Replenishing the Well: How to Set Personal Boundaries as an Aging Life Care Professional™

In the helping professions, it’s far too easy to stretch yourself thin. We all got into this work because we wanted to support those in need and to make the world a better place. There is abundant opportunity to make a difference—because there is no shortage of suffering, sadness, pain and loss. But no one can do this work for long before learning, sometimes the hard way (read “burnout”), that we all have physical and emotional limits that must be respected, or we can’t do our best for those we seek to serve.

Setting professional and personal boundaries as an Aging Life Care™ Manager does not mean shirking responsibilities or being insensitive to clients’ needs. It does mean recognizing the importance of self-care as the foundation of being fully present for others. This holds true for all caregivers, whether a family member, friend or career professional.

Setting Realistic Boundaries Is Essential to Well-Being

Given that the overwhelming majority of professionals in this field (and caregivers, in general) are women—and that women are socialized in our culture to put the needs of others before our own—learning to set realistic boundaries can be difficult. It may even feel physically uncomfortable to say no when the default is to say yes to a plea for help.

But boundaries are essential to maintaining personal wellbeing and integrity. Especially when we find ourselves overwhelmed by a rash of client crises, severe illnesses or deaths, we need to be vigilant in finding ways to replenish emotional resources. The alternative is physical and mental exhaustion that can lead to poor judgment, sickness, accidents or worse.

Here are five ways to set realistic professional boundaries and foster your personal wellbeing:

  1. Manage client expectations about your availability. Be clear about your professional hours and availability in your contract and conversations. Consider whether you can realistically offer 24/7 response, especially if you are a one-person practice. Sleep matters. So does your emotional well-being.
  2. Give yourself permission to not answer the phone during off hours. There are many ways to screen calls, from voice mail to professional answering services. Pick the method that suits your personal style and budget, and hold to it. The vast majority of those calls can wait until morning. The ones that can’t, you’ll undoubtedly be able to anticipate.
  3. Think carefully about how big a caseload you really need to maintain. As the Baby Boom generation ages, there is plenty of work to go around. The real question we all need to ask ourselves is how much we can actually take on. Financial goals provide part of the answer. Professional career goals need to be accounted for, as well. Ultimately, however, it comes down to how to balance the ability to provide quality service with maintaining physical and mental health, as well as fostering quality relationships with our own loved ones.
  4. Carve out time for activities that replenish you—and stick to it. Exercise, walks in the woods, films with a friend, date night with your significant other, a good novel, even that trashy TV show you love watching—whatever healthful activity works for you, discover it, claim it and do it. Regularly. The time you spend feeding your soul will not only give you a much needed break; it will recharge your batteries and enable you to be all the more effective in your personal and professional relationships.
  5. Seek joy and laughter. Even in the midst of struggle and hardship, there is much to celebrate in life. Our clients teach us these lessons every day. Stay open to the possibilities.

President of Deborah Fins Associates, PC, since 1995, Deborah Liss Fins is a licensed independent clinical social worker and certified Aging Life Care™ manager. Drawing on more than 30 years of professional experience in aging life care management, DFA offers comprehensive assessments and planning, guidance in selecting appropriate care, help identifying resources for financial support and professional consulting. Please contact us to set up a complimentary initial telephone consultation.

For more on coping with aging, follow us on Twitter: @DeborahFinsALCM.

Image Credit: Dingzeyu Li

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