I saw a social media post the other day that said, “It’s almost time to switch from my everyday anxiety to my fancy Christmas anxiety.” This time of the year evokes a lot of different emotions, and if you are already an anxiety-prone person it can make things that much more difficult. But, no matter who you are, I think we can all agree that the holidays are stressful. To make things less stressful this year, consider saying “no.”
Embrace the fact that you are in charge of your own life. Set boundaries with your friends and family. YOU are in charge of YOU. You can choose to not overextend yourself. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do.
You Do You
Boundaries are designed to keep you safe. Even if they stir up some unpleasant reactions, boundaries are healthy. They shouldn’t be so firm that they harm relationships, but they should also not be so loose that they are easily crossed. Boundaries should be a healthy balance that assists in maintaining meaningful, fulfilling relationships, and keep you feeling your best.
As you enter this holiday season, be open with your friends and family about what you will and will not tolerate. Consider saying “no” to the things that will add stress. No one is a mind reader and keeping quiet will just foster resentment and stress.
Voice Your Needs
If there is pressure for you to host the holiday festivities but you are feeling overwhelmed and don’t want to take on anything else, tell your family. If your parents always expect you to stay late into the night for games or other traditions you share, but you have a long drive and want to get the kids home for bed, let them know.
If your friend hosts a cookie exchange every year and expects you to bring five dozen cookies and you don’t feel up to the task, say “no.” Instead of cooking side dishes for every get-together, purchase some instead. Struggling on creating the “perfect” holiday card? Scrap the task. You don’t need to stress over something that is likely going to be thrown away in a few weeks.
If there is a topic you don’t feel comfortable discussing with friends or family, it can be helpful to let them know ahead of time: “You know, mom, I don’t want to explain to people why I broke up with Sam. Can you please not bring it up?” If the topic still comes up during the event, calmly say “I prefer to not talk about it” and excuse yourself. It might seem like you are being avoidant but it is none of their business and you have the right to your privacy.
Boundaries are also about compromise. If you are tired of traveling to multiple homes for dinner, then stop. Make it clear to your family that you would be happy to see them the day before or the day after, or let them know you have decided to alternate every-other-year so that you aren’t spending a good part of the day in the car. Or, ask that they come to you one year and you go to them the next. Saying “no” is ok.
It’s All About Perspective
Holiday stress can tend to take over, clouding what really matters. The holidays are about spending time with family, helping others, sharing kindness and goodwill. Try shifting your perspective from your to-do lists to what the holidays mean to you? What is really important to you this time of year? Focus on those things instead of all the other stuff.
Before you get out of the car or airplane or have the family over, think about exactly why you want to see your family, what do you want to get out of these moments together? Focus on these. The holidays should be a time to celebrate what you have, honor those who have passed, be grateful for all the positive and good that life has given you. It is not a time to put others down or to give guilt trips about never seeing each other, having children, marriage, money, careers, etc. It should be a time to cheer each other on, to celebrate life, and enjoy the little things.
Don’t Slack On Self-Care
With all that you have to do it is easy to forget about yourself. Make sure you take the time to care for you. Do the things that make you happy—read a book, take a bubble bath, get a massage, take a nap, etc. Self-care is crucial to staying healthy and your family needs you more than the perfect cookie or gift.
Saying “no” to the things that add stress in your life is a healthy step towards taking care of you. Get enough sleep and stick to healthy eating habits. Letting everything go for the month will likely make you feel pretty crummy. Don’t overdo it with sweets and fancy cocktails. Continue with your normal exercise routine, being active is so good for your mental and physical health. And, relax. Spend time with family. Cuddle on the couch with your children or your partner. Those are the moments that really matter.
If you are struggling with how to set boundaries with friends or family, or stress in general, consider seeking the help of a licensed mental health professional. The therapists at Move Forward are expertly trained and are available to assist in a plan that works for you.
Author: Alison Pidgeon, LPC
Alison is the Founder and CEO of Move Forward Counseling, a boutique private practice for women with three locations in Lancaster County, PA. She is passionate about reducing the stigma related to accessing mental health services. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.