How to Set Boundaries During the Holidays

AHAW CentreCounselling

With the holiday season upon us, it’s pretty common for stress levels to go up. Anxiety and depression both rise at this time of year, in adults and youth, and so we need to take care of our mental health as much as possible. A big part of this for many of us is setting boundaries. Particularly with family, but also with friends and at work. When we set boundaries we actually tend to have better relationships with the people in our lives. This may seem a bit counterintuitive – If I do everything they want me to, they’ll like me more – but it’s true. It’s also a way to model healthy relationships to our children. And probably most importantly, it decreases our stress levels and improves our overall well-being – something I’m sure all of you want!

Though many people struggle with boundary setting throughout the year, it tends to be more difficult during any holiday. We see people more often, there are more obligations, we may have to do more cooking or housework, and there may be certain expectations on us – religious, cultural, social or otherwise – that we think we need to live up to, regardless of the costs. Let’s ponder this for a moment: is the cost actually worth it?

Communicate your needs. Setting boundaries begins with telling other people what you need. If you need a break or you need to say no to something you don’t want to do, or you need to say yes to something you do want to do, or you need to leave early or arrive late, etc. you have to draw the lines in the sand. This is where most people struggle because of fears of what others will say. None of us are mind readers (to my knowledge!) so even if it is a bit uncomfortable you have to speak the words around the boundary you’re trying to set. You also don’t need to make excuses for, or justify your boundary. It’s what you need, so it’s what you need.

Be assertive yet respectful. Firmly communicate these needs. There’s no reason to be wishy washy, but you also don’t want to come off as a jerk. Remember that the people who you are setting boundaries with also have 1feelings, and you may want to keep having a relationship with them, so consider that when you’re deciding what to say. That being said, don’t set your boundaries in the heat of the moment, take a pause and consider what you want to say and how you’re going to say it.

Compromise. Look, sometimes we have do to things we don’t want to because of obligations, and that’s okay – to a point. If there is a way to compromise – maybe you go to your partner’s work party but you take separate cars so you can leave early, or maybe you make one dish for the holiday dinner instead of three – then offer the compromise and stick to it.

Let go of control. Particularly of the behaviour of others, because you can’t control it. None of us can control anything anyone else says or does. What we can control is what we say and do. Take responsibility for your own behaviours and accept what is out of your control.

Spend more time with people who respect your boundaries. This means also spending less time with people who don’t. This may sound harsh but it’s not. People only learn to respect boundaries if we are firm around them. If your boundaries are constantly being broken, you’re likely not enjoying your time with the people breaking them anyway. So, put yourself in situations you want to be in and with this goes acting according to your values – who and what is important to you? Do those things…be with those people-enjoy your holidays!


-Kelsey Harris, Registered Clinical Counselor