November 16

Better Boundaries for Stress-Free Holidays

The holidays are here. In a few weeks, many of us will celebrate Thanksgiving. Many will travel to visit family, have guests in our home and spend hours cooking and baking. It’s a wonderful time of year followed by a flurry of other holidays right around the corner.

While the holidays are a time of joy and celebration, they can also be stressful.

Boundaries can help.

Better boundaries in many areas of life can help us enjoy more of the holiday season…and stress less.

Five key areas benefit from boundary setting and thoughtful planning: relationships, socializing, budgeting, health and boundaries themselves.

  1. Relationship & Family Boundaries

Whether it’s a close family member or a neighbor popping in with a plate of cookies, relationships play a key role in the holidays. Much of what we look forward involves time with family, friends and community. This time can both positive as well as challenging. Unresolved issues of the past may arise. Political tension can creep into conversations. Expectations of relationships can lead to disappointment.

Setting boundaries with relationships can help ease some of these challenges.

Relationship boundaries might include:

  • How often you choose to engage socially
  • How long you want to remain in a social situation
  • How long you choose to spend in a conversation (either in person or on the phone)
  • With whom you want to spend time (if there is a particular person who is challenging, you can choose to limit your time with that person)
  • Choosing how to schedule family time that feels fair AND feels manageable (visiting parents on different days or having family visit on opposite weekends, for example)
  • Choosing which questions you wish to answer or conversations you wish to have (you don’t have to explain to Aunt Nancy why you don’t have grandkids yet or if you can afford a cruise to Alaska next year)

Giving some thought to these (and other) boundaries before engaging with family or friends can make a big difference in how you experience the holidays. The holidays don’t have to feel like relationship overload!

  1. Social Event & Community Boundaries

The holidays often include a packed social calendar. Parties, gift-giving exchanges and community events are fun and festive. However, we can often feel overwhelmed by the amount of time and energy involved in holiday parties.

Setting boundaries can help you enjoy the events you truly wish to attend while letting go of the expectation of attending all events.

Social boundaries might include:

  • Choosing which events you want to attend
  • Saying ‘no’ to invitations that feel overwhelming or exhausting
  • Acknowledging the level of interaction you wish to have and honoring your personality (are you an introvert or extrovert? Do you like staying out late? Etc.)
  • Choosing which days/times you are free and which you need to keep blocked off for personal time
  • Exploring which events match your values and saying ‘no’ to events that don’t (if you don’t drink, for example, you may avoid a party at a bar)

By thinking about and making decisions early-on in the holiday season, you can avoid last-minute social engagement that may feel draining or stressful. You can choose, in your own time, which social events mean the most to you.

Boundaries allow us to live with more intention. Social events are a perfect example of the intersection between boundaries and purposeful connection.

  1. Budget Boundaries

The holidays, while fun, can be expensive. There are gifts to purchase. Travel can quickly become expensive. And the amount of food we buy for parties and gatherings can easily double over the holidays.

Setting budget boundaries allow you to make the most of your money and make wise decisions for your bottom line.

  • Budgeting boundaries might include:
  • Deciding how much money you can allot for various activities and purchases ahead of time
  • Be okay saying ‘no’ to events, travel or gift-giving parties if they’re too expensive (remember: no is a complete sentence!)
  • Making choices based on your values rather than what everyone else is doing (just because your Mom loves to throw a huge holiday party costing thousands of dollars doesn’t mean you have to)
  • Sticking to other boundaries, so you have the resources to spend wisely (don’t run yourself ragged so you have to purchase an expensive, pre-made meal, for example)
  • Taking time to pause, breathe and be mindful with your money, which is important year-round but particularly important for the holidays

Boundaries with money don’t limit our spending but, rather, make our spending more meaningful. With boundaries, we can budget for the things that matter and avoid draining our accounts keeping up with others, ignoring our personal values or hosting parties we don’t want to throw!

  1. Health & Wellness Boundaries

Our health and self-care often take a hit during the holidays. It’s a slippery slope. The decadent food looks so good. The cocktail is calling our name. The late night seems like a one-time thing. Inevitably, these small splurges add up. By the end of January, our healthy habits have gotten lost in the shuffle.

The key to truly enjoying the holidays is to feel good during them. Feeling good begins with our health. Setting boundaries with our health can help us truly engage and enjoy the time we have with loved ones and during such a festive time of year.

Health boundaries might include:

  • Boundaries with sleep and schedule (keeping routines isn’t rigid; it helps us function better overall)
  • Boundaries with alcohol consumption (setting a one-drink limit for a party or remembering to plan for a designated driver keeps everyone safe)
  • Being accountable to yourself for keeping up with exercise, healthy eating or getting to bed on time (don’t let others talk you out of what feels best for you)
  • Reminding yourself of the ‘why’ of remaining healthy and keeping healthy boundaries (I love feeling rested and energetic, for example, is why you want to get to bed on time and keep up with your morning walks)
  • Remembering that your mental health is as important as your physical health and set appropriate boundaries for your mental health care (meditation, exercise, mindfulness, reading, naps)

Boundaries help us take ownership of what matters to us. We get to choose how to spend our time, treat our bodies and engage with the world. Doing these things from a healthy perspective makes everything we love much more sustainable.

  1. Boundaries for our Boundaries

Boundaries are not meant to be rigid, immovable or harsh. Boundaries can be soft, hard or anywhere in between. You get to decide the boundary, and you get to set the limits (or open them up).

Boundaries work best when they’re responsive. This means they can be flexible when necessary or hard and firm at other times. You choose what works best for you.

Boundaries for better boundaries might include:

  • Revisiting boundaries from time to time to ensure they’re set appropriately (they might be too harsh or too soft)
  • Taking ownership of your boundaries – boundaries are meant to help you, not confine you Removing boundaries that don’t work or are outdated
  • Assessing boundaries and exploring new possibilities
  • Honoring boundaries in a way that feels authentic

When we remember that boundaries are set for our benefit and are not the masters we serve, boundaries are helpful and flexible.

The holidays will come and go. Whether or not we enjoy them, however, is within our control. Boundaries helps us engage in areas we truly wish to participate, avoid negative experiences and allow ourselves to be genuine and authentic.

Boundaries aren’t easy, but the alternative is often much harder. When we don’t have boundaries (or when our boundaries are weak or unhelpful), we often feel exhausted and resentful. The holidays aren’t meant for either of those feelings.

Enjoy the season by setting healthy boundaries. You will feel more engaged, excited and enthusiastic all year long!


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