Setting Boundaries In Time For The Holidays

Setting Boundaries In Time For The Holidays

Jamie Goldstein, Psy.D


The holiday season can be a time for joining together and celebrating the many things we have to be grateful for. However, for many people, the season means stressful weeks full of anxiety, irritation, sadness, and even some good ‘ol fashion brawls.


This season (and all seasons), take some time to mull-over the boundaries you’d like to set to keep yourself calm, cool, collected, and cared for. Oftentimes, drawing a line sounds great in theory, but is extremely difficult in practice. Outlined below are five boundary-setting categories and examples of language you can try out (both for setting the boundary and responding to pushback).


1. Saying “No”

This tiny word can sometimes be the hardest to say. Yet, it might also be the most powerful. Holidays can be a time when we are inclined to spread ourselves thin in order to spread the joy. But how joyous can you really be when you are drained, cranky, sad, or a combination of the three? If you find yourself torn between spaces and places, or expected to be somewhere that feels mentally/emotionally taxing, give yourself permission to pass. Similarly, if you find yourself taking on more responsibility than feels manageable (e.g., hosting dinners, hosting houseguests, preparing dishes, being on clean-up duty, all-of-the-above), give yourself permission to delegate to someone else.


Setting the Boundary: “I know I usually host, but I’m feeling overwhelmed this year, I think I’m ready to pass-the-torch” or “This is difficult for me to say, but I’m feeling really drained this year, so I’ve decided not to come to ___, I hope you’ll understand.”

Responding to Pushback: “I wish I could be there, but I really can’t this year, thank you for understanding.”


2. Saying “Not Right Now”


When we commit to spending time with others, we do not automatically commit to every single second of that time frame. If saying “no” isn’t quite the right fit for setting a boundary, you might try to conserve your bandwidth by saying “not right now.” Whether at Grandma’s house, Uncle Victor’s, a work soiree, a friendsgiving, or hosting in your own space, you always have the option of opting out for the moment. Some things you might say “not right now” to include: another glass of that adult beverage you’ve been sipping on, group activities, such as football, board games, and outings, or particular conversations (read more about this one below).


Setting the Boundary: “I’m really enjoying myself over here, so I’m going to hang back, you go ahead.”

Responding to Pushback: “I’m actually not super into ___ so I’m going to pass.”


3. Identifying Off-the-Table Topics

There are some topics that you simply don’t want to get into while trying to enjoy that slice of homemade pecan pie you’ve been dreaming about. Take time to identify these topics for yourself so you can send the memo out to others to avoid being bombarded and having that delicious dessert soured. Common off-the-table topics may include: dating, marriage, babies (future or current), human rights, gun laws, reproductive rights, the presidential administration, the Supreme Court, and other politically charged topics.


Setting the Boundary: “I know you’re curious, but I don’t really want to talk about it.”

Responding to Pushback: “I know that you feel strongly about ___, but I feel differently and would rather talk about something else so we can focus on enjoying our time together.”


*A note about off-the-table topics: sometimes there are also off-the-table comments or behaviors. Feel free to set this boundary by acknowledging what you don’t want in the moment that it happens. For example “I know you meant that as a compliment, but it makes me uncomfortable, so please don’t comment on that” or “please don’t touch me like that, it makes me feel uncomfortable,” or “please don’t joke about ___ like that, I don’t find it funny and it’s hurtful.”


4. Calling Time-Out


One of the best things we can learn from sports is how to utilize a timeout. When we step into conversation with others, when things get heated between people, or when we simply find ourselves getting overwhelmed by all the extroverting we do this time of year, take a break and call a T.O. Calling timeout doesn’t mean calling it quits. Timeout means taking a short break, re-calibrating, and returning to whatever it was you were previously doing with new insight. During a timeout there are many things we can do to re-center. Some options include: breathe in some outside air, find the dog/cat/pet to hang out with, name five things you can hear, see, taste, touch, and smell, and tap back into you values (keep reading for more about tapping into values). During a timeout, you can decide if re-engaging would help or hinder you in caring for yourself, and act according to your needs by utilizing any of the three boundary-setting tools above.


Setting the Boundary: “I’m going to take a quick timeout, I’ll be back in 10 minutes.”

Responding to Pushback: “I appreciate your concern, but I’d prefer to have a few minutes to myself to re-calibrate.”


5. Coming Home to Your Values

Language is powerful, so finding the right terminology to express your needs in a way that is authentic is important. One way to find our language is to identify the things that matter most to us. In a style of psychotherapy known as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), values are used to facilitate movement towards living your best life. One of the great proponents of ACT, Russ Harris, MD, describes values as “your heart’s deepest desires for how you want to behave as a human being. Values are not about what you want to get or achieve; they are about how you want to behave or act on an ongoing basis.” Here you can find a list of over 30 values to help identify that ones you want to hold near and dear this holiday season. When we identify our values, we are more likely to set boundaries that allow us to act in accordance with them.


Setting the Boundary: “I really want to focus on making our time together about gratitude. Right now I’m grateful for ___.”

Responding to Pushback: “It might sounds cheesy to you, but it really helps me enjoy our time more when we focus on ways we can stay connected and present with each other.”


Whether you set the boundary by saying “no,” “not right now,” “I don’t want to talk about it,” or “timeout,” you and your values are worthy of prioritization this holiday season, and all the seasons to come.




contact wellspace sf therapist Jamie Goldstein, PsyD Psychological AssociateJamie Goldstein, Psy.D is a dedicated psychologist on the Counseling Services team at Wellspace. She believes strongly in the power of connection, authenticity, and language to influence healing. In a pressure-filled world, Jamie is particularly passionate about working with adults and adolescents who are looking to discover or re-discover their authentic voice.


If you’d like to schedule a free consultation with Jamie, free of charge, you can book here

Share this:

1 Response

  1. Ah, Dr. Goldstein! #3 Identify off-the-Table Topics is right on. Especially Responding to Pushbacks - “I know you feel strongly....” is something I can use not just at holidays but whenever I visit certain relatives. I’ll keep those word in my pocket and whip them out when necessary to save the moment! Thank you!

Leave a comment

+ +