The holidays are right around the corner, and as joyous as this time should be, it can be emotionally, physically, and psychologically taxing too. Am I right? As if shopping, decorating, cooking, tidying, and traveling aren’t enough, add on the expectations of family members and friends. No matter how caring they are, their requests and often, their demands can be the root of holiday overwhelm.
Boundaries come in all shapes and sizes, from saying “no, thank you” to a family invite to saying “yes” to another night of hosting guests in your home. It’s hard to shield yourself from these decisions when you’re in the middle of preparations. This is why it’s important to determine and enforce boundaries around your time, space, and energy before the holidays arrive.
How to Lower Holiday Stress By Setting Boundaries
As a parent, daughter-in-law, or sibling, you may feel obligated to offer your time, money, space, or limitless energy, or to follow traditions that have been bestowed upon you for years, perhaps even generations. Although your circumstances and family dynamics have changed, your expectations might remain the same, causing friction between what you want to do and what you’re expected to do.
This is otherwise known as people-pleasing.
Signs of people-pleasing are:
- Hating to let people down
- Feeling guilty when you take care of yourself
- Agreeing with others to keep the peace
- Feeling taken advantage of
- Saying “yes” even when you know you shouldn’t
It’s not in anyone’s best interest to feel this way, especially not yours. If you’ve ever wondered why you’re exhausted, overwhelmed, and impatient during and after the holidays, there’s a good chance your lack of boundaries may be the culprit.
Before we jump into how to take control of your expectations, here are a few important thoughts to keep in mind:
- People are not mind-readers. If you don’t let them know anything is wrong, they’ll think everything is alright. It’s up to you to communicate your boundaries.
- When you don’t set a boundary, you prioritize other people’s comfort over your own needs. You will never feel good about your results when your needs always take the backseat. Your happiness is just as valuable as anyone else’s. Valuing it is also a courageous way to role model for your children, family members, and friends.
- Honest conversations are difficult, not harmful. Other people may feel let down, surprised, or even hurt by your new boundaries, but setting these boundaries can ultimately be a source of growth.
Now that you’re on board with moving from people-pleasing to protecting your physical and emotional space, follow these three steps to create boundaries this holiday season.
Make a decision about your personal upgrade (aka your new boundary). It might be something like the following:
- There will be only two stops on Christmas for our family.
- Gift exchange will only be for the kiddos.
- We can host overnight guests for one-night stays only.
- Someone else can host this year.
- The kids will be perfectly happy with mac-n-cheese and don’t need five other dishes.
- No talk of politics at any meal.
- Thanksgiving dinner will be a potluck.
Making a pact with yourself about your new boundary is the first step to respecting your time and space and staying true to your goals and principles. If your goal is to spend as much time with your child who has a short stay home from college, perhaps you’ll only want to commit to one meal with the extended family and enjoy the rest of your time with your baby. (Yes, they’re always our babies!)
You may have some initial guilt standing by your priorities, but it’s better than the resentment you’ll experience after pushing them to the side to live up to the expectations of others. You know how empowering decision-making feels, and standing by your choice boosts your confidence to make other difficult choices in the future.
Defining your boundary is a great first step, but it doesn’t hold any weight until you can clearly communicate it to others. I’ve found that the earlier and more often you express your boundary, the fewer objections there will be. For instance, changing a mealtime from 6 p.m. to 3 p.m. to avoid your child’s meltdown is not unreasonable. However, it can seem disrespectful of other people’s schedules when it’s announced at the last minute.
How do we communicate our new boundaries? Lucky for us, we have a slew of communication tools like email, text, and even a good old-fashioned phone call.
The key is to not be wishy-washy when expressing your needs. Don’t leave any room for misinterpretation. If you want to announce that Thanksgiving will be a potluck this year, send an email with exactly that sentiment. Let your family know you love the holidays but also want to lower your stress and you’d really appreciate their help. Then, direct them on how to volunteer for specific dishes (try a method like SignUp Genius, a free resource for digital sign-up forms) and highlight a deadline to commit. A little explanation and a lot of straightforwardness will go a long way in respectfully sharing your new expectations — and keeping you from drowning in overwhelm, yet again.
You didn’t get this far to be a pushover. Deciding and announcing a boundary is meaningless without reinforcement. You’ll continue to be taken advantage of and feel resentful if you allow other people to claim your time, space, and emotions. I know this can be particularly difficult when it comes to relationships with family members. I get it. But we teach people how to treat us. If you respect your decisions, well, they will start respecting your decisions.
I also acknowledge that sometimes, no matter how firmly you hold to your boundary, others will be unwilling to change. Perhaps you express that your cousin’s toxic behavior is no longer acceptable, but he continues to show up the same way. Maybe you explain you’re no longer willing to host the annual holiday party, but nobody else steps up to volunteer. You can’t change other people, nor should you try. You only have control over your own reactions and behavior. When you stand true to your ground, you will eventually get comfortable with the discomfort.
In short, holiday-season boundaries are the limits and rules we set for ourselves within relationships, which makes them especially difficult to reinforce with loved ones. But good boundaries are a sign of emotional health, self-respect, and strength. Set high standards for those you surround yourself with. Make a commitment to yourself to put your own identity, needs, feelings, and goals first. The holidays should be a time for joy, not stress, and you really do have the power to make it that way. So, what new boundary will you decide, announce, and enforce?
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