How to Create, Communicate and Maintain Healthy Boundaries During COVID-19

Northwestern Medicine
COVID-19 August 18, 2020
Attribute to: Kirsten Book, MSN, PMHNP, FNP-BC, family nurse practitioner and psychiatric nurse practitioner at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital

Boundaries are the way people communicate one’s limitations to keep themselves safe and healthy. For many people, establishing boundaries is challenging. Establishing boundaries during a pandemic with social, political, and emotional upheaval can be even more distressful.

For many, life before the pandemic included more freedom and flexibility. Quarantine in small living quarters, wearing masks in public, keeping group sizes limited to 50 people or less, multiple temperature checks, COVID symptom check questionnaires and e-learning adjustments at schools have just been some of the stringent rules and regulations imposed on the nation.

Here are some tips for setting social distancing boundaries to keep yourself safe during the COVID-19 pandemic:

• First complete a thorough risk assessment of what level of social interaction you are comfortable with; regardless of what other friends/family would say.
• Check the infection rate of the area you live on the Department of Health website to educate yourself on your level of risk.

• Create and write down your own personal boundaries of what you are comfortable with and what is not within your comfort level. Establish what is your expectation for safe distancing to keep yourself safe. Write down the boundaries or guidelines to allow yourself to have them available to reiterate your boundary and modify as the COVID phases change.
• Communicate your boundaries and ask other family members and friends how they are protecting themselves during this pandemic. Practice setting the boundary with another family member prior to officially setting the boundary with friends and outsiders.
• Set limits on how much time you will spend watching COVID updates on television and social media. Limit your discussion and access to media regarding COVID to your comfort level and in order to decrease your stress level.

• Pick your battles wisely and serve as a good role model for others, particularly children and teens. Educate your children that practicing social distancing and wearing masks is an act of showing respect to others and oneself.

• Focus on being friendly, courteous, and polite while still maintaining your boundary and following safety precautions. 

• If others are not following precautions and are endangering your health it is best to be the one to walk away and protect yourself. You can only control what you do; unfortunately you cannot control another person.

• If you are in a public place and leaving is not an option you can always seek help from authority; such as a police officer, manager of the facility, supervisor etc.

Pandemic Social Etiquette:
Interacting safely and in public and with others is very important to continue practicing safe distancing. The most responsible thing one can do during this time is to stay at home. But if one must go out it is important to follow the standard social etiquette of safe space distancing of six feet apart, wearing masks in public, washing hands for at least 20 seconds, avoiding surface contact, and avoiding strangers as much as possible. The fewer people you meet, the lower the risk of exposure.

Remember that pre-COVID social etiquette is no longer appropriate during the pandemic. Handshakes, hugs to family and friends, holding the door open, or even helping an elderly person off the train is no longer safe or appropriate. One cannot control what another person does. A person’s values and beliefs bear much weight on whether they practice safe distancing or not. Focus on what you can control and accept what you cannot. You may not be able to force another person to wear a mask, practice safe distancing, or wash their hands but you can keep your distance, excuse yourself to go outside or leave the busy area, keep your outing short, and avoid strangers.

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