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Feeling overcommitted? How to avoid feeling drained and better set your priorities

Feeling overcommitted? How to avoid feeling drained and better set your priorities


Over the weekend, I took a quick look at my schedule for the upcoming week. My immediate thought was “What was I thinking?!”. Ideally, I have a mix of work, some social activities, and some personal time each week. But more and more often, I’ve been noticing that my upcoming weeks seem to be triggering more feelings of overwhelm in me as opposed to excitement! This realization has been especially bizarre because even if I’m busy at work, I really enjoy the work that I do. Similarly, even if I have several social outings, I love spending time with friends and family! So shouldn’t that be enough of a protective factor to avoid feeling stressed by a hectic schedule? Sadly, it seems that’s not the case (at least not for me). So, the issue with overcommittment isn’t that you’re doing things you necessarily dislike (although that can certainly be part of the issue), but it also happens when we forget that we are not, in fact, the Energizer Bunny. Worse still, overcommittment has been shown to contribute to higher levels of stress and physical tension (Preckel et al., 2005).  So, how can we better manage ourselves to more regularly take a peak at our upcoming week and notice a feeling of interest, excitement, or perhaps even calm?

Start to Prioritize

Each of us have a different combination of interests and responsibilities. Consider this when you begin to figure out how to avoid feeling depleted by overcommitting yourself. What matters to you? Family, school, work, art class? Team sports? Reading? Do you have family that you’d like to see regularly or is it only over the holidays that you’d like to spend time together? Do you have a friend circle that you can see altogether or do you prefer to see friends individually? Consider these, and many other possible combinations, when looking at what you’d like to fit into your schedule.

Make a schedule – that INCLUDES down time and track how it makes you feel

This step doesn’t have to happen each week, but begin by creating a schedule each week that considers your main interests and goals (see step 1) and plan it out so that those priorities are included, but so is time to just do your thing. Essentially, include several hours of non-scheduled, unstructured time into your week. This step has several benefits: 1) It helps you really reflect on how much time each activity you’re committing to takes, so that you’re more realistic in your goals, and 2) it helps to lessen the impression that “doing nothing” is bad! Free time is essential for our mind and bodies to rest, re-energize, and get in better touch with our creative and spontaneous side. With too much structure, we aren’t able to slow down enough to touch base with our passions, and our needs in the moment. In addition, creating a schedule gives you an opportunity to practice different levels of “busyness” – some weeks may be slower than others, or some may be focused on more social than work activities, or vice versa. By keeping track of these schedules and tracking how you feel at the start and end of each of these weeks, you’ll have some helpful data that lets you know what combinations work best for YOU!

Examine what lies beneath our need to overcommit

This part might be a little tougher. Often, if we find ourselves saying yes to everything requested or offered to us, there is an underlying reason that we may not be aware of. For some, it may be the belief that if we say no to a request, or don’t go out of our way to help someone else, we’re failing at being a good friend/partner/employee/etc. For others, overcommittment may stem from a fear of missing out on possible adventure, opportunities, financial gain, or connections. Whatever the reason, it may be helpful to ask yourself what need does overcommittment provide for you, or what does being overcommitted prevent you from feeling? Once you’re able to answer this, you’ll be better prepared to address those needs or fears in a more adaptive and sustainable way.

Get comfortable saying “No (thanks)”

As many of us know, it can be difficult to say no to an invite or a potential work commitment. We may feel guilty, or that we’ll be judged for not putting others first. Even though it can be hard, saying no is really the best way to ensure that we stick to our schedule that helps us meet our needs and goals without feeling overwhelmed. Plus, once you try it a few times, you’ll notice that people tend to respect when people set limits for themselves. The more we all do this, the more we normalize setting limits with our time and the more comfortable it becomes for everyone.

So, next time you notice your schedule giving you mild heart palpitations, take a step back, run through these suggestions, and see how you feel. Hopefully you’ll be well on your way to a more balanced and enjoyable week! 

