Setting Healthy Boundaries During the Holiday Season

As 2020 comes to a close, it’s normal to feel anxious about the holiday season. Holidays may look different for many of us because of COVID-19. There may also be heightened tension because of election results or conflicting political views amongst family members. During this time, there are more demands on us – our energy, time, emotions and finances – and we must prioritize how we are going to spend those resources in a way that makes sense to us.

Whether you’re having virtual or in-person celebrations with loved ones, it’s important to remember to set healthy boundaries. Let’s talk about what those could look like.

Allow yourself to grieve the loss of normalcy this year. It may feel difficult to look back on memories from 2019 and beyond and feel a sense of loss, including loss of financial stability, connection, routine or vacations. We often use the phrase, “Name it to tame it” in our work, which comes from Dr. Dan Siegel’s book, The Whole-Brain Child. That feeling of loss and sadness is grief. The world has changed so much in these past 10 months. Many of us feel unsafe, angry and in a state of limbo – and that’s okay. Additionally, we are certainly allowed to feel more than one emotion at once. It’s okay to be happy and excited about something, while also feeling a sense of exhaustion and worry/fear.

Set time limits. Even though Hallmark movies paint the holidays as happy-go-lucky and joyful, for many of us, that simply is not the case. Spending time with certain family members or loved ones can feel uncomfortable or mentally taxing. Honor yourself by limiting the amount of time you spend there, either virtually or in person.

Try to say “yes” because you want to, not because you feel guilty. There are extra demands on our time and energy during the holidays such as shopping, wrapping, cooking, entertaining, religious services, volunteering and more. It’s important to be aware of commitment and energy levels. Taking on too much makes us feel overwhelmed or anxious. Try to remember that we all have a limited amount of time each day. When you say “yes” to one person, you may be saying “no” to something important to you, such as sleep or exercise. Remember to prioritize things that make you happy, too!  Say “yes” to some rest, relaxation and things that restore your energy levels.

Limit time on social media. Social media can be a great way to connect. However, social media typically only features highlight reels. Scrolling through stories or posts that seem “perfect” may cause a feeling of depression or hopelessness, especially for those who are isolated because of the coronavirus.

Identify strategies for mindfulness. Mindfulness is defined as “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.” How do you remain present when you’re feeling overwhelmed? Mindfulness practices look different for everyone, so it’s important to try different techniques to understand what’s best for you. Some people turn to breathing exercises or meditation to ease anxiety; others seek outdoor activities to stay grounded. Mindful strategies can help us understand signals from our brains and bodies without distraction so we can stay calm.

We all deserve a healthy holiday season. Taking proactive steps to set boundaries with others, and with yourself, can make all the difference.

If you know someone who is struggling with depression, anxiety or suicidal thoughts, 24/7 support is available from the Crisis Text Line. Anyone can text “HOME” to 741741 to connect with trained counselor. Additionally, Lifeline Chat, a service of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, connects individuals with counselors 24/7 for emotional support and other services:


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