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Boundary Issues During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Boundary Issues During the Coronavirus Pandemic

For many of us, the coronavirus pandemic is challenging our boundaries in new ways and requires us to be more assertive about our needs. So, in this article, I’ll highlight a couple of these “coronavirus boundary issues” and give you some ideas for setting the boundaries that will help you stay healthy and feel safe and fulfilled during the pandemic.

Boundaries for handling the end of stay-at-home orders

We’ve been cooped up for so long that naturally, we’re excited to resume some of our old activities. But, as the stay-at-home (shelter-in-place/quarantine) orders are being lifted, anxiety levels are also increasing because we know that things haven’t returned to the way they were before the coronavirus turned our lives upside down.

With businesses and beaches reopening, we are faced with more decisions. We no longer have black-and-white guidelines to follow — we’re now living in the grey zone full of uncertainty and unknowns about what activities are safe. You may find yourself wondering: Is this really safe? Should I be eating in a restaurant or having friends over for a backyard get together? Part of the problem is there is no clear answer; we get so many mixed messages.

Having choices is usually empowering, but it’s also exhausting and anxiety-provoking, especially when our decisions directly impact our health, the health of our children and parents and neighbors, and the community at large. So, how can you handle the social pressure to resume activities if you’re not feeling ready?

Before you can set a boundary with others, you need to know what your boundary is. And that’s part of the problem – we’re confused about where our own boundaries lie and what we think is safe to do. So, step #1 is deciding what you (and your partner, if you have one) feel comfortable doing. Weigh your options and use reputable sources of data. But remember, this is a personal boundary about what’s right for you. And because things change so quickly related to this pandemic, you may need to reconsider your boundaries every week or so.

Once you know what you feel safe doing, you can communicate your limits to others. Be clear and straightforward. You don’t need to apologize or overexplain your decision. Here is an example:

Jason: I know you really want to see the kids, Mom, and I’ll let you know just as soon as Malia and I are ready to bring the kids over. But, for now, we aren’t doing in-person visits.

Jason’s Mom: You’re making such a fuss. I don’t see what the big deal is. It’s just for an hour. And we’ll stay outside.

Jason: I know you see things differently, Mom, and that’s okay. But this is our decision.

Others may not like your boundaries or understand them. They may pressure you to do things that you don’t feel comfortable with. This is hard to deal with, especially coming from someone you care about. People often think they can wear you down if they apply enough pressure and guilt. And in this situation, people usually mean well. They want to see you in person. They want you to have fun and resume your normal life. Usually, they just have a different perception of the risk involved in these activities. So, it’s up to you to hold to your boundaries.

Boundaries for online meetings and social events

Are you burnt out on Zoom calls, virtual family gatherings, and online happy hours? Staying socially connected is important, but the onslaught of video meetings – on top of text messages, emails, and phone calls, is overwhelming for many.

If you’re home all day long, your friends, family, and coworkers, may think that you’re always available to take their calls and answer their texts. I hear from people that they feel guilty turning down video calls from their parents and friends because they don’t have a “good reason”. And the boundary between work time and personal time has certainly gotten blurry for people who are working from home. So, your boss and coworkers may also have unrealistic expectations about your availability.

During the stay-at-home order we don’t have our usual reasons for declining invitations such as, “I have other plans” or “I have to take the kids to soccer” or “We’re going to Cousin Mary’s birthday party”.  But the truth is that some of us are busier than ever due to increased parenting and work demands. And we’re experiencing stress and anxiety at monumental levels.

We also know that spending large amounts of time in front of a screen is draining. We don’t seem to get the same boost in positive energy that we get from spending time with loved ones in person. So, it makes sense that if you’re spending lots of time in front of the computer, for work, your children’s school, or entertainment, that you’re burnt out on screen time when your sister wants to have a Zoom call.

Soquarantine burnout, if you’re exhausted, busy, overwhelmed, or anxious, you need to give yourself permission to set limits with online invitations and commitments. During these stressful and uncertain times, it’s especially important that we pay attention to our feelings and needs – and prioritize taking care of ourselves. Sometimes, self-care means we need time alone, time to rest, read a novel, or exercise instead of more time online. Most people will understand if you politely and kindly tell them that you’re not available; you don’t necessarily need to give a lengthy explanation or justify your reasons. Here are a few ways you might phrase this:

That sounds fun, but unfortunately, it’s not going to work for me.

Thank you for thinking of me! I’m a bit overloaded, however. So, I’m going to have to pass.

I’ve been online so much lately. I really need to take a break from it. Let’s reschedule for another time.

Again, others may be disappointed when you set limits, but you are not required to sacrifice your needs to make them happy. If this is a person that you’d truly like to connect with, then let them know that they are important to you and suggest another time or way to connect.

Make your boundary plan

Setting boundaries is tough, especially when you’re already struggling. So, try to have patience with yourself and others. And keep working on your boundaries, even if you don’t do it perfectly, because your needs matter!

In closing, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Be clear about the boundaries and limits that you need to set. Write them down.
  • Notice what makes it hard or prevents you from following through on your boundaries.
  • Try writing a script and practicing what you’ll say.
  • Be prepared for some resistance. This doesn’t mean you’re wrong. Sometimes, taking care of ourselves means others will be disappointed. You can empathize with their feelings, but you aren’t responsible for fixing it for them.

Read more about boundaries


©2020 Sharon Martin, LCSW. All rights reserved.
Photo of woman in mask by engin akyurt. Photo of woman on computer by Thought Catalog.

Boundary Issues During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Sharon Martin, LCSW

Sharon Martin is a licensed psychotherapist and codependency expert practicing in San Jose, CA. She is the author of The CBT Workbook for Perfectionism: Evidence-Based Skills to Help You Let Go of Self-Criticism, Build Self-Esteem, and Find Balance and several ebooks including Navigating the Codependency Maze.  

To learn more, visit Sharon's website. And please sign-up for free access to her resource library HERE (worksheets, tips, meditations, and resources for healing codependency, perfectionism, anxiety and more).

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APA Reference
Martin, S. (2020). Boundary Issues During the Coronavirus Pandemic. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 4, 2020, from


Last updated: 22 May 2020
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