Tobey Mandel is a clinical psychologist in Westmount, Montreal, Quebec, at Connecte Montreal Psychology Group. The team at Connecte loves writing about ways to boost our mental health and bring psychology into our everyday lives. For more helpful tips, check out Connecte’s blogspodcast, follow @connectepsychology on Instagram or like us on Facebook.


Preckel, D., von Kanel, R., Kudielka, B. M., & Fischer, J. E. (2005). Overcommitment to work is associated with vital exhaustion. Int Arch Occup Environ Health, 78, 117–122.

Allan, I., Campbell, B., Carter, T., Doyle, M., Goodchild, S., Henderson, R., ….,  & Postans, L. (2006). Balance: Real life strategies for work/life balance. New South Wales, Australia. Sea Change Publishing.

Breitman, P., & Hatch, C. (2000). How to say no without feeling guilty. New York, NY: Broadway Books. 

The importance of setting boundaries

The importance of setting boundaries

Recently, boundary-setting has been coming up often in conversations, in and outside the office. I noticed that for many, “boundaries” as a concept seems to be ambiguous—yet it plays out in so many domains of life. If you’re asking yourself whether your own boundaries may need a check-up, here are some hints.

Do you ever feel like you invest more than your return in relationships with partners, family, friends, or even strangers? Perhaps you feel resentful, or that you are being taken advantage of. You might feel a little bit annoyed all the time, or you might feel outright mistreated! You worry about the disapproval from others if you were to choose to say no or do what’s right for you.

Perhaps you often feel compelled to “fix things” for those who are close to you (emotionally, or otherwise). Maybe you worry they won’t think you’re a good friend, partner, son, daughter, (etc) if you don’t do what they are asking from you. Maybe worse, you fear that setting a limit would lead to argument or confrontation. So you might say “yes” when you mean “no”—out of habit, or just to avoid unpleasant interactions. At work, or elsewhere, you go above and beyond to ensure that another person’s comforts, wants, and needs are satisfied in a situation (but at the expense of your own!). Although it may feel “unselfish”, you eventually come to feel anger and resentment towards others. In fact, despite your efforts to ensure the other person is happy, relationships may not be working so well. While most people occasionally struggle with boundary questions, if it sounds a little bit too familiar too often, it might help to give your boundaries some reflection.

So what are boundaries?

In the context of psychology, boundaries are a conceptual limit between you and the other person. Simply put, it’s about knowing where you end and others begin. Knowing what’s yours and what’s not. Acknowledging that every adult is responsible for themselves. Having a functional boundary (one that works) means taking responsibility for your own actions and emotions, and NOT taking responsible for the actions and emotions of others. Of course, this plays out a little differently when you ARE actually responsible for someone else (like a dependent or a child).

According to personal space theory (Scott, 1993), we have boundaries, and can regulate how permeable they are—meaning what we let in and out—when it comes to the physical, mental and spiritual environment.

Maintaining boundaries is about being the gatekeeper of your life in order to keep yourself safe and well. Imagine you are a castle, with front door, moat, and drawbridge which you can lower open or raise shut at your will (Peck, 1997). If you keep your front door unlocked and drawbridge laid open all the time, anyone is free to walk in, do as they please, and stay as long as they like. On the other extreme, if you keep the door shut and locked, and the drawbridge up, you end up isolated, and miss out on connecting with others. Many go from one of these extremes to the other. However, we know that the healthiest type of boundary is one that is appropriately and purposefully open to some people, in some situations, some of the time, and closed to others, at other times (Scott, 1993). In our day-to-day, how well we communicate these boundaries can either protect or jeopardize relationships (Scott & Dumas, 1995). Think of times you did something you did not want to do because someone asked you and you felt obliged. The simmering anger that ensues could damage the relationship; if you let it boil over, you might say something passive aggressive or even fully lash out. 

How do I keep my boundaries in check?

