RESILIENCE IN THE MIDST OF THE COVID-19 CRISIS: Establishing Emotional Boundaries

This is the seventh piece in an ongoing series on topics relating to how we cope personally and collectively in the midst of this health crisis. For questions, topic suggestions, resources, or other, please feel free to reach me at

I will also be holding a FB Live each day that I post an update around 3pm EST on my Resilient.Bounty page. This will be a brief 10-15 minute opportunity to discuss the issue, connect with others, and get support. 

Establishing Emotional Boundaries

We are all physically distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic and finding ways to stay emotionally and mentally connected to our friends, family, and co-workers. We want to create a sense of interconnectedness for support and belonging. It is living proof of what I teach all the time: we are hardwired for connection. Seeing this in my own circles of community has been one of the more hopeful and uplifting things during this time. 

I have also seen pain points arise because as we establish these new norms, we also need to maintain healthy boundaries. What do these “pain points” look like? Here are some of the signs I have seen: 

  • “If I see one more meme making light of this pandemic, I’m going to scream!” 
  • “I know this is bad, but I can’t handle any more doomsday news.”
  • “Are we really trying to continue ‘business as usual’ right now?” 
  • “Why do some people seem to be relishing in how miserable this is?”

It might seem counter-intuitive that we need to establish and maintain strong emotional boundaries for ourselves during a time when we need to pull together, but we do. First thing first: what do I mean by ‘boundaries’? The working definition I use for boundaries comes from social scientist, Brene Brown. It works because of its simplicity: boundaries are our lists of what is okay and what is not okay. What is okay for your well-being right now? What is okay according to your values and integrity? A question to explore when determining your own boundaries: 

What boundaries need to be in place so that you can stay in your integrity and make generous assumptions about a person’s motivation, intention, or behaviors?”

Brene Brown

These will not be the same for everyone and that is where we experience the rub. This is not about one person being right and another being wrong. It is about respecting and being compassionate about one person’s boundaries while maintaining our own. Here are some things you can do to establish boundaries with compassion and generosity. 

  1. Set your limits. Boundaries are not just what we set for other people. It is what we set for ourselves as well. For example, checking the news for 30 minutes to stay up-to-date can make us feel more able to make good decisions. Discovering that 3 hours have past and we’ve fallen into a rabbit hole of all COVID-19 news, memes, and Twitter threads might not be as helpful. Don’t cross your own boundaries.
  2. Let people know your boundaries. People need to know where your boundaries are if you expect them to honor them. It is okay to let people know if certain things increase your anxiety or if you are limiting your sources of information to keep from feeling overwhelmed.
  3. The ‘Mute’ and ‘Unfollow’ button are your friends. You are the boss of your social media feed. You can tailor it in whatever way helps you increase your sense of well-being. Does that mean you need to unfriend, block, or ask someone to change their behavior? No. We can be generous in our assumption that people are doing the best they can under the circumstances and still limit our exposure if it makes us feel worse.

As we establish and maintain boundaries, we need to make sure that we are honoring others’ boundaries as well. When you are unclear about what is okay and not okay for others, you ask: 

  • “Can I share this information with you?”
  • “Humor helps get me through stressful times. Is that beneficial to you, too?”
  • “What is unhelpful for you right now?” 
  • “What do you need more/less of right now?”

As with everything right now, give yourself and others as much grace as you can right now. Maintaining boundaries make grace much easier to give. 

Be well. Stay resilient. 

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