The holidays are upon us! While this is an exciting and joyful season for sooo many reasons (read: Michael Buble’s Christmas album on Spotify and snow on the ground and Christmas lights, oh my!), it’s easy to feel overwhelmed with busy schedules, family dynamics, Christmas events and financial stress. This time of year moves quickly, too quickly if I am being honest, and with increasing demands on my energy and time, I have to take extra special care to make sure my sanity stays in check (most of the time, it doesn’t. I digress…).
I think boundaries can be discussed in a variety of realms – work, personal relationships, social, and of course, the holidays. I could go on and on about this, but for now I think “boundaries” pertaining to the holiday craziness is probably the best use of our time, agreed?
In general, I have a hard time with boundary setting because to start, I live in Reno, NV and the BULK of my family lives in Northern California. Every. Single. Holiday and holiday activity takes place there. If you are doing the math correctly, you’re concluding that I spend a lot of time traveling the 3.5 hours to/from to be a part of the holiday activities. It’s hard, it’s exhausting, but I am also stubborn in that I LOVE my family time. So for me, it is about acting in accordance to what makes me happy, fills me up, and keeps me energized. I often times become emotionally drained from family time because of self-inflicted pressure that I am THE ONLY single girl in the crew – and the crew is large. Holidays are really, really hard as a 30-something single gal. That’s a time for another post about self-esteem and “loving where you are.” My single girls, do you feel me here? Anyways…
The next level of boundary setting, to me, is about getting straight on your priorities. Make a list. Seriously. Family, personal travel, time with friends, romantic relationships, personal health, wellness activities, bitch nights with your girls with wine over a raging party, you get the point – what is important to you? Feel free to let this list change, evolve, and for some priorities to take precedent over others at any given time. THIS IS YOUR LIFE. DO WHATCHA WANT! Where it gets really tricky for me, is how I manage the expectations of others vs. how I want to prioritize MY life. You know the mom-old trick of “we just want you happy honey.” and not believing it for a second? I’ll get into this throughout the rest of this post, but in doing this (and actually believing mom), it will be much easier to see the big picture and let the small stuff go. Speaking of mom, she told me once that as a child, I would come down with a serious sickness every single year around Christmas time. Pretty sure that physical illness has since transpired into stressball status 1000 in my adult years. So…if you experience a heightened sense of stress during the holidays like me, and have trouble balancing your needs with those of loved ones, having boundaries in place will help you handle this season with more ease and integrity…at least that is the idea!
Get Good At Saying No
I don’t think setting boundaries stops at being able to say “no” to things. It’s about realizing that you cannot please everyone, and if you do, you’ll end up pleasing NOBODY (guys, I have a gold medal in this). Learning to say no is one of the best ways to practice self-care. If you’re anything like me, you get anxiety telling someone no because of the fear they’ll be upset, hurt, or angry. But the crazy truth is that it’s not selfish to know your limits; in fact it’s the opposite. Saying no can be tricky with family around the holidays especially if they are used to you always coming to a particular event or showing up at a certain time, or coming to all of the events and traveling 500 miles 4 times in one month. Saying no is a healthy practice even when the person you’re saying no to doesn’t like it (enter anxiety here, also enter mom’s voice “we just want you to be happy”). If someone takes no personally it isn’t you, it’s them, but I think a good best-practice for radical self improvement also includes evaluating your priorities to this person when you say no.
Let me give you a real, vulnerable example: I’ll first start by saying, I LOVE MY FAMILY. But…I told my parents I wanted to boycott Christmas this year (I am serious) because I am not excited about being the only single, non-married/no kids girl in my big fat Italian family at Christmas Eve AGAIN. Can you imagine their reaction? They didn’t take me seriously. But, for me, having to sit around talking about house renovations and diapers, like, no, sorry, and I don’t think my cousins want to hear about my raging Christmas party that ended at a midtown bar where I ended up home on my couch cringing at texts to my ex the next morning nobody wants to relive, or about my crazy job where I work long hours on my side hustle and eat frozen pizza alone with my dog for dinner. Point is, and here is the vulnerable part, I am just in such a different place in my life as them and I compare myself to them so badly it messes with my head…it is beyond emotionally draining for me. Here’s where the priority piece comes into play (see, I told you I have a point). My family truly means the world to me. They are a big PRIORITY. Of course I am going to Christmas. My work is to reframe the holiday, and how it affects me. I’ve learned (er, am learning) to think of it as a long term investment in those relationships so that I maintain them for life. Heck, maybe even learn about how to raise kids or order couches for future years. I can always laugh about my wild single nights to my girlfriends who get it another time. That is the beauty of a diversified community.
Speaking of feeling inferior…
Expectations are a dirty word.
Let’s face it, everyone has expectations for the holidays. There is pressure during this season to be cheerful and happy ALWAYS —it’s no surprise that nearly 25 percent of the population feels depressed around the holidays (fact). I don’t know about you, but I feel like an emotional slob and a failure if I am not chipper as a chipmunk during these times.