The first step is to create time to get to know yourself, and practice feeling worthy. Often when we allow our boundaries to be crossed, we feel as though we are being generous. Perhaps because we feel (or have been taught) it’s the only way to ensure being a “good person” or the only way to confirm our worth or value. Practice feeling worthy. Not because of your achievements or generosity toward others, but because like every person—you are!  Show yourself you are worthy by being kind and compassionate toward yourself and taking good care of your emotional well-being (to start, see Andrea’s daily mental health boost tips on Instagram), Lisa’s blog posts about the critical vs compassionate voice here and here, or Miss psychlife’s tips on self-care here. It may feel as though a good relationship means you take care of others at your own expense, and you hope that in return, they will take care of you in the same way. This is what creates boundary chaos. Instead, respect and nurture yourself by taking care of you first. You may be asking yourself whether doing this is selfish—it is not. By meeting your own needs, you respect yourself and the other by taking responsibility for your own well-being. You preserve your integrity so that you can communicate your boundaries to others and maintain equal, respectful, and resentment-free relationships.

The second step is about defining your edges. In each situation, asking yourself what you are responsible for and what is outside your scope. If your partner wants you to do something, asking yourself, “would I like to invest in my relationship in this particular way”? If so, you can do it within your boundary. Then ask yourself, does doing this come at the expense of my well-being in a significant way? And will my resentment grow if I do it? If the answer is yes to either, there is a good chance this is outside the boundary. Give yourself the power to own the choices you make, and avoid doing anything that you will come to resent. Make choices that you feel are right for you—not because you feel like you have to, or fear the consequences, or think “that’s what it takes to be a good person”—but because you feel content with the choice regardless of the outcome. 

The third step is more concrete: Practice assertiveness! First noticing when you want to give in—to do something that would create resentment or come at the expense of your own well-being. Then, communicate your stance respectfully. You can apply this with family, at work, and even with strangers. For example, you might feel guilty because you don’t visit your family as often as they’d like you to. Make a personal choice regarding how often you would like to visit, and express your choice firmly. You are not responsible for how they feel about your choice. At work you might go above and beyond your job requirements at the expense of your own time with friends and family, which can lead you to burnout. Despite your fears (“what if I lose my job?”), you can start by setting limits on how often you work above and beyond (or choosing not to at all) and communicating these assertively (saying “I am not available to work on the weekend”).  To learn more about how to practice assertiveness, check out Lisa’s post here, or these online modules that take you through it in detail.

To summarize, when boundaries are blurry or loose, we do things we don’t want to do, often at the expense of our emotional and physical well-being. This leads to constant frustration within the self and can damage relationships with others. Being responsible for minding our own emotions and actions rather than those of others is essential to keeping our relationships (and ourselves!) healthy. Of course, boundaries are not always simple and can look a little different for everyone, so explore this with your therapist to learn about how it all plays out for you.

Danit Nitka received her PhD from the Clinical and Research Psychology program at Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec, and is a psychologist at Connecte Montreal Psychology Group. The team at Connecte loves writing about ways to boost our mental health and bring psychology into our everyday lives. For more helpful tips, check out Connecte’s blogspodcast, follow @connectepsychology on Instagram or like us on Facebook.


Peck, M.S. (1997). The road less traveled and beyond: Spiritual growth in an age of anxiety. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Scott, A. (1993). A beginning theory of personal space boundaries. Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, 29(2), 12-20.

Scott, A., & Dumas, R. (1995). Personal space boundaries: Clinical applications in psychiatric nursing. Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, 31(3), 14-21.

Scott, A. (1998). Psychometric evaluation of the personal space boundary questionnaire. Journal of Theory Construction and Testing, 1(2), 46-53.

