A photo of a young woman sitting at her desk and looking at a computer

Returning to the office this autumn? Here are 5 ways to keep post-pandemic boundaries intact

With more people returning to work IRL, author Lisa Lister shares five ways people can maintain their boundaries and live life on their terms.

Setting clear and concise boundaries is often easier said than done. The idea of appearing too harsh when doing so and overanalysing how it may be interpreted by others is something that many people think about.

But in a post-pandemic world, where the idea of accidentally brushing past someone on the street can be a cause for concern, boundaries, both big and small, have never seemed more important.

As more people return to offices, where boundaries can well and truly be put to the test, Stylist asked author Lisa Lister to share her best tips on maintaining limits that work for you and those around you.

Reconnect with yourself (before reconnecting with others)

Boundaries are not to keep other people ‘out’. They create a supportive framework that cultivates conditions that will support and nourish you. In order to set clear boundaries with others, you need to know what your needs are.

You may also like

Why setting personal boundaries is so very important

Many of us have spent a lot of time disconnected from both ourselves and each other during the pandemic, and when we disconnect from our bodies, we give our heads, and the way that we think, permission to run the entire life-living show. I don’t know about you, but my ability to overthink is an extreme sport, and it’s EXHAUSTING.

Most of the decisions we make on a daily basis are automatic responses to what we’ve been taught throughout our lives: what’s supposedly good or bad, right or wrong. These decisions are made by the part of the mind that’s been conditioned by our life experiences, our thought systems and the beliefs that we have about the world we live in. Your power is most potent when all your parts are present, online and witnessed. 

When the body and the mind work in collaboration and you have full access to your emotional, intuitive, spiritual and energetic pathways, this is you; powerful, present, whole and in your body.

It’s here that you have the potential to make better choices. You can set strong boundaries. You’re less likely to become overwhelmed when you experience challenges and difficult feelings. You can accept and honour what is, and you can creatively respond to life’s challenges from a foundational place and space of safety.

Tip: take five minutes each day to breathe deeply, and to feel present in your body and in the moment. 

You may also like

Zoom fatigue: How setting time boundaries can make video calls more enjoyable

Check in with yourself

Very few people have got through the events of the last 18 months without experiencing changes in their health, emotions and mental wellbeing, so before stepping out into the post-pandemic world, do a simple audit to recognise and acknowledge what’s going on with you right now.

You’ll need a journal and a pen for this one. Take a few deep breaths and ask yourself:

How am I currently feeling about myself and my life?

Where exactly am I feeling it?

Now journal your responses. Don’t overthink them; our bodies are always speaking to us, so let your body tell you exactly what’s going on. Maybe you’re feeling sad, anxious, happy or worried. Naming the feelings and emotions that you’re currently experiencing can help you to identify what it is you need and require.

You may also like

Alicia Keys on the piece of advice which helped her to set boundaries and learn to say “no”

What are your priorities?

For many of us, our needs and priorities are completely different to what they were before the pandemic and there’s no way we can simply pick up where we left off (even if we wanted to).

Some people may have found comfort in having to take some time out to be with themselves – they may have chosen to take up exercise, or to slow their pace after years of pushing hard in a career and they now realise they actually didn’t like that much.

As you look to re-enter your social life, work places and new environments, be very clear about what’s worked and what hasn’t worked for you during the last 18 months.

Make a list of what you would like to maintain – daily dance sessions before you pick up your phone and enter into a doomscroll, perhaps? Get very clear as to what is going to be a priority and a non-negotiable in your life from now on.

profile photo author lisa lister
Author Lisa Lister

Set and respect your boundaries

It’s OK to ask for what you need and require, and while none of us want to repeat the experience of living through the unknown of a pandemic and the anxiety and fear that it creates, it’s OK not to want to return to previous patterns and ways of being either.

Any kind of collective trauma, like the one we’ve all been living through, will inevitably make us more aware of what we will and won’t be putting up with moving forward.

For example, if you’re going to a social gathering and you’re not feeling comfortable about greeting others with a hug, it’s OK to voice that on arrival.  

Presence by Lisa Lister

Don’t assume that people will somehow be able to pick up on social cues that may have previously been really obvious.

Everyone is experiencing a restructuring and reforming of their experience in the world, so don’t be afraid to express how it currently is for you.

Being super clear in your communication when asking for what you need is fierce self-care.

You may also like

“Should I care what I do for a living?” The dark truth about dream jobs and millennial burnout

Compassion and acceptance

This is both for you and for others. These times have played havoc with everyone’s emotions and their capacity to be, and to stay present in a very uncertain world, so remember to reconnect with your body and your breath daily.

7/11 is brilliant method for staying steady. Breathe in for the count of 7 through the nose and then stretch the out breath for the count of 11 through the nose. Do this for two to five minutes anytime you feel anxiety, stress and/or a lack of tolerance starts to creep in.

Be kind and patient with yourself as well as each other as we navigate this new terrain.

Presence: Know Yourself. Claim Your Power. Take Up Space by Lisa Lister (Hardie Grant, £14.99) is out on 30 September

Images: Getty, Hardie Grant and Lisa Lister


Share this article

Recommended by Lisa Lister


“My boss has no idea what boundaries mean – what can I do?”

One woman says her boss told her she needs to be online 24 hours a day.

Posted by
Katie Bishop
Mental Health

How to build new habits and routines as lockdown eases

Want to make more conscious decisions as we head ‘back to normal’? Read this.

Posted by
Lauren Geall

Struggling with small talk now you’re back in the office? You’re not alone

Here’s how to feel more confident making conversation.

Posted by
Lauren Geall
Mental Health

How to get comfortable – really genuinely comfortable – asking for help

Do you find it difficult to accept help from others? It’s time to talk about why this might be…

Posted by
Kayleigh Dray