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Setting Healthy Boundaries Around the Holidays

Setting Healthy Boundaries Around the Holidays

This time of year like the carol says, can be the most wonderful time of the year. However it can also be the most stressful time of the year, but I can see how that would not make for a good song. Nevertheless, this time of year can be extremely stressful when it comes to family, and extended family gatherings. Throw in the wonders of an election year and the dinner table can get pretty tense. Whether your stress comes from trying to avoid a certain conversation or trying to survive several days without getting in a heated argument or losing your sanity, here are four tips for setting healthy boundaries around the holidays, and life in general.

1. Time

Spending time with family can be wonderful, and/or it can be stressful, and that is why it is important to know your limit. Whether it is 3 hours or three days know how much time you can spend in those situations before committing to how long you are going to stay for the holidays. If being with your family makes you uncomfortable or stressed out after half a day, then plan accordingly.

Adjusting time can be hard for people because of “how it has always been done”, but if the status quo has consistently caused you stress and frustration over the year, then it might be time to act in the best interest of your own mental health. Making your mental health a priority by setting boundaries around time might mean showing up a day later or leaving a day early. It might even mean taking a separate car than your significant other or family member you usually carpool with. Whatever it is, know your limit and schedule around it.

2. Topics of Conversation

Some spend their time at the dinner table quietly whispering “please don’t mention politics, anything but politics.” Especially if they are sitting next to their racist uncle who is the self proclaimed most open minded person he knows.

Whether it is politics, career choice, family members, questions of when you will be having kids, telling you how to raise your kids, or any other of those fun topics that make you consider faking sick or doing a destination holiday, it’s important to know what they are and how to avoid them. Finding ways to graciously change the subject, or address the fact that you would rather not talk about it can be difficult, but it is also necessary. So before going into a possible holiday war zone remind yourself of the topics you are going to stay clear of and how you plan to do so. If you are in a relationship practicing with your partner can be a great way to prepare yourself. Good luck.

3. Space

Even when visiting for the holidays, it is okay to find time and space for yourself. Holidays can be loud, whether it’s kids running around or grandpa after he has put too much rum in his eggnog. If the holiday environment is starting to make you feel uncomfortable and stressed it might be time to sneak out for a walk, go for a drive, or hide in an empty room to read a book. You can also get a hotel or stay somewhere else. Knowing it is okay to stay somewhere else or take a break and retreat can remove a lot of holiday anxiety.  

Space

4. Emotional

This time of year it can be hard to rejoice when you have family members who always find ways to make you feel bad, or add more drama to your life then you ever wanted. It could be bringing you into the middle of a family feud, guilt tripping you (maybe for even setting healthy boundaries), being passive aggressive, or a variety of other things. Doing the previous steps can help limit a lot of these things, but if you feel like the holidays have consistently taken an emotional toll then it might be time to talk to the person and set the expectations you have for this holiday season and for years to come. Speaking up and saying “I would appreciate it if we didn’t talk about this…” could save you from future headaches and hurt feelings.

Conclusion

Setting healthy boundaries can be hard because people’s feelings can get hurt in the process. When setting boundaries sometimes it is important to talk with the person about what is going on. Try to make it about you and not them, and let them know that you care for them and that you are doing what is best for your health. If they continue to break your boundaries sometimes it is best to explain to them why you are setting the boundaries.

Setting healthy boundaries means being respectful and letting them know how their choices will impact the relationship. They are not meant to be done in a way that makes them feel bad. Instead you are setting the expectation and hoping they respect it. Sometimes family members will even brainstorm with you about how to handle things or how you can assist them when they fall into old patterns. Having a conversation with family members and setting healthy boundaries will help reduce your stress, and maybe even make it the most wonderful time of the year.

  VERIFIED EXPERT
Phillip is a licensed marriage and family therapist. He helps people struggling with anxiety, stress and depression. He supports adults, teenagers, couples and families in overcoming unhealthy cycles, negative self-perceptions, and generational habits that get in the way of happiness. He has a Master’s degree from Seattle Pacific University. He loves to read, write and travel.
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