Choose Yourself While Respecting Others: The Whys and Hows of Assertiveness

Choose Yourself While Respecting Others: The Whys and Hows of Assertiveness

Good relationships undoubtedly have a positive impact on our mental and physical health (1). Yet we face many challenges in relationships, including how to balance our own needs and preferences with those of others. In other words, how do we accommodate and compromise with our friends, partners, family members, coworkers, etc. without putting aside our own needs? And how do we take care of our own needs without being a jerk to others? One extremely useful tool that will help us cultivate respectful and mutually fulfilling relationships is assertiveness! Assertiveness will help you respect yourself, respect others, and have better relationships!

What is assertiveness?

Assertiveness starts from the basic premise that you are a person worthy of respect, and you have the right to a good life. If you have trouble being assertive, it may be a sign that you have low self-esteem, lack self-compassion, or struggle with social anxiety. For tips on improving your feelings of self-worth, check out my blog posts on the self-critical voice and my colleague Andrea’s blog post on Why Self-Compassion?

Assertiveness is a communication style that respects our own needs and preferences and balances them with the needs and preferences of others. It’s expressing our thoughts and feelings in a direct and respectful manner. It is not just about the words we use, but our tone and body language also help us communicate in an assertive manner.

If we’re not being assertive, we’re likely communicating in a non-assertive fashion (2) such as:

  • Passive: Putting others’ needs and preferences before our own.

  • Aggressive: Violating others’ rights and putting our own needs first.

  • Passive-aggressive: Acting aggressively but in an indirect way (e.g., slamming the door loudly, expressing hostility with backhanded comments).

Why Be Assertive?

1. Assertiveness is part of healthy self-esteem.

Research shows that self-esteem is correlated with assertiveness (3), and assertiveness training improves self-esteem (4). This makes sense because when being assertive, we are sticking up for ourselves, giving our needs and desires a voice. Just like if we were to stick up for a friend, by sticking up for ourselves we show our own self that we're worthy and valued. So “be your own friend” and make your voice heard! Even if it doesn’t “work”, in the sense that you don’t get what you want, you’ll likely feel better knowing that you stuck up for yourself.

2. Assertiveness is good for our psychological well-being.

 If we are often putting our needs and preferences second, accommodating others first, and not openly expressing our thoughts and feelings, we may end up feeling anxious about relationships, we may feel depressed and disconnected from others, and we may get resentful. Not fun!

3. Assertiveness is good for our relationships

Authenticity and feeling understood are key ingredients to strong connections and fulfilling relationships (5), and assertiveness gives us an effective way for our authentic selves to be heard and understood. If we are not assertive and don’t voice our needs and opinions, people close to us may feel like they really don’t know us, and they may wonder and worry about whether our words and actions represent our true interests and needs. If we’re assertive people are more likely to feel like they can trust us to take care of our own needs vs. having to guess what we want.

If we’re aggressive, on the other hand, people will lose respect for us and we may eventually lose friends and develop low self-esteem.

Obstacles for Assertiveness

1. Unhelpful Beliefs about Assertiveness.

Myth: Assertiveness is the same thing as aggression.

We may falsely believe that assertiveness is basically the same thing as aggression. If we’re not used to being assertive, assertiveness may feel like aggression. If this is the case for you, it’s helpful to remember the difference between assertiveness and aggressiveness. When we’re being assertive, we’re not only taking care of our own needs, but we’re being respectful of others. When we’re being aggressive, we are focusing solely on our own needs and disrespecting others.

Myth: It’s always more helpful and polite to put others’ preferences first.

We may believe that putting others’ needs and preferences first is the polite and helpful thing to do. We may have learned this belief growing up, from our parents or from other influences. In fact, being assertive can be helpful to others. When we’re assertive, others are more likely to feel like they know and understand us, and can trust us to take care of ourselves and our own boundaries (vs. feeling like they have to guess what we really want).

Myth: An assertive person has to be assertive in every situation.

Assertiveness is a helpful way of communicating in many situations, but there are always exceptions. For example, you’re riding the subway and a stranger begins making aggressive comments toward you. In situations like this, your personal safety is top priority and it would be wise to exit the situation as passively as possible or ask someone for help, rather than confronting the aggressive individual. Or, perhaps you have a boss who is consistently verbally abusive. Ideally you’d be able to quit your job, but in the meantime you might try “picking your battles”, especially if your assertiveness is often met with hostility. Don’t give up too easily on assertiveness though; sometimes it takes many tries before people respond constructively (or at least not destructively) to our assertive behaviour.

Myth: If you’re assertive you will get what you want.

It would be great if being assertive worked every time. Unfortunately, we cannot control other’s behaviour, so even if we are perfectly assertive, we may not get what we want. There are still many benefits to being assertive though even if we don’t get what we want, such as protecting our self-esteem by allowing our needs and preferences to be heard (2).

See Assert Yourself! Module 1: What is Assertiveness? for more!

2. Anxiety.

Anxiety exists to protect us, but sometimes it’s overly protective and our anxiety alarm starts going off when it doesn’t need to. In situations where we want to be assertive, our anxiety system may be telling us, “Don’t do it, you’ll make a fool out of yourself; you’ll damage your friendship; something bad will happen”, etc. Anxiety gets us to focus on the worst-case scenario while at the same time underestimating our ability to cope with difficult situations. Fortunately, there are plenty of effective ways to manage anxiety. Check out my blog post on anxiety for some tips. And try this simple yet helpful anxiety-reducing breathing hack

3. Skills deficit.

Assertiveness is a skill and like any other skill it takes practice. I’ve listed some assertiveness tips below. In addition, try to find an assertive role model in your social network, and ask them what their approach to assertiveness is. You might even take a class on communication, debating, or even improv! Try practicing out loud at home alone, or with a friend or a therapist. Remember to pay attention to your tone and posture.

4. Cultural and Generational Influences.

Western society tends to be more individualistic, meaning people are more likely to be motivated by their own needs and preferences, and prioritize them over the needs and preferences of the group. Other cultures value interdependence and relatedness more than individualism, and tend to view themselves as part of a whole, and are more motivated by norms imposed by the group and maintaining harmony (6). If you are living in a culture that values collectivism over individualism, you may want to weigh the pros and cons of living by these cultural values vs. being assertive.

Similarly, different generations, often older, may have been taught to defer to authority more, and women are more likely to have been taught that it is aggressive for a woman to firmly and directly state her needs and opinions.

How to Be More Assertive

1. Think more assertively and accept differences. Be honest with yourself. Check in with yourself and ask yourself, “What do I really want here?” “What is my own true opinion?” Being assertive means accepting that your opinion might be significantly different from those you care about, and accepting that in certain situations you are not willing to put your needs aside (7).

2. Practice non-verbal assertive behaviour

  • Use direct eye contact but avoid staring

  • Take an erect, open body stance

  • Practice receptive listening. Check out this wonderfully helpful video on being a good listener: Are You A Good Listener?

  • Allow your facial expressions to represent how you feel (e.g., smile when content; frown when frustrated or angry)

  • Use a firm, relaxed voice; not overly loud or quiet.

3. Clearly express your wants, beliefs, opinions, feelings, etc. using “I” statements. Be specific, direct, and genuine.

  • “I want to discuss our vacation plans this evening.”

  • “I need to leave the house by 7am for an important appointment.”

4. Be empathic. When in a situation in which the person’s needs, preferences, etc. conflict with your own, be empathic, thereby communicating you are sensitive to their position and are trying to take their perspective.

  • “I understand it’s difficult for you to discuss these issues, but I believe it’s important we have this discussion so we can come up with possible solutions.”

  • "I can see that it’s a really busy time for you, however it would be helpful if you did your share of the household chores.”

5. Communicate negative feelings calmly. When we’re feeling hurt by or anger toward another person, it can be very difficult to communicate our negative feelings in a controlled manner. The goal is to communicate the undesirable effect of the other person’s behaviour is having on you in as calm of a tone as possible. You might want to practice this out loud on your own first.

