How To Set Boundaries :: Stress Less And Avoid Burnout During The Holidays

As a Manhattanite, a stroll down Fifth Avenue this time of year reveals that holiday mania is indeed upon us. It’s the season for parties, events, presents, travel and family—also lots of exhaustion! That bone-deep fatigue that reveals itself intermittently and certainly after the holiday season because you have more things to do and less time for self-care and reflection.

Feelings of overwhelm and overcommitment in abundance, the season seems to deliver more frenzy, panic, anxiety, sadness and other emotions and behaviors than peace and joy. As a Manhattan-based Psychotherapist and Coach, I work with busy New Yorkers, especially highly perfectionistic, busy women, who have seemingly boundless reservoirs of energy—that is until they crash! What follows are some tips to help you flow through the season of light without burning yourself out.

Learning to have healthier boundaries is a great place to start! You instinctively move away from someone when they move too close to you. That’s a healthy and adaptive response, and so is setting boundaries with others. You may have learned to acquiesce to the needs of others for many reasons—that’s an old story for you, and now, like many narratives, a part of your “self” that you’d like to rescue. Here are some tips to support your holiday sanity…

  1. Learn to say NO without feeling guilty - Guilt is an important response to many things, and helps you develop properly. It’s also not always warranted and a typically reflexive and habitual response. It’s not easy but you can learn to say NO. It gets easier with practice but you’ll feel proud of yourself, you may also learn that others will still love you (even if they have a less than ideal response to the new you who says NO). The biggest win is that you’ll free yourself up for things that really matter to YOU and you’ll be less reflexive and more self-protective. You’re still a good person even when you put yourself first

  2. But I feel awful when I say NO - If an outright “NO” is hard for you try this: say No, but then offer another option that works for you. “No, I’m afraid I can’t do ___, but I’m happy to do ___.” This tactic eases you closer to self-protection but also protects the part of your identity that you value, that of someone who likes to help out or do the right thing. But even nice people get fed up, set boundaries and say NO.

  3. If you’re sensitive the the energy of others and the environment, pay attention to your instincts and intuition - Just as you back up when someone gets too close, learning to “sense” when you need to protect your life force is crucial. Therefore, tune-in to when and how your body speaks to you. If you’re feeling body tension, pain or drain, pay attention to the company that you are keeping in those moments. Some humans leave us feeling utterly drained. Notice this and take a time out from these people as needed. I have loved ones who I care deeply about, but they also wear me out. I have to take breaks during get togethers to replenish. As much as I feel that I should stay there with them while they talk “at” me not noticing that the color has left my face, I now politely excuse myself in an effort to avoid exhaustion. I’m particularly sensitive to people and environments, and as an empath or “HSP” I have learned how to honor my needs and protect my own energy.

  4. Start some new traditions if the old ones are feeling tired or worn - How would you like to spend your time? Get in touch with your own needs and desires. Would you rather spend time with friends and family or maintain long-standing traditions that no longer bring you joy. Perhaps you’d rather not spend your time fighting crowds, cooking, baking, finding gifts to buy and would rather spend that time (and money) in other ways. Once you hit the “pause” button and identify new values and ways to celebrate, saying no and setting boundaries will be easier. You may decide to have food prepared, or buy delicious desserts from your favorite bakery. People will adjust, and you may have a more enjoyable holiday. You might even inspire others to do the same.

  5. Connect to your personal limitations and needs - I work with plenty of depleted women who don’t practice self-care or any form of care other than dermatology, hair and nail appointments (which many would consider self-care), but I’m suggesting a bit more here. Feeling drained and exhausted doesn’t serve you and most don’t even appreciate your heroic efforts. Create time to rest and digest, to restore your energy and strength. Eat well, drink less alcohol (huh?), eat less sugar (feels impossible I know!), sleep and nap if you can and take supplements to help support the needs of your body. If you do yoga, pull out your mat for a few sun salutations or take ten minutes to do a restorative yoga posture such as legs up the wall. About now I can read your mind, “I don’t have time for that!” You probably have ten or fifteen minutes here and there and you’ll likely find that you’ll have more energy and actually be more productive if that’s your goal.

This is the season of many challenging emotions and feeling such as: loneliness, sadness, isolation and dealing with grief and loss. It is also a time of great joy and togetherness for many. Reach out to those who may need support and care, and most importantly, honor your own needs. If this is new for you, I give you permission! I’m a licensed Psychotherapist and Coach in NYC and I specialize in helping busy New Yorkers develop strategies for enhanced work and life balance, better relationships, as well as provide help for anxiety, depression and addictions or substance abuse.