The Changing Boundaries of a Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has been many things, including a very long exercise in boundary setting. From reminding people to stay 6 feet away from us, to asking family members not to interrupt work meetings, to limiting hugs with friends, we all spent more than a year verbalizing our safety and comfort needs in ways we’d never had to do before. 

Congratulations to all of us! We did enough to make it to today.


And as eagerly as we have awaited reopening, some of us have also felt overwhelmed or hesitant about big changes like the new CDC mask recommendations. If you’re one of these people, your feelings are valid. Our boundaries, whether they are public health mandates or our personal rules, keep us safe. Establishing standing boundaries, like “I don’t lend my phone to strangers'' or “I don’t take my mask off indoors,” is a matter of both safety and efficiency. They allow us a shortcut around assessing the safety of every action every time.

But COVID-19 boundaries, like all healthy boundaries, should not always be rigid or fixed. They can change in response to all kinds of things. Imagine that meeting someone for the first time during a pandemic, you decline a handshake. Maybe now you are both vaccinated, so you both feel safe shaking hands the next time you meet. Or, perhaps you’ve become close friends over time and you hug when you greet each other. Or maybe you have begun hugging regularly but today you don’t feel like it, or one of you is sick so you decide not to. You can adjust your boundaries as often as you like according to your own feelings of safety and comfort.

You do not, however, need to immediately adjust your boundaries to match CDC recommendations - you are still the only one who gets to decide what feels safe for you! Need some time to sit with the changes? Want to do some research into local vaccine rates or infection statistics? Great, take all the time you need - keep setting the boundaries that make you feel safe!


Most of us have times that we feel really strong with our boundaries and other times where it feels challenging. Remember though, that your comfort and safety are important and worth defending!

If you’re struggling, one helpful tip is to think about your boundaries in advance. Going to a social gathering? Before you head out the door, run through possible scenarios that may require you to set a boundary! What will you say if others are taking off masks and asking you to do the same? What if the gathering moves to a bar or restaurant? Does your comfort level change if it’s just close friends? If there are people you don’t know? Coming up with some boundary statements in advance can make it much easier to say “no” in the moment.

And of course, remember to breathe. YOU'VE GOT THIS!

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