand burnout and how to prevent it. Although I resurfaced with piles of information from books and studies, life quickly reminded me that experience informs us as much, if not more than cold, hard research.
In my first burnout mitigation workshop, I intended to only briefly mention boundaries, very wrongly assuming everyone knew how to set them. After multiple questions from participants, our workshop schedule changed, as did my approach moving forward. It was clear that understanding boundaries and practicing skills to set them was essential in burnout mitigation. But what do boundaries have to do with burnout? And why do we have such a hard time setting and maintaining healthy boundaries? It’s usually based in codependency. Before I continue, let’s review some very condensed definitions.
A state of overwhelming emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged or repeated stress, resulting in feelings of cynicism and detachment, and a sense of ineffectiveness or lack of accomplishment.
A pattern of thinking, feeling, and behavior. A codependent person relies on the perceptions of others to validate their self-worth and focuses on the lives of others to the detriment of their own.
Chronic stress is one of many factors that may lead to burnout. Often, our stress is amplified when we feel overextended or agree to do things we truly do not want to do. These two examples come from either not wanting, or feeling we don’t have the right to say “no.”
Why do we fear the word “no”? Because society teaches us that “yes” means I accept, like, and agree with you, and “no” means I disapprove of you, don’t like you, and disagree with you. “Yes” and “no” are simply words that express our limits and boundaries; what we are or are not willing or able to do. They reflect acceptance or refusal of a request, not a person.
We often fear that saying “no” implies we are rejecting the other person, or that person will be angry and think less of us if we say “no.” This fear—setting a boundary will result in disapproval or criticism—stems from a need to be liked and accepted by others. Also known as codependency.
The great news is we can work on our stress levels, codependent tendencies, and boundaries at the same time! We simply reframe what the words “yes” and “no” mean to us. As I remind all my clients, simple does not mean easy, and it takes practice.
We start by acknowledging that “yes” simply means, “I have the time and mental and emotional energy to do this. We then remind ourselves that “no” simply means “I don’t have the resources to do this right now.” This practice allows us to release any guilt over saying “no.”
Another misunderstanding we have with these words is believing “yes” means forever yes and “no means forever no. Unless clearly stated otherwise, saying “yes” to something one time does not mandate you continue doing that forever. Example: If I give you a ride to the store today, I am not obligated to give you a ride every time you ask. This example may sound silly, but our brains build the belief that if we do something once, we are required to do it forever.
The same is mostly true with the word “no.” If I can’t do something for you today, it does not usually mean I can’t in the future. Unless it is a hard boundary. If you ask me to go to see a gory movie with you, I will say no, thank you for the invitation, and also explain that I don’t like that type of movie. That way you know it’s most likely a forever no.
This leads us to the next step: communicating these boundaries in a healthy way. Example: I appreciate you inviting me to dinner, but it has been a long week and I am drained. I’m going to stay home and rest. Maybe another time!” Healthy communication allows us to clearly state a boundary while also being clear that we are not rejecting the other person.
A final aspect of practicing boundaries is to take a moment, or five, before accepting or declining a request. Codependency often pushes us to say yes to every request or offer. Whether we are afraid of being seen as weak or uncaring, or afraid of missing an opportunity, we often blurt out “yes” before considering our time, emotional, and mental resources. Take some time to consider if you can truly commit to whatever is being asked of you.
When you practice these steps, you can significantly reduce your stress, reduce your potential to burnout, and whittle away at some codependent tendencies, all at the same time! If you are ready to learn more, Silver Wheel Coaching, LLC is happy to provide education and skills to help you thrive and continue loving the work you do.