Well folks, we are in that downswing after Halloween where the fall decorations stay up but the buzz starts to turn towards Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas shopping, and perhaps most importantly, holiday plans.
Maybe you’re a college student and are just trying to get through this semester much less think about holiday plans, or maybe you just lost a loved one and know that the holidays this year are going to feel heavy with grief. Perhaps your stomach turns at the thought of having to host or interact with certain family members, or yet you might be giddy with excitement over the joy that the holidays can bring.
Wherever you find yourself at the start of this season, it’s helpful to start thinking about boundaries that can maintain your mental health and stabilize relationships. The following are some ideas to get you started:
- Identify the stressors: Stressors can be as big as facing possible verbal or emotional abuse or as small as trying to figure out who will get a Christmas card from you this year. Maybe you’re dreading the barrage of personal questions that will fly your way from family members you haven’t seen in awhile, or perhaps you’re unsure how to say “no thank you” to the invites for plans that sound less than desirable. Being able to reflect on and identify what tends to cause you stress around this time of year is the first step in knowing where the boundaries need to be set.
- Reflect: Spend some time reflecting on why these stressors are, well, stressful! Ask yourself what it is about that particular person or situation that makes you uncomfortable. Maybe it’s a fear of confrontation, your people-pleasing nature, or a trigger that takes you back to a traumatic memory. Looking beneath the surface of the feelings and bodily sensations of stress can help you understand why the boundary needs to be set.
- Find support: If possible, try to talk through the boundaries you desire to set with your spouse/significant other, therapist, or a trusted friend. It can be extremely helpful to have a confidant and someone to encourage you as you navigate boundary setting. It might even be helpful to have someone to practice hard conversations with! It can help tremendously to have someone validate your feelings and give you the confidence boost you may need, because setting boundaries takes courage.
- Plan it out: Setting boundaries ahead of time can increase the likelihood that they will be maintained. It can be harder to stay firm on your boundaries if you’re put on the spot and don’t have a planned response or if others aren’t aware of your boundaries. Once you decide what boundaries need to be set, plan when and how you will go about the process.This can look like having a conversation with family members ahead of time that you can only visit for two days, that you won’t be drinking alcohol, or that your gift budget is a little tighter this year. Just remember, the important part of boundaries is that they are HEALTHY. Boundaries are not a scapegoat for you to avoid difficult things. Healthy boundaries should bring you closer to a state of healthy as well as potentially encourage healthy actions and behaviors in those around you.
- Have courage: Why does it take courage to set boundaries? It is human nature to desire peace with others and to be well liked. Therefore, anything that might threaten these things naturally causes fear or stress. It’s easy to jump to the worst conclusion and think “My boss is going to fire me if I ask for a few more days off,” or “They will exile me from the family if I tell them we can’t afford the travel to see them this year.” Whatever the outcome may be, it’s helpful to remember that you’re not in control of others’ reactions, but you are in control of how you communicate your intentions. It is worth weighing the potential fallout with the long term effect it will have on your mental health to not have the boundary at all.
If you feel like you need extra support this season, we encourage you to reach out and get set up with one of our clinicians! Email firstname.lastname@example.org to get started.
Peace and blessings,
The Made Well Center Family