'Tis The Season: Setting Boundaries Around The Holidays

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‘Tis the season for special traditions, twinkling lights, and navigating family dynamics. Whether you're heading home for the holidays, or simply staying in town, the most wonderful time of the year can become the most stressful time of the year when personalities and preferences collide. By intentionally setting boundaries ahead of time, we can lessen the impact of challenging family dynamics over the holiday season. 

Boundaries Are Values In Action

The holiday season is a time when we celebrate our families, our traditions, and most importantly, our love for each other. But those celebrations can get overwhelming fast—especially if you're not prepared with boundaries around your needs and values.

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Whether you have a loving and supportive family or one that's been deeply hurtful to you, the holidays are often a time when we struggle to stay true to ourselves. This season can be a time when we feel pressured to compromise our needs in order to please others. We may even want to do things for others that we don't really want for ourselves, or take on responsibilities that aren't ours by nature of blood ties alone.

Being firm in your values is the first step in understanding how, and when, to set boundaries. Before diving into the holiday mayhem, identify what you value in this season of celebration. What traditions are important to you? What do you value as your role in the family? With whom do you value spending time with? 

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In short, get clear on what you need to enjoy a healthy holiday season. Whether it’s practicing self-care, prioritizing family, or participating in traditions that align with your beliefs, being firm in what is most important to you can help keep you balanced and grounded during this busy time of year.  

Setting Boundaries Ahead Of Time

We all have family dynamics that are hard to navigate during the holidays: whether it's your overbearing dad who always dictates the plans, your sibling who insists on arguing about politics, or your mom who likes to sneak in a criticism any chance she gets. Without proper planning, the anticipation of quality family time can be filled with dread, frustration, and disappointment. 

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Whatever the case may be, having boundaries around your needs and values is necessary in order to enjoy your time despite challenging family dynamics. The less obvious your values are, the more likely you are to give in to unspoken demands and expectations. While it might feel selfish at first, establishing your boundaries ahead of time will likely lead to a more fulfilling and connective gathering for all. 

With your values in mind, set clear expectations around how, when, and with whom you plan to spend your holiday season. Let people know what you need from them in order to spend time together. The more communicative we are with each other about what we need from our relationships, the better off everyone will be.

Setting (And Sticking To) Boundaries During the Holidays

If you're feeling anxious about spending time with loved ones, here are some tips for setting boundaries that align with your values:

  1. Set limits on how much time you can spend. This might mean only having one meal per day with them rather than attending every event, or clearly communicating the time you need to leave. 

  2. Say no to conversations or activities that aren’t aligned with your values. Be clear about what you’re comfortable doing and discussing. If a certain task or topic won’t allow you to stick to your values, let your loved ones know ahead of time that you won’t be participating.

  3. Take inventory and know when you’ve had enough. Be clear about what signals to you that your boundaries have been violated. You might feel exhausted, your body might be stiff, or your mind might be racing. Check in throughout the day and be ready to practice self care.

  4. Take time for yourself. If you notice your boundaries have been violated, take a walk in nature or go out to the store to get some space. While you’re out, step back and reflect on the mental and physical space that is safe for you around the holidays.



If you are grounded in your values and communicate your needs ahead of time, this season can be full of wonder and joy. In fact, having good boundaries doesn't mean you can't enjoy the holidays. By setting, communicating, and keeping your boundaries firm, you’re cultivating a family dynamic that is rooted in love, respect, and ultimately, the spirit of the season.

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Devin R. Burrill & Pamela A. Silver, Making Cellular Memories (2010).

Anna Lardone, Marianna Liparoti, Pierpaolo Sorrentino, Rosaria Rucco, et al., Mindfulness Meditation Is Related to Long-Lasting Changes in Hippocampal Functional Topology during Resting State: A Magnetoencephalography Study. (2018).


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