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How College Students Can Effectively Communicate Boundaries

Updated on June 2, 2022Students

Making the switch from in-person classes to distance learning can be tricky, particularly when you’re sharing a space with your family. The transition is bound to have hiccups, but there are things you can do to set yourself up for success—namely, setting healthy boundaries.

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Here are four key tactics to consider:

1 How to communicate needs around online courses

Communicating your needs is a vital part of staying on track with your studies. And for that, specificity is key, says Dr. Leah Guttman, a clinical psychologist in New York City and the founder of Washington Square Therapy, a private practice that specializes in emotional well-being for young adults.

She suggests saying something like, ‘I’m really distracted with online courses, so it would help me focus if the guest bedroom is off-limits from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. on class days. Are you ok with that?’ This avoids confusion or resentment that could be caused by a vague question like ‘Can you not interrupt me so much?’

2 How to communicate needs around personal space

It can be difficult to broach the topic of personal boundaries when you’re also trying to preserve your study time. But it’s still an important conversation to have.

“A consequence of living in close quarters is that we become easily annoyed by others’ actions, often because the other person simply didn’t know what we wanted them to do,” says Dr. Guttman. The important thing, she says, is to be open to hearing the other side when having these conversations. Both parties should feel like their concerns are being met with compassion and understanding.

“Keeping lines of communication open will make for a stronger relationship, not just during the pandemic but also after social distancing measures have lifted,” says Dr. Guttman.

3 How to deal with feelings of guilt

The pandemic has created a fundamental shift in how we live our lives. For some, that means no longer being able to contribute financially to your education through things like a part-time job, thereby creating feelings of guilt. But as Dr. Guttman points out, feeling guilty doesn’t necessarily mean it’s justified.

She suggests finding other options, like helping with childcare, cooking meals, and doing the grocery shopping, to provide meaningful support to your parent or guardian.

“Even better, though, you can remember that what most family members need right now is to provide one another with emotional support. Practice self-compassion yourself and it will rub off on your family,” she says.

4 How to communicate mental health challenges

In June of 2020, 40% of Americans reported struggling with mental health or substance abuse, according to a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you’re also struggling with mental health challenges, having an honest conversation with loved ones is vital to getting the support you need.

Dr. Guttman suggests framing it as seeking insight from the other person. For example, you might say, ‘I’ve been struggling for a while with X. It feels like Y. Have you ever dealt with this? Do you have suggestions on how to get through it?’

“When you bring another person into your world by sharing your lived experience, it’s as though they’re going through it, too. The person you share with will feel you value their opinion and will be more inclined to help you and see you succeed,” she says.

For those who are dealing with mental illness or are facing stigma around mental health issues, this can be a difficult task. But it’s important to recognize that you aren’t alone in order to start getting help and feeling better. If you aren’t comfortable talking about your mental health to the people you live with, reach out to another close friend or family member over text or video, or get started on the path to finding a mental health professional.

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