Boundary-Setting Mantra :: Sanity During The Holiday Season

I’m afraid that’s just not possible right now.
— A Dear Friend

The holiday season is one time of year that leaves many of us feeling vulnerable to stress and feelings of overwhelm. The season brings windows dressed with cheer and reminders of other people who appear carefree and happy, while many face the reality of family dysfunction, unrealistic expectations, loneliness, dark days and seasonal affective disorder, poor eating and drinking habits and loved ones who are no longer with us. Perhaps the seemingly happy folks are drunk, it's hard to know for sure. That said, social media now contributes a new platform for us to compare our own lives with the experiences of others, leading to even more isolation and despair. It is also a time when we may do less self-care than usual--at a time when we actually need a little more TLC.

This leads quite natural to the topic of boundaries. Who wants to be the bad guy and say no, right? Sometimes "no" is best for all. The holiday season is a perfect time to learn and practice self-protection. Boundary-setting is very much a learned skill that takes practice and often requires giving yourself permission to put yourself first. Do you know what you need? it's important to know your needs and to identify your own physical and emotional limits. Overload cues present to us in different forms. For some, it's a feeling or nudge of what "feels" right or wrong, while others may experience actual physical symptoms such as pain or tension in the body. Tuning-in to "what's happening" with our thoughts and body is key. What follows are some helpful tips to assist you with learning to set boundaries for yourself during this long season of holiday demands.

  • Practice tuning-in to feelings and emotions that you typically deny (this takes practice, focus on subtle sensations)
  • Notice when/if you begin to have feelings of resentment or feel drained by situations or interactions with others, or if you begin to "act out"
  • Identify important limits before you feel stressed or angry and learn what a "hard limit" might be for you
  • Learn to be clear, direct and assertive with others and notice what this brings up for you (feeling bad or shame about taking care of yourself or imagining that you're being selfish)
  • Prioritize self-care even if they are small acts of self-kindness (take a five-minute restorative time-out)
  • Explore and notice your triggers and past dynamics especially as people tend to fall into familiar roles with family and when stressed (remove yourself by taking a walk and not engaging even when it feels good to engage)
  • Ask for help or support from someone who is better at setting limits than you (who models this well for you, a friend or relative?) 
  • Give yourself permission to say "no" and begin with small steps if this is a new skill for you (what comes up for you when you say no in various situations?)
  • Use this mantra: "I'm afraid that's not possible right now" (practice saying it often in everyday low-stress situations until you're comfortable)

When you take care of yourself by learning to set healthy boundaries you actually create a path for a fuller and more satisfying life. Of course, you have to feel that you deserve this.