Stressed about the holidays? Set some boundaries.

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BY|Amanda Gaffney View Bio|19th Nov 2019

The holidays are upon us, and with them comes the expectation that we will spend time with our families. For many people, that’s a wonderful thing and something they look forward to every year. For many others, coming together with family can be a stressful and anxiety-inducing experience.

You may feel like holiday dinners are an endless onslaught of intrusive questions. “When are you getting married?” “When are you having kids?” “When are you having MORE kids?” “Why did you buy that new car? Do you really have that kind of money?” “Who’s getting what in your will?”

Or it’s a time for relatives to air a year’s worth of concerns and grievances. You withstand a flood of comments about your looks, your lifestyle, your career, your romantic life, your beliefs.

Maybe for you, it can mean hearing any number of statements that are racist, sexist, derogatory, or bigoted, whether they are casual or more overt.

Even if you find yourself dreading family gatherings, there are some things you should remember to reduce the stress of the holiday season.

It’s okay to speak your mind

If you’re a people-pleaser or someone who doesn’t like to rock the boat, it can be difficult to remember that you have the right to speak your truth. If someone’s comments or questions are making you uncomfortable, you have every right to voice that. You’re completely within your rights to call out behavior that is just not cool. You might say something like, “Uncle Matt, I appreciate you caring about me and my life, but this is making me uncomfortable.” Or “Hey mom, I’m not sure if you knew this, but what you just said is actually a racist stereotype. Can we avoid saying that going forward?” Sure, it could cause some awkwardness, but setting boundaries like this is a good thing!

You can walk away

Sometimes, setting those boundaries means not participating in a conversation. If you have mustered the courage to speak up, and you feel your boundaries are not being respected, know that you can walk away. Many of us are taught to politely nod and smile, even when we are uncomfortable, but we have the ability to simply remove ourselves from those situations. Use it! If just walking away feels awkward, try stepping away under the guise of a bathroom break, or grab a drink or snack. Maybe say, “I should probably go check on grandma. I haven’t talked to her enough tonight!” You can make your boundaries clear, here, or reinforce them in more discreet ways.

Try hosting

Hosting people during the holidays can be stressful in its own right, but sometimes switching up the location of the festivities can change the tone. Most people tend to mold themselves to the environment they’re in, even in subtle ways, so you may find it easier to uphold your boundaries when you’re in your own space.

Look for the positive

If you do decide to spend time with your family, and you’re worried it won’t go well, try shifting your attention to the things that bring you joy. Is the food delicious? Are some of your family members super funny? Do you like the ambiance of the holidays in general? Pay attention to the things you enjoy and soak in as much of those things as you can. This does not mean pretending everything is fine; it just means allowing yourself to feel happiness even when the situation is not great.

Find other ways to spend the holidays

You know yourself best. You know the boundaries you need to set, even if doing so feels painful or awkward. If you genuinely believe that holidays with your family are not right for you this year, know that there are other ways to celebrate. Do you have any friends with whom you can spend the holiday? Are there any community events you can be a part of? Will a quiet evening at home be a better way to spend the time? You are free to do what makes sense for you.

Here’s the truth: you can’t control other people. You can only control yourself. Spending the holidays trying to change others or relying on hope that maybe things will be different this year will only set you up for frustration and disappointment. So take some time to figure out what makes sense for you and what personal boundaries you feel are most important to reinforce.

Not sure where to start? Therapy is a great way to get in touch with the things that matter most to you. Knowing yourself better improves your life in so many ways, including building an internal compass that can help you navigate tough situations like this.

Have a restful, joyful, and memorable holiday season. You deserve it!