Boundaries: What they are and how to set them

Student at their computer outside wearing a mask

Let’s face it; this semester is going to be different. Online classes and remote work are posing new challenges for all of us. To stay on top of responsibilities and bring some joy to this unusual semester, we recommend setting boundaries in different aspects of your life. Setting boundaries tells yourself and others how you expect to be treated with your time and space. Boundaries can look different to serve multiple purposes, such as communication methods between housemates or building a schedule to separate work and play. Start by setting boundaries in these areas of your life:


With your time. Create a schedule and include your classes, study time, workouts, work shifts, and downtime. Having a plan each day will help you stay on track with lectures and assignments while giving you something to look forward to, like a workout or your favorite Netflix show. The last thing you want is to feel burnt out, especially at the beginning of the semester.  Setting boundaries with your time will help this semester feel more familiar. Take advantage of your downtime and put your notebook or computer away for a few hours.

Active Badger Tip: Build your schedule around when you know you’re most productive. For example, if you don’t like studying in the morning, set aside time to work out, relax, or try a new breakfast recipe!

With your screen. Step away from your phone, tablet, computer, and TV – especially when you’re getting ready for bed. Harvard University researchers have found that the blue light from your screen can boost your mood and attention during the day, but once the sun goes down, it decreases your levels of melatonin and throws off your circadian rhythms. Your circadian rhythm functions as your internal clock and tells your body when to be asleep versus awake. Any form of light at night can negatively affect your circadian rhythm, but blue light does so more powerfully. To ensure a good night’s rest, reduce screen time during the day, take breaks between Zoom calls, and put devices away at least an hour before bed.

Within your physical space. Studying, working, relaxing, and sleeping in the same space every day can make you feel restless. If possible, create dedicated areas within your living space to help you transition from one mindset to another. Devote your bed to sleeping and use your desk or dining table as a hub for studying and working. If you want to get a little more comfortable while studying, opt for the couch rather than your bed. Studies have shown that studying in bed can make it more difficult to fall asleep at night.

With your family and roommates. Most of us are spending more time with our roommates and families than ever before. Open communication about your needs for quiet work time with your housemates can prevent tensions from building throughout the semester. One idea is letting your housemates know that if your door is shut, you’re not to be disturbed. If the door is open, you may be working, but it’s okay if they check in with you.

If you’re living with family, they may not realize the amount of time you need to dedicate to schoolwork and other responsibilities because your high school workload might’ve been less. 

Set up a communication system between you and your housemates early in the semester. It will help avoid tensions, keep you focused, and make the time you spend together less stressful!

With your responsibilities. Staying at home all day and working on virtual classes can make it feel like the grind never stops. Don’t feel guilty for stepping away from a homework assignment or pausing a lecture if you need to take a few deep breaths and let your mind be quiet. When it comes time to unwind, close the school tabs on your computer or even better, put it out of sight. This will allow your mind to wander and take some stress off your shoulders. 

Setting boundaries in various aspects of your life will help you stay productive in our new normal. If you’re looking for a way to relax your mind, join us for Wellbeing Wednesdays on our Instagram Story. Each week we try something new such as meditating, expressing gratitude, or practicing mindfulness. If you want to move your body but aren’t sure how to get started, try our virtual group fitness classes.