Setting Boundaries to Reduce Holiday Stress

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With expectations running high, the holiday season can often result in women feeling exhausted, unappreciated, and frustrated which is why it’s so important at this time of year to set clear personal boundaries to protect your mental and physical wellbeing.

For a lot of women, establishing boundaries can prove to be a challenging process at the best of times. Whether at home, in the workplace, volunteering, in the community, or in relationships of all kinds, women are often in positions where they become overwhelmed with responsibly and duty as they provide most of the family care, even when working outside the home.

In some situations, women are caring for two or three generations of their families: children, grandchildren, and parents.  Even relationships with employers, co-workers, neighbours and friends can bring pressure… not only for women to perform, but to assist others in reaching their objectives. While more often than not women accept these roles without question, it can result in feelings of exhaustion, unappreciation, and frustration.

The additional pressures of the holidays

The festive season can be exceptionally onerous as expectations run at all-time highs and can too often become a time to get through, not the long-awaited festive occasion it is for others. At every turn is the seemingly inescapable message that if you cared about your loved ones, you would provide them with a spectacular feast, a magical Christmas, or an inspiring New Year’s gala.

For many women it can feel like other people’s happiness seems to depend solely on them.  

The to-do list is massive, with presents to be purchased or made, decorations to be gathered and placed, travel arrangements to be made, feuding or inappropriate guests to manage, and that’s before the marathon holiday cooking and cleaning efforts that must be made.

While these external pressures can be tremendous, it the internal pressure, the demands women put on themselves, that can be the most detrimental to physical and mental health. But through creating and maintaining healthy boundaries, especially at this time of the year, women can finally gain control over your life. 

Rediscover your needs 

Before you can establish boundaries, you need to ask yourself a few questions.

What is important to you? How do you want to be treated? What would you do if you did not have to consider anyone else? If you push back on your needs to give others what they want, what price do you pay?

While it is inescapable that everyone has certain unalterable responsibilities, there are ways to set limits on how much you can and will tolerate. This starts with separating what you do because of enjoyment, and what you do due to a sense of obligation. This step can be complicated if you are used to setting aside your needs to please others.

Limitations include physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, time, and financial boundaries as well as uniquely personal draws on an individual’s energy. 

Meditate on what you need to be happy, and physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually healthy. Keeping a journal or diary is a good way to help identify your needs, and therefore, your limits.

You can’t obtain what you need, until you know what you need, and only you can determine what the requirements are for you to enjoy a contented, healthy, and balanced life.

Define your boundaries 

The additional activities and duties that happen during the holidays can result in resentment, as well as physical and mental fatigue. More responsibilities mean an even greater need for establishing and maintaining boundaries. Remember, placing limits and sticking to them does not make you a selfish person. Rather, it means you understand what you need, and that you will act on those needs. Engaging in honest, considerate, communication is not rude; it is a sign of respect to others. 

Equally important is being honest with yourself. Are you contributing to the heavy load? Society tells women they must be nice and set aside their needs to be accepted. Is it possible you are taking on extra duties because you are seeking approval from others? How did you come to be in this situation? Do you remember how the pattern began, and why? The better you understand how you became overwhelmed, the easier it is to prevent it happening again in the future. 

Learning to compromise is key if you can’t bring yourself to say no. If people expect you to hold holiday events because you are a marvelous host, offer to make the goodies for just one special gathering. Or perhaps ask people to bring along something to add to the table to reduce your load. For anyone with complaints or who attempts to get you to go past your boundary, offer to send your favorite recipes for them to use at their own get-together. By defining your limits and repeating them, you will eventually feel comfortable discussing them. 

Setting boundaries  

Determine in advance precisely what you will do and what you absolutely will not do. This should cover every anticipated task and duty, from getting the tree or putting it up and cooking the meals to picking up or taking home those who do not drive or should not be driving after making merry. Then you can make a list in advance and ask or assign duties.

Everyone can pitch in to help. If there are duties that no one will accept, consider if they are necessary instead of taking on the task yourself as you might discover some of what you felt were mandatory items on the list aren’t required after all. 

If someone react with offensive or inflammatory statements, simply set a boundary to remove yourself from the negative situation with no admonishments or shaming. Once you have established your own boundaries, it is crucial to inform those affected by the changes. Begin with those close to you. Explain without judgement that you are working on yourself and changes to improve the quality of your life. Let them know the changes are about you, and not about them.

People may be surprised or confused, especially if this is in response to your not performing a task you’ve regularly completed. They may have thought you enjoyed the task. Being polite is important, but so is standing up for your limits, so a simple response like, “I’m so busy preparing, I don’t get to enjoy everyone’s company,” is best.

Setting boundaries at work   

While employers can make unavoidable deadline based demands, elements of work life  can also benefit from boundaries. If you are the one who helps others finish their work, ensures projects are completed, or are the “caregiver” to the staff, it might be time take a hard look at your behaviour.

Every aspect of a job should have limitations. This includes being treated with respect, dignity, and accepting only the work that is yours. By establishing these limits in advance, you will not be caught off guard, and have a plan for handling requests or impositions on your time and energy.

Maintain boundaries

Setting and keeping boundaries takes practice and maintenance. You also need to continually reexamine your priorities regularly to and see if they change with time and situations. 

You might even have to remind yourself of your limits until you become accustomed to advocating for yourself. But once you do the people who love and respect you will be totally on board.

Disclaimer: This article provides general information only, and does not constitute health or medical advice. If you have any concerns regarding your health, seek immediate medical attention.

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