How To Ensure You Don't Overcommit Yourself With Your Loved Ones

We all know how difficult it can be to see a loved one struggle, even if we can't completely imagine ourselves in their shoes. Whether it's someone you've known your entire life or a new friend, it can be challenging to watch a person go through a period of turmoil. However, more people go through severe periods of stress than you might think, and you may even be one of them.

According to the American Institute of Stress, approximately 55% of Americans report feeling stress at some point each day. Furthermore, 57% of Americans claim that their stress causes them to feel paralyzed. Unfortunately, there are several reasons why people experience these intense, negative emotions. For example, a survey conducted by the American Psychological Association in 2020 found that 64% of adults in the U.S. cite money as a significant source of stress. Furthermore, nearly 33% claimed discrimination was a key source of the stress they face.

However, the unpredictability of life can also wear on people. Everything from divorce to death can wreak havoc on the mental health of you and the people you love. That being said, it's natural to want to lend a helping hand to those in need, but overcommitting yourself can quickly result in burnout. Here is what to know about protecting your well-being while doing your best to help the people you care about most.

How to recognize overcommitment

In order to ensure that you don't accidentally overcommit yourself while helping loved ones, it's important to understand what overcommitment actually looks like. While it can be a good thing to be motivated, your motivation can quickly spiral into an endless list of self-made responsibilities. Before you know it, you could be headed toward major burnout.

One of the first signs of overcommitting yourself is that obligations begin to slip through the cracks. For example, if you find it challenging to remember important daily tasks — or even set up reminders to complete them — you may already be stretched to your limit. Another sign of being overcommitted is that you start to exhibit physical signs of exhaustion. This is likely because you're expending all of your energy on crossing everything off of your to-do list, which may be impossible. Some refer to this as adrenal fatigue, which is when the body's adrenal system begins to suffer under the pressure. The body also starts to produce more stress hormones to help you cope with feelings of anxiety, ultimately raising inflammation.

The consequences of burnout can have a lasting impact on your health, aside from the initial fatigue you may experience. Depression, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, sleep issues, and inflammatory diseases can all develop from overcommitment.

Learning how to say no when you're overwhelmed

When a loved one is going through a difficult situation, it can be agonizing to watch. However, it's important to understand that there is a limit to how much you can help without sacrificing your own well-being. To ensure you don't overcommit in even the direst situations, you can learn different ways to politely say no — and saying no doesn't necessarily mean you're going to offend your loved ones.

One way to practice saying no to avoid overcommitment is to do just that — rehearse what you're going to say beforehand. This can be particularly helpful if you know you're going to have to do the deed in person. Ask a friend or family member to help you practice. Another helpful tip to keep in mind is that you don't have to provide a reason why you can't accept a person's request. In fact, that could potentially open the door for the person to begin offering alternatives, ultimately making it more difficult to say no.

If you're in a situation where you have to say no, but you know that you may have time to do the favor in the future, suggest an alternative that works within your schedule. However, don't rush yourself into making a decision, especially if you're already experiencing signs of burnout.

Addressing unrealistic self-expectations

Part of why many people find themselves overcommitted to loved ones is because of expectations. For instance, it's easy to assume that a good friend would do anything for you in your time of need. As a result, you might feel guilty if you don't rise to the occasion, but this level of expectation may be unrealistic. Furthermore, they may have been subconsciously created by you, resulting in unnecessary pressure.

One way to avoid any guilt is to acknowledge the expectations you have early on. While a loved one may expect some sympathy during a difficult time, they likely aren't going to assume you'll drop everything for weeks on end. Examining what you expect of yourself can also help you better understand your own wants and needs. Another crucial step you'll want to take is to assess what you've already done for the person in need. For example, did you fulfill any of their personal requests? Did you help out with smaller tasks that matter most to them? This might be all they actually expected and wanted from you as a friend, partner, or family member.

If it seems like your loved one expected more or had unrealistic expectations of you, try not to feel guilty. Instead, use it as an opportunity to discuss your relationship and expectations in the future.

Identifying signs of manipulation and toxic relationships

Many people have adopted the habit of saying "yes" to their loved ones during difficult moments and have done so for much of their lives. Unfortunately, some people become blind to the toxicity of unhealthy relationships as a result. For this reason, it's important to be able to recognize when a loved one genuinely needs your help and when someone is taking advantage of your kindness.

One easy-to-recognize sign is that your loved one continuously disrespects your boundaries. For example, if they reject your attempts to say no when you're overcommitted, they may not have your best interests in mind. Another sign you might see from your loved one is guilt-tripping. It's easy to excuse this when a person is going through a challenging time and accept the guilt trip. However, it's critical to look out for signs of manipulation.

If you think that your relationship with your loved one may be toxic, it's best to step away. Depending on the situation, you may not need to end it while the person is going through a tough time. However, you can still plan out how you'll do it when the time is right. Be honest, concise, and informative about your decision.

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.

Creating healthy boundaries with loved ones

A large part of avoiding overcommitment involves the development of boundaries. As many people with strong boundaries will tell you, it's not always easy or pleasant to create them. However, they may be necessary for you to protect your own well-being, especially if you know you're prone to overcommitment.

When you're ready to try setting some boundaries, take a step back and identify the causes of unnecessary stress in your life. Similarly, assess what brings you joy and compare it to what (or even who) creates dread. Once you have an understanding of your own wants and needs, you can develop effective boundaries. In turn, you'll be in a better position to avoid overcommitment, and feel more empowered to say no when necessary.

Once you have boundaries in place, it's just as important to communicate them to your loved ones. This can help them understand how much support you can realistically provide, especially in times of need. Think assertiveness — not aggressiveness — when you inform a person about your boundaries and why they exist. Finally, be sure to stick to your boundaries, even if you're made to feel guilty or selfish. A loved one who has respect for you and your well-being should be more than willing to step back when asked.