6 Holiday Boundaries To Help You Manage This Year’s Especially Tricky Season

Photo: Getty Images/Brothers91
The holiday season can at once be joyous, anxiety-inducing, and laden with grief. As we see the decorations going up, travel plans to see loved ones taking shape, and seasonal festivities ensuing, you may become flooded with warm feelings of excitement and joy. At the same time, the holiday season may come with a bit of apprehension for folks who gather with family members with whom their relationship is fraught or prone to tension. Both anticipating issues of such relationship conflicts and handling them productively in real time can be tough, but with holiday boundaries in place, you can be successful in the pursuit.

While it's entirely normal to experience an ebbing and flowing of different feelings and emotions around the holidays, knowing how to deal accordingly is key. Common issues related to family dynamics will likely emerge, and this year, too, pandemic concerns, as well. It’s important to remember that you are allowed to have boundaries in place to protect you from both of those potentially triggering issues.

3 holiday boundaries related to COVID-19.

As much as we may want to believe we are living in a post-pandemic world, that's simply not the case. And regardless of a person's vaccination status, the virus still poses a strong risk, especially if proper protocols are not followed. Knowing this, you may feel the need to cancel plans with or exclude people who are not vaccinated or otherwise don't comply with COVID-safety practices. Being forced to make these decisions to prioritize your health and that of others with whom you interact may open you up to a sense of guilt as well as grief.

Want more boundary-setting tips? Listen to the following episode of the Well+Good Podcast.

Ultimately, though, it is imperative that you do what makes you feel safe and grants you peace of mind. So when it comes to managing holiday boundaries related to pandemic, here are three tips to consider:

1. Mandate COVID testing for all visitors

Consider having those who are coming to your home to have a covid test in advance to eliminate the fear of spreading (and this goes for people who are vaccinated as well)

2. Shrink your gathering and offer virtual invitations to a wider circle

Consider selecting a few guests, versus the normal amount you would typically invite, and invite the remaining guests to join you virtually

3. Opt out

Consider your level of anxiety being around others during this time. If, on a one-to-10 scale, you feel you're at a five or below, you may be able to regulate yourself to be able to adjust to the environment. If you feel you're above a five, consider whether you actually want to attend the gathering or event in question. Certain behavioral choices may ease your stress—like wearing mask, washing your hands frequently, and limiting physical contact—but you may also consider whether you feel it's worth your stress to attend period.

3 holiday boundaries to protect yourself from people who trigger you

Holiday boundaries need not be limited to just issues related to COVID; it's also important to protect yourself from people who bring about difficult feelings in you, simply when you spend time with them. These people may have proven themselves to be difficult to be in a relationship with, or your feelings toward them may have changed and the relational dynamic is not the same. When it comes to navigating your boundaries, though, consider these three tips:

1. Identify "off the table" topics

What topics do I feel comfortable discussing, and what topics are strictly off the table? Responding to off-the-table topics can look like, “I don’t feel comfortable talking about my dating life right now. I would really appreciate it if you don’t ask again because I am not going to change my mind about discussing this.”

2. Tell someone when they cross your boundary

Sometimes people cross boundaries with attempts at humor or jokes that land as insensitive. When this happens, consider sharing the following response: “These jokes aren’t funny to me, I’d really appreciate it if you stopped making comments about this.” And if possible, do what you can to remove yourself from being in close proximity to this person.

3. Anticipate your mental-health needs

Let's say your in-laws flying into town and staying with you over the holidays. Consider how this may impact your mental health in advance, and plan accordingly. For instance, consider how long you have the capacity to entertain them as well as share the same space as them; decide whether you prefer they share your home or rent a hotel; and identify which topics have come up in the past that have been triggering and be prepared with a boundary-enforcing response should it happen again.

There is so much to consider during the holidays as we get ready to gather with people who we may have not been in close proximity to for quite some time now. It’s essential to remember that boundaries must be communicated, and sometimes you will have to share your boundary more than once to get the message across.

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