As much as we want to kick back and enjoy the season, often the holidays bring unwanted stress and frustration. Minimize that as much as possible by setting healthy holiday boundaries this holiday season.
It seems like this is such a “buzz word” these days. I honestly was only able to even define what the word meant this year.
But…they are so important. If you want to enjoy your holiday instead of feeling uber stressed out, some mindful, healthy, holiday boundaries might just be exactly what you need.
What are boundaries?
A boundary simply put is a rule. It’s a line you put in place to keep your mental health in check.
We all have boundaries that we don’t want crossed. Our boundaries probably revolve around personal space, around our time, around our money, around our family, around anything that we care about.
The problem is, many of us aren’t very good at defining our boundaries out loud so others know that we expect them to be respected.
An even BIGGER problem that so many of us have is that many of us don’t define our boundaries with ourselves, meaning that we make choices all the time that might provide immediate gratification, but leave us feeling more stressed, more tired, and more overwhelmed. This is especially true at this time of year when there is so much pressure to DO more and BUY more. It can feel exhausting and as though it never ends.
Why holiday boundaries are important
Let’s talk about it.
I’m going to illustrate the importance of holiday boundaries with a little story.
This year, my husband’s family put together a family trunk-or-treat for Halloween.
It was super fun. We had lunch and we all parked our cars and planned an activity, decorated our cars, and of course wore our halloween costumes.
The problem (at least for me) came in when they made it a contest.
Now there’s nothing wrong with a little healthy competition, but for me, competitions are rarely healthy.
At first I was really excited for the event, I bought all of our supplies and I was excited about our costumes.
But the event loomed closer and I still wasn’t ready. When we were within days of the trunk or treat I started staying up until midnight putting costumes together, it became all I had time for, my kids watched too much tv all while I put together the most perfect costumes and decorations.
By the time of the event I was exhausted. I couldn’t really enjoy myself because of all of the putting up and down and costuming.
My kids also didn’t really get the message that they were important and this was a fun family event, they got the message that the costumes and contest were the most important part, and that the family time came 2nd.
Now…I want to make one thing clear.
This wasn’t my family’s fault for putting together this event. They were doing something fun.
It was MY fault for allowing myself to get carried away and not keep things realistic for my life and my family. We could have absolutely put together simpler costumes and a simpler car. We may not have won any arbitrary awards (we didn’t win anyway even with all of the effort) but we could have had both fun family time AND completed the suggestions for the party.
This story really illustrates how easy it can be to get carried away during the holidays with supposed holiday fun that turns into holiday stress and overwhelm.
So what can you do differently so this doesn’t happen to you?
How do you go about setting boundaries?
Some boundaries would have gone a long way in keeping me from going overboard. I could have set boundaries on how long I had to spend on costumes. I could have purchased more costumes already completed instead of making them all. I could have required help from my family members and made it a family event.
But honestly, I was so caught up in the moment that I didn’t even realize I was going overboard until it was too late.
Don’t let my story be yours! Look at what boundaries you can set this holiday now even if you aren’t stressed out (yet!)
Let’s go through some steps for setting healthy boundaries.
- Be Present and mindful and reflect
- Often we don’t even notice that things are getting out of control around us. In fact, recently I had a friend correct my children for whining multiple times. At first I was a little embarassed and offended that she would do that, but looking back she was just protecting her own boundaries by asking to be talked to in a respectful way. I had become so numb to their whining that I didn’t even notice it was happening constantly. If you can take the time to be mindful and reflect you’ll start to notice the things that are causing you to feel stressed out, like things are chaotic or out of control, or making you crazy.
- Try to set boundaries with YOURSELF
- Boundaries are much more effective when you set them with yourself rather than other people. Take an example of a boundary that my daughter set with her little brother as I watched them play. He kept taking her toys and she said, Thomas, if you keep taking my toys I’m going to go play somewhere else and I won’t play with you anymore. She wasn’t rude, but she was firm and set an enforceable consequence. If she had simply said “Thomas, stop playing with my toys” or “I don’t want you to play with my toys” she would have likely been frustrated that he continued to break her boundary. This way, she had an escape if he continued and could keep her toys safe.
- Make your boundaries enforceable
- This is especially important when setting boundaries with other people. Let the person know the consequence of breaking your boundary. There’s no need to be rude, but you’ll both feel better knowing what’s going to happen if a particular boundary is crossed.
- Let go of FOMO
- One of the biggest challenges with setting holiday boundaries is the fear of missing out, you might know that you have too many activities scheduled, but one more would be so fun right?? Ther person who is most likely to break your boundaries is YOU. You are also the person who is going to feel the most disappointed when you have to make a decision to miss out. Your mom might be a little bummed or annoyed if you tell her you can’t make it over for the weekend, but you’ll probably feel gutted that you let her down and so sad that you aren’t going to be there. In times like this it’s important to remember WHY you set the boundaries, and maybe consider whether or not the slowing down is working and if you are feeling more peace.
