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. 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.
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.
Here are five different reminders that can help you create your own boundaries, plan ahead, and overcome holiday stress.
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.
It’s okay to 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.
It’s okay to find a new way to spend 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.
It’s okay to just 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.
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.