What causes you stress in your life? Many of us have a whole list of stressors. Stress is the result of mental or emotional strain resulting from demanding circumstances. So it is not surprising that with today’s ever increasing demands, we find more and more things that stress us out.
While there are many ways of managing stress and becoming more resilient through mindfulness, exercise, and healthy habits, there is another powerful action you can put in place to limit your stress: Instituting and enforcing personal policies.
What are personal policies? Are they the same as boundaries?
I have previously written about the importance setting personal boundaries when you feel emotionally blackmailed or manipulated (see: Are You Being Emotionally Blackmailed or Manipulated? )
Personal policies take boundaries one step further: It is a list of clear rules that you have put in place for different situations that you might find difficult. They reflect your values, priorities and boundaries, and keep things impersonal, so you don’t have to explain yourself.
You may feel bad about putting in place clear rules because you are used to putting others needs and feelings first, or because you don’t feel you have the right to create them, or because you are worried that they may jeopardize your relationships.
But if you really care about others, you do have to put yourself first so you don’t become unhappy, sick, or burned out, and thus become unable to help others. You, like everyone else, have the right to set boundaries for yourself. And you really don’t want to be in a relationship with someone who does not respect your personal policies.
So how can you create your own personal policies?
1. Identify your stressors
Think about different areas in your work and your life, where you feel like you are giving too much or you are being taken advantage of.
They could be:
Material: You are giving more or lending more than you would like.
For example, you feel obliged to donate money to everyone who asks, when you really don’t want to or can’t afford to.
Physical: You feel like your personal space or privacy is being invaded.
For example, a co-worker is constantly popping by your desk when you want to be left alone.
Emotional: You feel like you are not being respected or are being emotionally manipulated.
For example, a family member constantly criticizes you or uses guilt to manipulate you to do things for them.
Time-based: You are spending more time on something than you would like to.
For example, you are working or answering work emails on weekends, when you really want to focus on your family.
2. Create your personal policies
Based on your values and priorities, what personal policy would you like to put in place for each of the items you just listed, that would honor what is important to YOU?
For example, Someone’s personal policy could be:
- I will only donate money to the 3 causes I care most about and will limit my donations to $xyz per year.
- I will not tolerate any interruptions at my desk in the mornings, which is my most productive time.
- I will not allow anyone to criticize me or to emotionally manipulate me.
- I will not check my work emails on the weekend.
3. Enforce your personal policies
Once you have written down your personal policies, share them with the appropriate people and enforce them. This will take some practice. It is easier to start with one personal policy at a time.
When someone makes a demand that goes against your personal policy, for example asking why you aren’t replying to their work email on the weekend, you can simply state: “I am sorry. I have a personal policy not to check work emails on the weekend. I will get to it on Monday morning.”
What if your personal policy goes against the policy of your workplace, where for example, answering work emails on the weekend is the norm? First, think about whether this is an absolute requirement or something under your control. If it is an absolute requirement, it may be time to re-evaluate your priorities. You may decide that it is more important to keep your current job. Or you may decide that you want to find work that is more in line with your values.
I have also found that you may need to repeat your personal policy a few times. If you have never shared your personal policy before, it can take time for others to understand that you have a personal policy now. Also, others may be used to you giving in, so they may “test” you a few times to see if you really mean it. It is up to you to enforce your own policy, if you want it to be effective.
I have started creating and enforcing my own personal policies, and am contemplating a few more. I already have instituted policies for not working on weeknights and weekends and not letting others emotionally blackmail me. These policies have resulted from not having a boundary there before, which caused extreme stress in my life.
What new personal policy do you want to put in place?