- Find your why
- We already talked about the fact that everyone’s boundaries are going to be different. If you don’t have a good reason for setting a boundary, don’t. If you’re fine with your kids eating more sugar at Christmas, don’t make it a fight. Any boundary you set needs a good reason, and that will help you stick to it even when you’re feeling bad about missing a party or the like.
- Don’t try to set too many boundaries at once
- If you’re reading this and feeling like you need to tighten your boundaries life probably feels a little chaotic right now. That’s okay. But if you push back the other directions too hard and set so many boundaries that you can’t keep track of them or enforce them you’ll feel stressed in a different way. This is why that first step (the mindfulness step) is so important. This can help you to discover the things that are really making you feel stressed and out of control and focus on only those things. You’ll notice that once you get used to setting boundaries, it will become more natural and positive changes will kind of waterfall.
- Be compassionate, but re-commit
- If you are struggling to keep a boundary. Don’t stress. It means you are human. What it doesn’t mean is that you should give up. Be kind and gentle with yourself for crossing a line or breaking a boundary, but commit to keeping that boundary in the future.
- Get an accountability buddy
- If you find yourself struggling a lot with a given boundary and it’s important to you, find someone to help out. It can be someone in your house, or someone with a similar goal. Having someone to be accountable to can really skyrocket your success.
- Write your boundaries down or say them out loud
- This allows you to take responsibility for your boundary. It becomes an actual rule, not just something you wish would happen. It will also help you work towards if you can read it out loud.
Okay so now that we’ve gone over how you can set effective boundaries, let’s get more into holiday boundaries.
Because the holidays bring out the special holiday stress and anxiety, so why shouldn’t they require their own boundaries.
Areas to set boundaries around the holidays
Nothing ruins a holiday faster than someone (or you) talking about your latest diet or weight loss strategy around all of the delicious and indulgent holiday food. If you struggle with constantly bringing this up, make a rule that you won’t talk about food. If your family members constantly food shame or diet talk, politely set a boundary by changing the subject or politely asking that you talk about something different. If that’s not your jam, try simply leaving the room for a minute and return when the subject is more enjoyable.
In a season that’s supposed to be a season of giving, it seems like it is more and more about indulgence, comparison, and feeling the need to get it all done. So often we try to “fit in” all of the holiday traditions only to feel stressed, overwhelmed, and we probably have some cranky kids along with all of that.
Traditions are important though! Try sitting down with your family and deciding which traditions actually matter to you and which ones you’re willing to give up.
This year for Thanksgiving we had chicken instead of turkey because it’s easier and we like it better, and we ditched a bunch of sides we didn’t care about. We enjoyed the holiday MORE because mom wasn’t stuck in the kitchen stressed, and we honestly didn’t miss them!
I like me some christmas crack as much as the next person, and it’s very important to be very careful about what boundaries you set around food at Christmas Time so you don’t end up feeling guilty and deprived. Holiday foods are fun, and an important part of the season.
What’s not fun is feeling sick and sluggish because you aren’t fueling your body well.
Try not to moralize food choices, especially with your kids (and even yourself) but try to put a healthy limit on holiday treats. In my house, the boundary is that if it doesn’t taste amazing, I’m not eating it.
Does this mean that some cookies or other treats from well-meaninged neighbors might end up in the trash? Yup. You don’t have to feel guilty. You can still appreciate a gift and the thoughtfulness of a friend without eating something out of obligation or guilt.
(If it DOES taste amazing…I’m definitely eating it!)
Another idea is that you can freeze some of the treats for later. This is a win-win because you’ll have some treats to get you through the long winter and you won’t feel sluggish from sugar overload over the holidays either.
Social Media is last for a reason.
It’s because if you spend too much time on social media, you might just undo all of your other hard work setting holiday boundaries.
The message of social media is perfection. Perfect christmas cards, perfect holiday decor, perfect family traditions. No one posts the messes behind the scenes or the kid’s breakdown over wearing those christmas pajamas.
The boundary you set should be one that works for you. For me, social media is so enticing that I have to block the app on my phone with a password. Currently, I know the password and can type it in to work or post family photos, but I have a boundary that I don’t scroll.
You might wonder why you should have a password if you know what it is. It works for me because it makes me stop and think about whether or not social media is what I really want to be doing at a given moment. If I start to abuse the password, I’ll have my husband change it so I have even more accountability (remember getting an accountability buddy).
The point is, too much time on social media is a surefire way to compare your way through the holiday instead of enjoying it. Don’t let it happen!
Well, that’s it!
I hope these tips on setting boundaries, specifically around the holidays (those special holiday boundaries!) help you to feel more peace and less stress this holiday!
Happiest of holidays (and happy planning!)