This time of year things can get really busy. Lots of Christmas functions, ended of year events, family gatherings, secret Santa gifts to buy, holidays to plan, events to coordinate, wrapping up school or work and trying to fit in some rest and relaxation. It can be easy to get overwhelmed and stretch yourself too thin or to the point of overwhelm and exhaustion. 

During this festive holiday season there are plenty of opportunities to go beyond your usual limits, for example:

  • Going above your budget 
  • Socialising more
  • Drinking more alcohol 
  • Taking on additional responsibilities 
  • Getting too little sleep
  • Eating too much

Some of these things will be perfectly manageable, maybe one or two but adding them all together, you may start to feel unwell, resentful, burnt out, exhausted, and stressed.

To prevent the overwhelm and reduce the risk of stress we need to set boundaries. Healthy boundaries are crucial components for self-care. Boundaries are the limits we set with other people and what we’re prepared to take on.

Personal boundaries help us take care of ourselves by giving us permission to say NO to things, to not take everything on and protect our precious energy and attention. Knowing our boundaries and setting them are two very different hurdles to overcome.

This is a time of year when setting boundaries can feel particularly difficult, we are more likely to succumb to other people’s expectations. Family traditions, work Christmas parties, hosting events, buying gifts, bringing a plate, baking cookies, putting up Christmas decorations, and responding to friends or family who “need” our help. Even with all these expectations, we have choices.

Some people don’t like it when we suddenly ‘change the rules’ and begin to put our own needs first. If we continually put other people’s needs and desires before our own then it will feel uncomfortable to all at first, especially if you are a serial people pleaser.  You are 100% responsible for your own choices and not at all responsible for the choices of others.

This means that you are not the one responsible for making everyone else happy or for doing everything for everyone. As hard as it is, you get to choose what you will say yes to and what boundaries you set. 

To start setting boundaries you need to first know what your boundaries are. Start by working out your limits and then remind yourself of the benefit of sticking to them. 

Think about what you and your family needs during this time, really understanding what is important. 

  • What’s most important to you at this time of year?
  • What makes you feel connected?
  • What makes you feel stressed or anxious?
  • What can you tolerate and accept? 

Remember these will change over time and may change week by week and day by day.

It might feel uncomfortable to set boundaries because you don’t want to hurt, insult or upset anyone. Often people do things out of fear they will make someone else uncomfortable to disappoint them. Remember, their response is their problem, not yours. Your well-being is your responsibility. 

You can set and communicate boundaries, and be firm and respectful. You may have to repeat them a few times and still, others may try to push your boundaries. 

How to implement boundaries

Take some time to work out what your boundaries are and then have some go-to phrases ready in case. Make sure you use I statements, and you are clear with your responses. Don’t leave room for interpretation or suggest that you are open to persuasion. Be firm with clarity, and you can’t go wrong.

  • Setting financial limits, I can spend up to $X on each family member.
  • I will be responsible for selecting and purchasing X gifts and ask my partner/ sibling etc to look after the others.
  • I will select a few decorations that we really love, and will not spend more than $X.
  • I can x end of year party if I can leave early

If you’re asked to bring a plate or contribute take a moment to think about it and then be honest about what you can do, what else you have on and what your energy is like, for example ‘I’d be happy to bring dessert, I won’t have time to bake something, I can pick up some fruit for a fruit platter or a cake from the local patisserie’’

Some people may be upset when you set a boundary. Acknowledge people’s feelings, and stay firm on your boundaries

‘’This year we have decided to spend Christmas day away as a family camping. I understand that you might feel upset but we have decided that this is what we would like to do this year.”

Implementing consequences if boundaries are not respected

Just because you set a boundary doesn’t mean it will be respected. Sometimes there need to be consequences.

“It makes me really uncomfortable when you speak to me this way. if you continue to speak to me this way, I will have to excuse myself.” Distancing yourself will keep you from feeling even more uncomfortable or resentful and it will show others that you won’t tolerate when people don’t respect your needs.

Boundaries are how we take care of and protect ourselves. Setting boundaries can be difficult, especially around Christmas time.  Many times we won’t set a boundary, because we fear being disliked or rejected, or we are afraid to hurt the other person. Remember it is not your responsibility to please everyone else to the detriment of your own well-being.