How to Reduce Holiday Stress by Setting Strong Boundaries

Close your eyes for a second. Now, think of the phrase “holiday season.” What comes to mind? Is it positive or negative? Do you feel excited or stressed?

Although holidays can be very uplifting for some of us, not all may feel the same way. Read on to learn how to reduce holiday stress by setting boundaries.


Holiday stress is natural

You might be stressed because you want to give a nice present to your partner or family, but may not have the means to buy it. Maybe you are feeling burned out because you have a very long to-do list that you don't know when you would have time to finish. It might upset you when an extended family member comes over, and they still see you as the little child even though you are 35 years old. Perhaps, you are alone for the holidays. Your friend is offering you alcoholic beverages, even if you said you don’t want to drink. You are tempted and frustrated.

All of these emotions are normal! This is when healthy boundaries come in.


What are healthy boundaries?

Brene Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, defines healthy boundaries as “simply our lists of what’s okay and not okay.” It is essential to understand what healthy boundaries mean so you can practice setting boundaries this holiday season. This can help you find peace within yourself and help you avoid uncomfortable situations and feelings.


Why are boundaries important?

1. Improve health and relationships

Setting boundaries is necessary to improve our health and relationships. People don’t go beyond your limit because you explain to them how it makes you feel. Hence, you feel respected, and you trust each other. This can result in a feeling of happiness and contentment.

2. Gain self-confidence

When you set boundaries, you get clear on who you are and what you want. You are not afraid to say it. You know your values and belief systems. This brings focus to yourself and your well-being. You also tend to avoid burnout because you have gained a greater sense of identity. These characteristics increase your self-esteem and assertiveness.


Five ways to set boundaries during holidays

You are probably asking, “How can I create boundaries? Where do I start?”.

Here are five tips for setting boundaries this holiday season:

1. Know your limits

Sometimes you have to set boundaries for yourself. Some people feel angry or frustrated because of taking on too much or spending too much during the holidays. This can affect our mental health and our relationships.

Try these actions to know how to recognize your limits:

  • Answer the questions in our mental health check-in worksheet
  • Ask others, “How do you think I am doing and acting lately? Is there anything new or concerning?”
  • Write down the cause of your stress
  • Note what you think can help lessen your stressors

If finances are tight and the leading cause of your stress, you can call 211 and ask about community resources that can help you.  


2. Prepare to speak up

When you speak up and share your thoughts, you avoid feeling resentful towards others, yourself, or the situation.

So next time you want to set a boundary, do these things:

  • Take deep breaths
  • Say an affirmation. Perhaps, “I can do this!” or “I need to do this for myself and my peace of mind.”
  • Think of a positive thing about that person, yourself, or the situation.


3. Speak up in a calm, simple, and direct way

Sharing what you want and don’t want can be done respectfully. Setting your boundaries lessens the drama and relationship damage.

The key here is to use “I” statements:

I feel (state your emotion) when (behaviour that you don’t like) because or but (the effect that the behaviour has on you).

Here are some examples of simple holiday boundary-setting phrases:

  • “I feel tired when I organize holiday parties because I do most of the work. Would you be able to help me organize this year’s holiday party?”
  • “I felt embarrassed when I saw your reaction to my gift because I tried to give you the best present that I could with the budget that I have. I wish I could buy you a nicer gift but I can’t. Thank you for understanding.”
  • “I feel special when you think I am still young, but I am 35 years old. I don’t think I should be treated the same way. What do you think is the best way for us to go about this?”
  • “I feel annoyed when I hear jokes like that in front of my children because they get curious, and it is not age-appropriate. How do you think we can stop this from happening?
  • “I feel tempted when I get offered alcoholic drinks because I’ve been sober for about four months only. I am in an alcohol recovery program. Any juice would be good for me. Thank you, though.”

Sometimes these simple, clear, and direct statements will help you feel more at ease. It helps reduce holiday stress and reduce feelings of resentment.


4. Just say “no”

Sometimes you want to set a boundary but may be too distressed to use the tips mentioned above. Please know that the word "no" is a complete statement, and you don't always have to explain yourself.


5. Tap yourself on the back

You spoke up and shared your thoughts, so great job! You were vulnerable, honest, and respectful—no need to worry if people do not accept your boundary. Sometimes, people who get upset when you set boundaries are those who benefited before you put them. You will also feel better about setting boundaries the more you keep doing it. You did the best you could, and that is all that matters.



If you need further help in setting boundaries, check out these services:

Take a look at our other boundaries and holiday-related blog posts: