Navigating the Holidays While Holding Boundaries (yes, it IS possible!)
by Erin Thiemann, LMHC
Holidays are often portrayed as a time of joy, togetherness, and celebration, but they can also be a season of unrealistic expectations, increased stress, and disappointing interactions with friends and family. Boundaries can be the key ingredient to maintaining your wellbeing and enjoying the season.
The Pressure of Expectations
Boundary setting starts with becoming aware of the expectations others and perhaps yourself are holding…extravagant gift giving (the lists are endless!), attending numerous gatherings (why are they all at the same time?), engaging in uncomfortable conversations (politics, religion, body image, oh my!), and finally documenting the joy on social media (can I just get one picture with everyone smiling?).
Maybe your are entering the holiday season motivated and optimistic that you can accomplish it all. Or maybe you are already dreading the impending commitments. Regardless, there will most likely come a time during the season when the pressure and stress creep in. When that happens, sometimes we turn inward, judging our own abilities harshly. But often, we are striving to meet unrealistic expecations.
Before trying to meet those sneaky, unattainable expectations, reflect on your own needs and priorities. What will bring me joy? What gatherings will be fulfilling? Are there events I feel obligated to attend? Knowing these answers can give you a framework for prioritization, making the holidays more meaningful and less stressful.
Communicating Boundaries Effectively
Communicating boundaries to both yourself and others is key. Being concise and respectful when communicating your limits matters. Boundaries state what you are (and are NOT) okay with, as well as what you will do if these limits are not respected. Boundaries may sound like this:
- “Unfortunately, we will not be able to attend your gathering this year. Thank you for the invitation.”
- “I am focusing on body neutrality and it’s very important to me to not speak about diet culture or to comment on other’s bodies.”
- “I would love to attend the party, and I will not be participating in the gift exchange.”
- “I do not have the capacity to host the holiday party this year.”
- “I am uncomfortable speaking on this topic.”
Setting boundaries can be uncomfortable; others may not respect them or even view them as attacks. It is important to maintain your boundaries by following through if they are crossed. This could mean you leave a gathering or remove yourself from an unhealthy topic of conversation. Boundaries preserve relationships. They are not meant to be punitive. Often, it’s preferable to annoy someone with a boundary than to lose your cool during a gathering, possibly creating long-term impacts on relationships.
Embracing Self-Care & Your Personal Values
Some of the most important boundaries you set this season will be with yourself. Setting boundaries can help mitigate symptoms like sadness or loneliness, as well as allowing you to recognize when additional support is needed.
Boundaries for ourselves may sound like:
- I will limit my social media usage and screen time (social media and the comparisons it can inspire often lead to feelings of inadequacy and missing out)
- I do not need to buy gifts beyond my budget, as my financial peace is valuable to me
- My kids will enjoy the holidays even on a budget
- I can say no
- I do not need to justify my boundaries to anyone
- I do not need to diet for the holidays because others will be seeing me
- I will not avoid gatherings I want to attend because of my body image
- I will not ignore my own feelings or mental health
- I will allow time for me and my own needs
Setting boundaries during the holidays is ultimately about reinforcing your personal values. Whether it’s spending quality time with loved ones, embracing simplicity, or prioritizing gratitude, aligning your actions with your values allows for a more authentic and fulfilling holiday experience. Boundaries can help create a gift of peace for yourself this holiday season.