The expectation to have a made-for-Hallmark holiday experience does nobody any good. Think of it more like a Griswold thing. Omg, is that not the best Christmas movie ever? That family has ISSUES. Nothing is perfect, things go awry all the time, and nobody’s story is perfect. I’m also going to throw in that you should STAY AWAY from social media during the holidays. Engagements, baby announcements…I mean, yay for them, but I do not need another thing raining on my parade and reminding me what I don’t have. Their story is not perfect either and it is crucial to your well-being to remember that. They probably wish they could go out until 3am on a Wednesday for a holiday party…just like your cousins. So seriously. SET A BOUNDARY FOR YOURSELF and just shut Facebook down for a few weeks.
It’s natural to want to be happy over the holidays, but when your expectations become too great, I think it puts added pressure on…pressure that usually makes me break. I think even more broadly, this is a great time to let yourself and your family off the hook; recognize this is a stressful time of year for everyone, for various reasons, and do your best to focus on what is right in front of you. Another example: My mom can get CRAY over the holidays because she is a perfectionist party and event planner, and damn good at it (love ya mom), but I am learning to write off her shortness in expression at times, and the shortness of others, due to this self inflicted dirty word “expectation” (ew). We are all experiencing a level of holiday stress. Give each other a break.
Accept your grief.
For me, Christmas often bring up a sense of loss. I lost my grandfather and aunt within 4 months of each other around the holidays. It is perfectly normal to feel sad when you’re going through a difficult time or missing a loved one, but during a time where both of them were very, very prominent figures in our celebrations, I struggle a lot with the changes that have occurred in our family. In short, I long for the good ol’ days where grandpa was there and my aunt hosted literally everything and made her famous cream puffs. To combat this, and reframe (I love this exercise, reframing), I started reflecting on what they meant to me a lot, and using that as a way to try to feel CLOSER to my existing family. It can often times feel awkward to bring them up…and while there is no right or wrong way to handle grief during the holidays, I have found that the best thing is to talk about it to people I trust for support. I’ll bring up my aunt with my cousin a lot, because she used to buy the two of us matching clothes for Christmas for as long as I can remember, and it is a fun memory for us to share. Celebrate the people you lost, don’t hold it in.
Also…and here comes the boundary part…I realize that there are many levels and stages of grief. If a certain gathering or party feels too exhausting because of a loss you have experienced, know that it is ok to change your mind, kindly opt out of conversation, or even not go or leave early. In acknowledging your feelings and leaning into them (if you can), it’s much better for you (even if someone is upset you won’t be engaging), but to set those necessary boundaries and take good care of yourself is KING.
Slowwww your role.
This is almost comical coming from someone who never ever EVER slows down. I’m the queen of typos in emails because I move so fast at work. It’s a thing. But seriously, making a point to slow down this time of year is a very effective way to set a boundary with yourself. Once Thanksgiving hits, everything speeds up and the new year arrives in the blink of an eye and you’re like “wait, what even happened.”. Living in this intensified period causes the body to produce more stress hormones (I wrote a blog post years ago on hormones, go check it out). Extra stress in the body makes it difficult to sleep well and (close to impossible) to avoid eating all those holiday sweets. We all know I have a sweet tooth bad enough to kill Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
The quickest and most effective way to become more self-aware and able to SLOW down, and ultimately lower stress hormones, for ME, is to move. Exercise. Sweat. I also, in times of like, REALLY bad anxiety, use a trick called “5 senses.” Instead of focusing on your stressful event or conversation, take yourself to the bathroom and tell yourself what you are seeing, smelling, hearing…you get it. It helps to calm the heart rate and puts things in a bit more of a calm state. Ultimately, it helps you respond and not react. I am NOT PERFECT at this, but it is a trick I have up my sleeve so you should try it.
Self care, self care, self care
I think that the holidays exude the vibe of “fun fun fun”, where it’s all about drinking wine, and making cookies, and parties, and cozy warm fires and curling up to the 25 Days of Christmas on your couch. Basically, self-care falls to the wayside of priorities. The fact is, if you don’t have the energy and time to do a few things for yourself – like get exercise, take care of your skin, drink water, GET SLEEP…it will be very difficult to show up for others. When I respect and value taking care of myself, I feel like I am setting a powerful boundary with MYSELF…and in turn, hopefully, to everyone else during this season. Sometimes taking it easy at the Ugly Christmas Sweater party in order to get up at 6 to go on a run with your dog can leave you feeling jollier than winning the shotski contest. Truth.
Basically, carving out a little extra time to rest, hit a spinning class, or eat a healthy meal is a great way to show up for yourself and lessen the stresses in your life. I am so bad at showing up for myself, but when I do, I can feel my vibration physically rising. Thing is, when you put your needs first, you will feel more capable to show up and have much more love and joy to share with those around you…after all, that’s really what the holidays are all about, am I right?