Setting Boundaries During the Holidays

I am taking a break from the Happiness Habits series to do a timely post on boundaries and the holidays. As the hustle and bustle of this season is upon us, it is important to take care of ourselves so that we don’t end up feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, and resentful – which prevents us from enjoying any aspect of the season.  

 The Hallmark and media version of the holidays sell an experience of happy family time, perfectly decorated homes, matching family pajamas, quality home-cooking, love, and joy. For most people, the reality is far from this due to family circumstances.  Or they spend tremendous amounts of energy trying to create all of that - create the Instagram-worthy images - which leads to exhaustion and a miserable season.

During the holidays, there are more demands on us – our time, our finances, our emotions – and we have to prioritize how we are going to spend those resources to maximize our experience.  Boundaries – the invisible dividing line of what is and is not ok – help us focus on the real meaning of the season (gratitude, spiritual traditions, togetherness) and protect us during this time of increased demands.

 Here are 5 tips on setting boundaries during the holidays:

 1. Know thyself.

Spend some time reflecting on what you want to get out of this season.  What meaning does it have for you and how are you going to experience it?  What brings you joy?  List the people you really want to spend time with or the events you want to attend. Spend time each day to tune into yourself, identify your thoughts and feelings and you will be able to identify the things you want to say “yes” and “no” to. These may be people, events, or expectations.   Gaining a clear sense of what you want will help you be more assertive with others and then your needs are more likely to be met. You are less likely to end up at your Great Aunt Edna’s Christmas party where you’ll be miserable just because you “can’t say no.” 

2. Honor your needs.

For many, the holiday season brings up a sense of grief and loss.  It may be a recent loss or it may have been 15 years ago. It is normal to feel sad about those we’ve lost who used to be part of traditions or who were there for us during difficult times.  If you know that going to an event or a certain party will feel emotionally taxing, then honor your needs to either opt out completely or limit the amount of time you spend there. Make sure to feel your feelings and honor your need to either be around people or to be alone.  

3. Learn to say “No.”

Saying no and knowing your limits is not selfish, it is an act of love towards yourself (and sometimes others).  Often saying yes out of fear of making someone mad or being upset with you leads to not being able to give the best version of yourself.  People may be disappointed if you say no and that’s ok. Their disappointed emotions are giving them information and it’s ok for them to feel that – you don’t need to rescue them or prevent those feelings.  If you do, internally you’ll feel angry, resentful, used, etc., and the quality of the time you spend with that person will diminish.  

No doesn’t have to be a long-winded explanation with lots of justifications (that is our issue of feeling as though we need to have valid reasons or justifications to say no). A simple “Thank you for the invitation, but I am unable to attend” will suffice. “My time is accounted for.” “I’m not available.” Or simply, “No.” – it’s a complete sentence. If someone takes no personally, it isn’t you, it’s them.  Being able to say no actually earns respect from others.  

4. Simplify.

Pare down the number of events you attend.  Simplify the decorations.  Pick a few quality dishes to cook that everyone will enjoy rather than break your back and bank to cook 20.  Have a potluck or order some food.  Do you need to get the perfect outfit for every occasion or matching holiday pajamas? (If you want matching pajamas, ask yourself if it is about creating a tradition for your family or for your social media posts to curate an image of what you want other people to think about you). Give those teachers gift cards rather than feel pressured to do a Pinterest craft.  Simplifying will reduce stress and allow you to be present and enjoy the moment. Let go of the expectations of the Hallmark holiday and give yourself permission to have whatever experience you are having.

5.  Take care of yourself.

Prioritizing taking care of yourself will allow you to show up for others in the way you want to this season.  Attend the gym classes, carve out time to rest, get the mani/pedi, eat healthy, call a friend, read a book, spend time outside, stop for a coffee treat, etc.  It is even more important during a season of high demands to take care of yourself to reduce exhaustion, stress, and emotional vulnerability.  


Don’t forget to slow down to be mindful and present during this season.  If you’re too caught up in making sure everything is perfect, you’re going to miss soaking in the joy and elation on your kids’ faces as they open presents, or savoring the taste of a hot chocolate, or enjoying the time and company of friends and family…… or even forgetting to reflect upon why the holidays are here in the first place. 

If you need some help in learning how to set boundaries during this holiday season, or any time of the year, email me and set up an appointment and let’s work on this important skill!