Stressed About the Holidays? 5 Tips for Setting Holiday Boundaries

Wednesday, December 6 2023

The holidays are upon us, and with them comes the excitement of spending time with our friends and family. For many people, that’s a wonderful thing and something to look forward to every year. For others, coming together with family can be a stressful and anxiety-inducing experience. Read on to understand why it can be so stressful and what you can do to maintain your mental health and wellbeing during this hectic season.

Why the holidays can be stressful

It’s no surprise, the holidays are one of the busiest times of the year. Between planning festivities, gift giving, traveling, and other seasonal activities, it’s no wonder that it’s also one of the most stressful times. A poll from the American Psychiatric Association found that nearly 1 out of 3 people report being more stressed out and worry most about spending on holiday gifts. 

You may feel like holiday gatherings are an endless onslaught of intrusive questions. Or it’s a time for relatives to air a year’s worth of concerns and grievances. You may have to withstand a flood of comments about your looks, lifestyle, career, romantic life, and beliefs. These scenarios might sound all too familiar:

  • You’re at a family gathering and sensitive topics such as relationships, politics, religion, or identity come up
  • You’re making a holiday gift list and trying to balance what’s appropriate for gift giving and what you’re able to afford
  • You’re hosting and want to plan the perfect event (and manage your guest list)
  • You’re attending a holiday party and the pressure is on to make or bring an impressive holiday dish
  • You’re feeling isolated or lonely while it seems that everyone else is having fun
  • You’re missing friends and family members who have passed so the holidays aren’t the same without them

What’s important is that you maintain your mental health and wellbeing during this time. If you find yourself dreading this year’s family gathering, there are some things you can do to reduce the stress of the season. One of those things is to set boundaries. A boundary is a rule you create to protect your own mental health and wellbeing. A strong boundary can help set realistic limits in a relationship or activity with another person.

Five tips for setting holiday boundaries 

Here are five different reminders that can help you create your own boundaries, plan ahead, and overcome holiday stress. 

1. It’s okay not to share.

You have the right to privacy. Period.

If you’re a people-pleaser or someone who doesn’t like to rock the boat, it can be difficult to remember that you have the right to privacy. If someone’s comments or questions make you uncomfortable, you also have every right to voice that. 

You might try saying something like: 

  • “I appreciate you caring about me and my life, but this conversation makes me uncomfortable.”
  • “What you’ve just said has crossed a line. Can we avoid saying that going forward?”
  • “That is something I’m not ready to discuss at this time.” 

If you’re worried a family member will continue to intrude on your privacy, you can also try shifting the conversation to the things that are bringing you joy in the present moment. Is the food delicious? Are some of your family members super funny? Do you like the ambiance of the holidays in general? Changing the topic is another way to practice boundaries and help others respect your right to privacy. 

2. It’s okay to take a break and walk away. 

Sometimes, setting a boundary means not participating in a toxic or harmful conversation at all. If you have mustered the courage to speak up and feel your boundaries are not being respected, know that you can always walk away. 

Many of us are taught to nod and smile politely, even when uncomfortable, but we can also simply remove ourselves from those situations. If just walking away feels awkward, try:

  • Stepping away under the guise of a bathroom break or grabbing a drink or snack.
  • Excusing yourself for a short walk to get some fresh air.
  • Diverting the attention to a pet, child, or something going on in another room.

3. Switch up how you celebrate the holidays.

Hosting people during the holidays can be stressful in its own right, but sometimes switching up the location of the festivities can change the tone. Most people tend to mold themselves to the environment they’re in, even in subtle ways, so you may find it easier to uphold your boundaries when you’re in your own space.

If doing things “the usual way” doesn’t feel appropriate this year, you can also offer some alternative ideas:

  • Opt for a giftless gathering or a Secret Santa, where there is less pressure to exchange gifts.
  • Suggest a potluck, so the stress of home cooking doesn’t fall on one person.
  • Spend the holiday with a family member you don’t usually see, or visit your partner’s family instead. 

You can also remind your family that just because it’s different this year doesn’t mean it has to be that way next year. It’s okay to find a new way to celebrate the holidays each year.

4. It’s okay to say no.

You know yourself best. You know the boundaries you need to set, even if doing so feels painful or awkward. If you genuinely believe that holidays with your family are not right for you this year, know that there are other ways to celebrate. 

  • Do you have any friends with whom you can spend the holiday?
  • Are there any community events you can be a part of? 
  • Will a quiet evening at home be a better way to spend the time? 

You are free to do what makes sense for you. Remind your family that just because this is what you need this year doesn’t mean it has to be the same way in future years. It’s okay to say no when you need to.

5. It’s okay to let go. 

The truth is you can’t control other people. You can only control yourself. Spending the holidays trying to change others or hoping that things will be different this year will only set you up for frustration and disappointment. So take some time to figure out what makes sense for you and what personal boundaries you feel are most important to reinforce. It’s okay to let go of the past, your family’s expectations, or anything that harms your mental health. 

Take a deep breath. You’ve got this.

Manage stress and set boundaries with SonderMind

 If you need someone to talk to this holiday season, or any time, we’re here for you. SonderMind therapists are ready to listen to you and offer you the support and guidance to get through stressful situations. Just tell us a bit about yourself and what you’re looking for, and we’ll connect you with a therapist in your area who takes your insurance. Meet with a therapist today and learn the skills to manage expectations and set boundaries as you go into the holidays — skills that you can use year long in any situation.

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