Reduce Holiday Stress by Setting Strong Boundaries

For many, breaking the people-pleasing pattern and/or setting assertive boundaries may feel even more difficult to do during the holidays. This is a time in many families of great joy and positivity and can be tension-ridden and complicated for many as well.  You can simultaneously set boundaries and be loving, compassionate, and kind. You can sit with your loved one’s pain, hold space for their reaction, and reiterate how much they mean to you—all while making clear that your boundary is non-negotiable.  It takes a great deal of courage to speak up and alter old ways of relating to others, especially in your family.  Every time you set a boundary, you bring your outer world into alignment with your inner needs. It is a gift that only you can give yourself—and a gift unlike any other.

This holiday season, practice setting boundaries in your family to give yourself the gift of feeling joyful, peaceful, and empowered. Here are some common holiday scenarios in which boundaries might come in handy!

Example 1:  Its okay to turn down holiday invitations…

In some families, the holidays can bring forward familiar unpleasant family dynamics and unwanted stress and tension.  It can feel like a responsibility and not an intrinsic desire to accept these invitations.  In other cases, some people feel torn between who to spend the holiday with this year and so accept multiple invitations, especially in blended families and couples splitting the holidays with each family.    It can be tough to buck traditions that have been in your family for decades.  Sometimes finding the right language is the hardest part.

If applicable, try one of these!

-“I’m so grateful for the invitation.  We have put a lot of thought into our decision on how we plan to spend the holidays this year and we will not be able to make it.  We are hopeful that everyone enjoys the holiday together this year and we will be thinking about you all!”

-“We wont be able to make it this year and we’d love to plan a trip to visit you when the stresses of holiday travel have subsided!”

-“I’d like to see you all and am disappointed I can’t swing it this year.  I can understand that may be disappointed.  Thank you for wanting me/us to be there.  Lets see about making plans down the road.”

Example 2: It’s okay to need a break if you’re hosting!

Whether you’re hosting the extended family for one evening or hosting your kids for two weeks, you are offering your time, space, and energy in a big way.  It’s taxing for your nervous system and your body, and it’s okay to take a break.  “Taking a break” might mean spending a day by yourself, enjoying an afternoon nap, or outsourcing host responsibilities for an hour in the midst of the party.

Try these!

  • Get a clean-up committee in place before the party
  • Let your partner or a close friend know that you want to balance your responsibility as host with being present and enjoying the party and your guests; ask them if they wouldn’t mind taping in for an hour or so, so you can delegate some responsibilities to them and enjoy the party too.
  • If you are able to get the majority of things in place ahead of time, spend a day before your guests arrive doing things that fill your own bucket so you can head into that fully charged.

Example 3: It’s okay to need alone time if you’re visiting!

Visiting entails fewer responsibilities than hosting, but it’s not always a walk in the park.  As a visitor, you’re out of your comfort zone for a prolonged period of time.  You’re in a new environment, away from your routines and creature comforts.  Even if you haven’t seen the folks you’re mingling with in months or years, it’s perfectly normal to feel a need to take some time to be alone.

 

Try this!

“I feel a bit socially fatigued by the non-stop festivities.  I am going to take today to myself to rest and recharge and I look forward to jumping back into the activity tomorrow!”

Example 4: It’s okay to have boundaries with engaging in conversations that feel tense and unproductive!

 

Whether you have differing values and beliefs with someone in your family or a family member seems to get a kick out of instigating uncomfortable and provocative conversations, it can be tough to navigate.  If you are someone who has committed to speaking up to those with problematic and/or oppressive beliefs and behaviors, that is respectable and doing so does not mean that you can’t also set and hold boundaries.  This year, you don’t have to choose between entering a headed conversation or acting courteous in hopes the conversation with end quickly.  You can You can set a boundary that simultaneously models and protects your values and beliefs while limiting your involvement in unproductive conflict.  It’s also okay to choose the time that feels right for you to share your beliefs that differ from others and may lead to tension.  Alternately, it may not be emotionally safe in your family to share on the holidays.  Nobody but you can know what is right for you in these situations.

 

If this resonates, try one of these!

-“Some of the things you are sharing are hard for me to hear as my values and beliefs differ from yours.  I could be open to having a dialogue about this however I need the communication to be respectful and open-minded.  If one of us becomes uncomfortable, it may be best to push pause on this or discontinue the conversation.  Are you open to that?”

– “I feel uncomfortable when politics or polarizing topics are brought up over dinner.   I’d like to spend time with you and catch up however I am okay with stepping away for a bit for those who would like to finish the conversation.”

-“I am noticing we are moving into talk about things that might lead to some heated discussion.  I have a lot to say on the matter and also want to respect that other people may not feel comfortable talking about it over dinner.  Let’s sidebar about this later!”

Example 5: It’s okay not to be okay with your family’s dynamics.

Every member of every family change over time.  Habits or routines that you loved as a child might not feel comfortable as you get older.  Certain family tensions may have worsened as the years have passed.

Bottom line?

Just because you accepted these behaviors and dynamics before does not mean you need to accept them now.  By addressing these discomforts in a straightforward manner, you can give yourself the gift of prioritizing your own feelings and needs as this is something that we can balance out in adulthood.  Asserting yourself this way with family may lead to some turbulence now and can often result in them accepting and adjusting to your changes in the long run.

Try one of these!

  • “I know that I really enjoyed this tradition as a kid. There is something about it that I am less excited about this year so I am going to opt out.”
  • “I may not have expressed this before (or maybe I have…and am expressing it again) that I feel uncomfortable around (fill in the blank person). This year, when they are around, and… (fill-in-the-blank thing) happens, I am going to create some distance and space so that I can preserve my energy and enjoy my visit.  That may look like me taking a walk around the block and getting some air, requesting to be seated somewhere else for dinner if its near that person, respectfully disengaging from prolonged conversation, etc.”

If you are feeling that all-to-familiar pre-tension energy of the holidays approaching, we hope that these examples offer you some useful material to help you navigate the holidays in a way that may lead to more present and meaningful experiences for you.

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