How to set boundaries for a healthy holiday season with loved ones

Holidays provide a great opportunity to connect and spend time with your loved ones. But if you’re the kind of person who struggles to set healthy boundaries, all that quality time with your nearest and dearest can feel stressful and overwhelming.

Setting boundaries with your friends, family, and loved ones is essential if you want to come out of the holiday season feeling happy, healthy, and sane. But how, exactly, do you do that?

What are healthy boundaries—and why are they so important during the holiday season?

“Healthy boundaries are limits or rules that people set to maintain their physical and mental health,” says Christine Papa, licensed clinical social worker, certified health and wellness coach, and founder of Living Openhearted Therapy + Wellness.

Not only do healthy boundaries help you maintain your physical and mental health, but when you’re clear about them, it can lead to better, healthier relationships. “The goal with boundaries is to create more peace in our relationship by honoring what we need—and clearly communicating those needs,” says Houston-based psychotherapist Abby Wilson.

“When we respect our boundaries, we’re setting the stage for the best possible outcome,” says Randy Buckley, creator of the online course Healthy Boundaries for Kinder People. “We eliminate a lot of guessing games, mind-reading, guessing and boredom.”

And while setting them for yourself and your relationship is important year-round, it’s especially important during the holiday season, when not only are stress and emotions high, but when you typically spend more time with the people you love—which brings more opportunities for conflict.

“The holidays are usually a time when emotions run high,” says Wilson. “We may be in a more emotionally disturbed state…so we need to be able to communicate our boundaries to maintain a more balanced level, to take care of ourselves during the holidays.”

“The holidays usually bring certain traditions and expectations from loved ones, which add another layer of complexity and difficulty to setting and maintaining healthy boundaries,” says Papa. “Also, we tend to have increased family gatherings and as a result have more opportunities to have our boundaries pushed by others.”

Set your boundaries before the vacation starts…

“Decide in advance what you want your borders to look like this holiday season,” says Dad.

“Think ahead of time about what you might need to feel more balanced,” says Wilson. “[For example], do you do well with alone time? Would you do better with more structure? Do you want to limit your alcohol consumption? Think about what you might need so you can go into the situation with clarity.”

Defining what “healthy boundaries” mean to you before the holiday season really begins will give you time to think about how you want to communicate those boundaries—and how you want to maintain them.

…and communicate those boundaries in advance

Once you know the boundaries you want to set for the holiday (for example, you won’t buy anyone a gift, you’re limiting the number of social gatherings you attend, or you’re saving Christmas Eve for immediate family members), be sure to keep your loved ones in the loop. .

“Everyone appreciates a heads-up — and they especially appreciate it when it’s communicated respectfully,” Buckley says. “Advance notice will help people adjust their expectations and plans.”

In addition to communicating your boundaries in advance, you also want to think about how you decide to communicate those boundaries “We tend to either under-communicate our boundaries or over-communicate them in a way that feels overwhelming,” says Buckley. “It’s often fear of offending, hurt feelings, thinking they won’t understand or lacking communication skills.”

But there’s no need to overcomplicate things! “Be direct and remind yourself that you don’t have to apologize for setting a boundary,” says Wilson.

Reframe to see how you set the border

If you feel stressed or anxious about setting boundaries with your loved ones during the holidays, it may be because you see them as a bad thing. But the truth is, they’re not “punishment — for themselves or others,” Buckley says.

Instead, try reframing how you think about them—and frame them as acts of love (or, depending on the holiday theme, you’re gifting to your friends and family). “When we establish and cultivate our boundaries with loved ones, we’re basically saying, ‘Hey, I want to experience and be the best version of myself possible, and these boundaries support and nurture that,'” says Buckley. “They serve as a guide for everyone, including you, to achieve the best possible outcome. When we realize that boundaries are an act of kindness, they also become a gift.”

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