It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Or, for you, is it a runaway celebration train of obligations and a mile-long to-do list? You can change that by protecting your personal boundaries.
Below is your go-to checklist, adapted from my latest book, The Book of No: 365 Ways to Say It and Mean It—and Stop People-Pleasing Forever. It’s designed to help you better decide what you want to do — and avoid going overboard on things you don’t want to do. It also steers you toward shoring up your boundaries.
The holidays can be a pressure cooker of chances to overextend. For example, tradition is important in any family, but if upholding tradition requires you to bend over backward, it might be time to reassess. Practicing self-protection will ensure a happier, less stressful holiday season.
5 tips for guarding boundaries:
1. Know your schedule’s limits. First of all, examine your schedule logistically. For those with people-pleasing tendencies: recognize that you can’t simply do it all. If you are ever-conscious of social protocol and the “right” way to interact with family, friends, or work colleagues, it seems there’s no way to decline an invitation without ruffling a few holiday feathers. As a result, you end up dragging yourself, your spouse and perhaps your tired, cranky children to one too many gatherings.
Before the main crush of the holidays, take a moment to identify the parties or smaller gatherings that are important to you — with others attending who nourish or revitalize you. It’s okay to plan in this way. It’s not selfish; you’re simply getting comfortable with putting your priorities forward.
2. Ask what’s more important: Not missing out, or the quality of experience? Fear of Missing Out, or “FOMO,” is a real phenomenon. Because traditions and special memories are forged during the holidays, we’re goaded into taking on more activities or attending more things for the fear of not seizing an opportunity. You might fret that by taking a night for yourself instead of going to an awkward office holiday party, you’ll miss the fun or regret not taking possible networking opportunities. Perhaps you’ll be concerned that if you miss a Christmas or Hanukkah party, the hosts won’t attend your New Year’s party.
Also, ask yourself what’s more bearable: Feeling miserable at an event that you didn’t want to attend in the first place, or the maybe chance of missing something?
3. Don’t take on responsibilities you truly don’t have to. For example, this may be a favor for a friend to run a last-minute errand, or whip up a complicated dish for an event. They may feel like small tasks to easily tack on to your to-do list in the moment you’re being asked. But after a while, the pile-up has the potential to become overwhelming.
And, when you are concerned about backlash, know that it’s human nature for askers to move on to the next person who can help them, rather than dwelling on or simmering over your no. In most cases, the damage of constantly saying yes affects you and your health and stress-level much more than your refusals affect the people you turn down. Next time you’re met with a request, question: “Am I really the only person who can accomplish this task — or could someone else just as easily take the reins?”
4. Family members can change behavior if prompted. Do you dread interacting with your great aunt at dinner, knowing she’ll prod you about your love life? Come November, do you groan thinking about the hours of traffic you will sit in to attend Christmas dinner? Do you know that your mother will delegate tasks that you hate doing? Do you cringe thinking about the inevitable politically charged discussion over the holiday roast? In many families, we come to expect the same things year after year. In short, we fall into a pattern; it’s hard imagine how anything might change.
It’s okay to say no to certain traditions, or start your own. Do you face horrendous travel circumstances? Explain this to your family and inform them (don’t ask) that you’re bowing out this year. The friends and family members closest to you most likely want to keep their bond with you strong; therefore, they will adjust to your changes. You may open doors to new, more convenient, less stressful traditions.
To navigate annoying personal questions, start out with a simple, gentle refusal. For example: “I’d rather not get into it.” Or, “Let’s not discuss it right now.” Follow it with quick deflections about the creaminess of the mashed potatoes or a new movie. This can be enough to move the focus away from you.
5. Don’t lie — and don’t give lengthy explanations.
Shoring up your boundaries over the holidays is about alleviating stress. Also, telling untruths creates guilt — a negative emotion that is precisely what you trying to avoid. In saying no to some traditions or invitations, you’re keeping your self-sacrificing habits at bay and prioritizing yourself. When refusing, keep it short and sweet. A simple, “No, I wish I could, but I can’t” suffices. Furthermore, reserve “I’m sorry” for when you mean it, when you have actually done something wrong.
In conclusion, holiday stress or decorum is no reason to place your own needs aside. Being proactive can be your best defense against those who encroach on boundaries.
Want to learn more actionable ways to shore up your boundaries and embrace NO all year round? Grab your copy of The Book of No today.