How to Set Boundaries for Anxiety Relief

By Dr. Nicole Cain ND, MA

Q: Could you give us an overview of what anxiety is?

A: Anxiety is the body’s natural response to stress. It can be a feeling of tension in the body, like tight muscles, heaviness on the chest, a lump in your throat, or even restlessness. As the stress mounts, the feelings of anxiety increase.

One of the most common myths about anxiety is that someone does not have anxiety and that it’s stress. Stress transitions into anxiety when it becomes more persistent and not isolated to a specific situation or moment.


Q: How does not setting boundaries contribute to anxiety?

A: There are three key variables in someone developing anxiety, which I call the Cast of Characters, they are: Your psychological characters, your biological characters, and your social cast of characters.

Your psychological characters are the parts of you. Have you ever felt like part of you is sad, but maybe another part may feel relief? Or maybe part of you is in the mood for a taco for lunch, but another part is craving Italian? Research emerging from trauma-informed therapies like Ego State and Internal Family Systems has discovered that we all have different parts of ourselves. And for some, that part struggles with stress or anxiety.

Your biological characters refer to the physical variables in your body that contribute to anxiety. This may include hormones, neurotransmitters, diet, gut health, environmental toxins, genetics, and much more. Sometimes even though we know it’s not logical, our body may be experiencing anxiety. This is when it’s especially important to do medical testing in order to explore what biological characters might be in play.

Social characters are all about the people in our environment. Which brings us to your original question about boundaries. Think of social characters as your friends, family, neighbors, community, the government, your country, this planet and so forth. Have you ever felt like you were in a good place, and then you had a negative interaction with someone that totally threw you for a loop? This is the variable of the social character.

Interestingly, it has been suggested that if we want a snapshot of our well-being, to look at the five people we spend the most time with.

Boundaries can help us do an audit of those relationships and identify if they are moving us towards stress, or away. If we are not setting boundaries, characters that contribute to stress and anxiety can have full access to causing drama in our lives.


Q: What are some tools for setting boundaries?

A: My favorite tool for setting boundaries is called The House of Boundaries. I have used this exercise with hundreds of clients and even in my own life, and it’s a game-changer. To do this exercise you’ll need your imagination, a piece of paper and a writing utensil.

First, I want you to draw a house that has a front porch, a front door with a lock, a living room, kitchen and bedroom. You can put as much detail as you’d like into each room. The rooms of this house represent varying levels of intimacy, starting with the most general being the porch, a little deeper living room, deeper kitchen and the deepest intimacy is the bedroom.

Next, we are going to explore what each of these places means to you. I have general guidelines but it’s important to make sure it’s yours. Let me give you an example of the front porch: I like to describe this place as one where you can interact with people, greet them, say hello and exchange niceties. People who you may encounter on the porch may be the delivery person, a neighbor passing by, and anyone who does not have a key to your house.

Let’s talk about the key to the house. I like to think of it in terms of a CABLE, something that blocks the entrance to your house. This helps us remember the mnemonic C.A.B.L.E which stands for: Communication, Accountability, Boundaries, Listening, Empathy. These refer to the criteria a person must satisfy in order to even GET IN your house.

Next, let’s assess the people in your life, make a list on a separate sheet of paper. First ask yourself, does this person satisfy the CABLE criteria? Are they able to communicate their feelings well, or do they yell or stonewall or gaslight? Are they accountable for their actions and choices? Do they play the blame game? Do they pretend like nothing happened? Do they respect my boundaries or do they try to push their own agenda? Do they have boundaries of their own or is their house a free-for-all? Often, people who cannot respect their own boundaries, will struggle respecting yours. Ask yourself if they are able to listen to you. Like, really listen. With their eyes on you, their phones down, video games turned off, television turned off, and their attention to you. When they listen, are they hearing you or are they thinking of their next argument? If a person cannot listen to you, they do not satisfy the CABLE criteria to get into your house. And finally, are they empathetic towards you? I see people experiencing stress and anxiety when they are in relationships with people who are not empathetic for their needs.

If you can truly say yes to all of these criteria, after 1 month, you may let them in the living room. The living room is a little deeper. You can talk about preferences, activities, play games, share laughs.

Then after a month in the living room, they may graduate to the kitchen. The kitchen is a deeper room. Where you may discuss your true feelings about topics that may be a little more personal or even controversial. This is the room reserved for religion, politics and other hot topics. These people are those who you trust, who you know you can rely on, and who have stood the test of time in lifting you up and avoiding drama.

The last room is the bedroom. The bedroom is the most intimate room in your house. This room is reserved for only your deepest soul connection. This may be just you. Maybe your partner (not necessarily though!), maybe your pet, higher power. Sometimes no one else gets in your bedroom. It’s all a matter of your unique needs.

We talk about this extensively in the Anxiety Breakthrough Program and you can watch a free video on me teaching on this at my website. Simply go to DrNicoleCain.com and type “boundaries” into the search bar.


Q: How can listeners get involved in what Dr. Nicole Cain is up to?

A: We’re on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest. You’ll find a ton of free resources, videos, handouts, and a link to our different courses like the Anxiety Breakthrough Program, we have a course on Bipolar Disorder, Medication Tapering, a Gut Psychology course and others. Be sure to follow us on instagram @DrNicoleCain!


Q: Any last-minute tips for anxiety?

A: Sometimes stress is on the rise and we need solutions that work quickly but do not want to turn to addictive and habit-forming drugs that sedate us and crush our productivity. My favorite go-to is the tincture of Kava Kava. Kava Kava has been shown in the research to be as effective as some benzodiazepines (which are commonly used for anxiety and overwhelm) without the brain-sedating side effects. Kava Kava will help you feel less stressed, more relaxed, and keeps your brain nice and crisp so you can show up as your best self. You can find Kava Kava at your local health food store and it is fast-acting and pretty darn effective!


We go into SO MUCH MORE during this podcast interview that you won’t want to miss! Give the full episode a listen.

This article is for educational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. Whenever considering changing your protocol whether it includes a change of medications, supplements, diet or lifestyle, always speak with your primary care physician first. Dr. Nicole Cain consults with clients via telehealth and in person. Dr. Nicole Cain ND MA has helped countless people take back control of their lives, and she can help you. Learn more here: https://drnicolecain.com/getting-started and submit an application, to become a new client when you are ready.

Dr. Nicole Cain is an advocate for empowering people around the world to help themselves via her educational free resources, online courses, and membership group. You can receive the tools you need to find the root cause of your symptoms and feel healthy again.