  • “I find you often cut me off when we’re having a conversation, and I find myself feeling frustrated and not connected to you. I would really appreciate it if you gave me the space to finish my thought before cutting me off. I will try to let you know when it's happening in the moment.”

6. Be a Broken Record. If you have a great deal of difficulty being assertive, or are perhaps feeling really nervous and are having to express your negative feelings to someone who is particularly quick on their feet, you might try the broken record technique. This is simply repeating your assertive phrase over and over in a calm, controlled manner. This is helpful when the conversation is getting off topic, when the person you’re having the discussion with might be pressuring you or inappropriately causing you to question your needs, preference, feelings, etc.

  • Sandra: "I think we should go to the party tonight."

  • Johanna: "I can’t go to the party; I have to work in the morning."

  • Sandra: "It’s going to be really fun – let’s go! We’re only young once."

  • Johanna: "I have to work tomorrow. I’m not going to the party."

  • Sandra: "I thought you didn’t care that much about your work? I think this party should take priority."

  • Johanna: "I’m choosing to prioritize work and I won’t be going to the party tonight."

7. Use phrases that facilitate connection with the other person.

  • Co-operative phrases, e.g., “What are your thoughts on this?”; “How does that sound to you?”

  • Avoid “should” and “oughts” e.g., “How about…”.

  • Seek others’ opinions, e.g., “How does this fit in with your ideas?”

  • Explore other solutions together, e.g., “How can we get around this problem?”

8. Distinguish between fact and opinion.

  • “My experience is different than yours.” (FACT)

  • “You were 1 hour late today. I felt angry.” (FACT) vs. “Your lateness is a sign you don’t respect me.” (OPINION)

See Assert Yourself! Module 4: How To Behave More Assertively for more!

Assertiveness is the "super-food" of communication. It helps us feel more authentic, it aids our self-esteem, it allows us to connect more deeply with others, and it helps others know our boundaries, among other things. So if you’re struggling with assertiveness, I hope you’re able to give some of these tips a try and experience how assertiveness can help you.

*Please note that much of this info is taken from the Assert Yourself! modules from the Centre for Clinical Interventions (CCI) website. Thanks CCI for your awesome resources!

Lisa Linardatos is a clinical psychologist in Westmount, Montreal, Quebec, at Connecte Montreal Psychology Group. The team at Connecte loves writing about ways to boost our mental health and bring psychology into our everyday lives. For more helpful tips, check out Connecte’s blogspodcast, follow @connectepsychology on Instagram or @ConnecteMTL on Twitter, or like us on Facebook.


1) Cacioppo, J. T., Hawkley, L. C., & Thisted, R. A. (2010). Perceived social isolation makes me sad: Five-year cross-lagged analyses of loneliness and depressive symptomatology in the Chicago Health, Aging, and Social Relations Study. Psychology and Aging, 25, 453– 463.

2) Assert Yourself! Module 1: What is Assertiveness? Centre for Clinical Interventions (CCI).

3) Sarkova, M., Bacikova‐Sleskova, M., Orosova, O., Madarasova Geckova, A., Katreniakova, Z., Klein, D., ... & Dijk, J. P. (2013). Associations between assertiveness, psychological well‐being, and self‐esteem in adolescents. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 43(1), 147-154.

4) Stake, J. E., DeVille, C. J., & Pennell, C. L. (1983). The effects of assertive training on the performance self-esteem of adolescent girls. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 12(5), 435-442. 

5) Reis, H. T., & Shaver, P. (1988). Intimacy as an interpersonal process. In S. Duck (Ed.), Handbook of personal relationships (pp. 367- 389). Chichester, England: Wiley.

6) Triandis, H. C. (1995). Individualism & collectivism. Westview press.

7) Assert Yourself! Module 4: How To Behave More Assertively. Centre for Clinical Interventions (CCI).