You can do anything, but not everything. – David Allen

The holiday season has officially begun. I believe the holiday season starts when the first religious or cultural holiday begins. This year, for me, it was when Hanukkah started on November 28th. This means that I finally need to start thinking about Christmas plans and gifts for others. Christmas plans for me usually involve a Bad Santa/White Elephant party or two, traveling to see my family and my husband’s family, and exchanging gifts. Although these can be enjoyable things for me to think about, they are also stressful.

These plans can be stressful for me and many others that I know for several reasons. First, each one is a time commitment since traveling is frequently required. Second, while each event tends to be enjoyable, they also require me to use up what limited amounts of social energy I have. Finally, all of these plans require at least several financial obligations. Each one of these reasons can lead to large amounts of stress. Not just for me, but for numerous other people that I know.

Thankfully, from years of experience and being a therapist, I have learned some tricks that I would like to share with you that help me reduce the stress I feel during the holiday season. First, I recognize and accept that I have my limits. What I mean by limits is that I know that I only have a finite amount of resources for traveling, emotional/social interactions, and finances.

Limits can be physical, emotional/social, and financial. A physical limit might look like taking a break from driving every few hours to stretch your legs. It might also look like knowing how far you are willing to drive. Perhaps a drive home is too long, so you may decide to fly or take a train to limit the physical and financial resources required to get to your destination. An emotional or social limit might look like knowing how long you can spend in each social situation. If you know your entire extended family will be at an event and you can only spend five hours in a large group, then that might be your limit. Or, if you know that there are one or two family members you don’t want to spend time with due to toxic traits or them being a perpetrator of your trauma, an emotional or social limit might look like not attending that family gathering at all. A financial limit might look like placing a limit on how much you spend on gifts for your family and friends. An example is my friends, and I place a $20 maximum for a Bad Santa party.

Knowing these limits is only half the battle, though. Once we know our limits, we must set them. Here are some ways to help you set these limits with friends and family and understand why these limits might need to be set.

  • Talk with your friends and family about your limits before getting too close to the event/holiday. Telling your friends and family beforehand lets them know what they can expect from you. This can be helpful because then they (hopefully) won’t pressure you to push yourself past those limits.
  • Ask friends and family who will be attending each event. This can be helpful because knowing who is attending the event can prepare you mentally for who you will engage with.
  • If there is someone attending that you don’t wish to be around, let your friends and family know why you don’t want to interact with that person. You only need to explain to your friends and family what you are willing to share. If you have not spoken to that specific person about what has happened between you, I recommend asking your friends and family to respect your boundary and not share that information with that person.
  • If that specific person is attending and you don’t wish to be around them at all, know that saying you won’t be attending the event is an option. Family and friends may ask you to share why you aren’t planning on attending, especially if it is a family holiday event. If you are comfortable sharing, go for it. If not, just simply say that you aren’t coming or share something along these lines, “I’m not comfortable disclosing that information at this time since it is a sensitive topic.” I want to note that the first time, or maybe even the first few times you say no to a holiday event, especially with family, can be challenging. This is usually because saying ‘No’ can be difficult because family or friends may press you for the reasons why you aren’t attending. If people press you for information, know that you can set a boundary with them, regardless of who they are.
  • If you decide to attend the event, have a plan of escape. A plan of escape could be knowing that you drove or have access to Uber/Lyft for a ride should you want to leave. If the hosts have a dog, you could also let them know you would like to volunteer to walk the dog at some point during the party. This will allow you to escape the large group of people for a short period of time to recharge.
  • Talk with your friends and family ahead of time about setting up a financial limit to gifts. Not everyone has large amounts of money to spend in their daily lives, let alone during the holidays. Setting a budget for the entire group can be beneficial since it will likely put everyone on the same playing field, especially if the budget is reasonable even for the person struggling the most financially. However, be aware that most groups have at least one person who goes over budget because they want to give someone a nice gift. Remember that this is their choice and has nothing to do with you or your gifts not being good enough.

If you still have questions about limits during this holiday season, therapy can be a great place to gain additional knowledge. Psychotherapy can also be a wonderful place to practice setting limits by having these types of conversations with a professional who will provide feedback to make sure you are setting limits clearly and assertively. Feel free to contact us to get in touch with one of those therapists.