Ask Abby: Building and reinforcing boundaries as the school year kicks off

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Full disclosure: I am not a licensed therapist. Honestly, I am not licensed in anything whatsoever. I’m just a gal with lots of opinions who enjoys giving unsolicited advice to almost anyone around me. So, if this is adverse advice, you can’t sue me or my place of work. Sorry!

‘I’ve been feeling super overwhelmed since the school year has begun. I do so much already and I’m so tired but I just can’t bring myself to say no. Any ideas on how to take a break without hurting anyone’s feelings?’-Loyal Reader

As the ultimate pushover, let me tell you — saying no can be extremely hard. I’m pretty sure I went the first eighteen years of my life without saying it, and it’s still something that I have to remind myself to do.

As much as I hate to admit it, when I was younger I spent a huge chunk of time actively embracing the art of the excuse. Like a lot of people, I found myself falling into the trap of using my mom to not have to do things. Constantly.

You know, ‘Mom, quick, text me that I have a curfew and that I can’t go anywhere. I don’t care, make the curfew like 3 p.m.!’ Seriously, don’t pretend you haven’t pulled this. We’re all honest and super vulnerable friends here.

When college came around, it was time for me to figure out something else though, because using your parents as an excuse is extremely difficult to do when you no longer live with your parents. Yikes.

I had to do something that we all have to do eventually: I had to set boundaries.

A working definition for boundaries in this situation is knowing the line between ‘pleasantly involved and busy’ and ‘help I can’t breathe I haven’t slept in weeks and I forget what I look like without eye bags’ — staying firmly on the side of the former.

Boundaries are the best thing that can ever happen to you, and here’s why: they give you free reign over your life, and therefore the ability to actually live.

Setting boundaries does not make you mean. It makes you someone who is honest and knows their worth. Instead of being wishy-washy with excuses, they allow you to take charge of your valuable time and become the best version of yourself.

Being able to say no unapologetically through your boundaries will make you a better and more attentive friend because you’ll have more time to think about those you love. It’ll allow you to put out quality work, because you’ll have time to actually focus.

Most importantly to me, though, is that having boundaries allows you to have the energy to truly make a difference in the areas that you most want to focus on, rather than just doing your best with the little time you had previously.

If you’ve ever been on an airplane, I’m sure you’ve heard the oxygen mask spiel. You have to be able to breathe before you can help anyone else, because if you can’t the whole shebang goes downhill for both parties.

Make sure you can breathe this semester before you try to help everyone else. Take care of yourself, drink water and set boundaries.

You are valuable, valid and loved,


If you have a question that you’d like to see discussed in Ask Abby, feel free to contact me via email, carrier pigeon or telepathy. 


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