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How Setting Boundaries During the Holidays Protects Our Mental Health

How Setting Boundaries During the Holidays Protects Our Mental Health

The holiday season doesn’t always feel the way it’s depicted in Hallmark movies. This time of year demands more of us: our time, finances, and emotions. There’s a whirlwind of feelings one can experience during the holidays that are less than cheerful (and that’s okay).

For some, the hustle and bustle of the holiday season cause stress. For others, attempting to create a picturesque holiday leads to exhaustion or overwhelm. And for many, the loss of a loved one or past trauma becomes amplified during the holidays.

It becomes especially important this time of year to understand coping mechanisms for the feelings that can arise. Setting boundaries are a great place to start. Here’s why.

What Does It Mean to Set Boundaries?

Boundaries are the invisible line we set between what’s okay and what’s not. They represent physical and emotional limits that you don’t want other people to cross. You can also set boundaries with yourself by making commitments and honoring them, such as how you’ll spend your time or habits you’ll work on.

Boundaries are important because they protect us, help us feel safe in relationships, and teach others in our world how to interact with us. We set boundaries to protect our mental health and to show up as the best version of ourselves because we’re actively taking care of our own needs.

Depending on your needs this holiday season, here are a few boundaries to think about.

Boundary #1: Simplify Your Holiday Season

If the holidays overwhelm you, attempt to simplify your experiences this year. Pare down the number of events you’ll attend ahead of time or set boundaries around how long you’ll stay. Simplify your decorations. Pick one or two dishes to cook that everyone will enjoy rather than committing to a full holiday spread. Better yet, have a potluck or order some food for guests.

When it comes to gifts, it’s okay to opt for gift cards for some of those hard-to-shop-for friends or family members. At the end of the day, the holidays are about gratitude and spending time with our loved ones. If you can simplify a few things to conserve your energy, you will show up happier and have more energy to spend connecting with family and friends.

Boundary #2: Give Yourself the Space You Need

For many, the holiday season brings feelings of grief and loss to the surface. Whether the loss occurred this year or 20 years ago, it is normal to feel sad about those we’ve lost who used to be part of traditions or who were there for us during difficult times.

If you know that going to an event or a certain party will feel emotionally taxing, then honor your needs to either opt-out completely or limit the amount of time you spend there. Make sure to feel your feelings and honor your need to either be around people or to be alone. If the holidays trigger you into depression, you may also consider talking to a therapist this time of year to help process your feelings.

Boundary 3: Don’t Pick Up Conflict, Don’t Unpack Conflict

Turkey, potatoes, and stuffing are fine, but a big way to protect your mental health is to keep hot-button topics off the table. Don’t even unpack them. A boundary you can set with your guests is making a ground rule that you will not discuss topics like politics or religion.

If someone starts a conversation leading down a road you know will be bumpy, feel free to duck out. No one can engage you in a heated discussion without your willingness to enter that discussion. Because you know what your values are, you can decide when a conversation has gone to a point where you no longer want to be a part of it. Ask yourself: ‘Where do I draw a line between the kind of conversation I will listen to, versus when I need to leave?’ ‘

Boundary 4: Take Care of Yourself

Prioritizing taking care of yourself will allow you to show up for others in the way you want to this season. Schedule time to exercise, carve out time to rest, eat healthily, call a friend, read a book, spend time outside, enjoy a treat. It is even more important during a season of high demands to take care of yourself to reduce exhaustion, stress, and emotional vulnerability.