Walk into any store after Halloween and you more than likely will see the twinkle of holiday lights, trees, and decorations that quickly remind us that the Christmas season is upon us. For some, these reminders are a welcomed sight, and, for others, these reminders may trigger feelings of stress.

One way to help ease stress levels can be by setting healthy boundaries. Magellan Healthcare’s medical director Candice Tate, MD, MBA, shares advice on the importance of setting healthy boundaries during the holiday season.

Q: What are some factors that you feel are adding to stress this holiday season?

Dr. Tate: I think people are still trying to get that pre-pandemic holiday spirit back. People feel overworked and underpaid. Many stressors do not seem to have a deadline or an endpoint. This is also the time when people tend to mourn the loss of loved ones or feel emotional because they are unable to attend family gatherings.

Q: What are the steps to setting healthy boundaries during the holiday season?

Dr. Tate:

  1. What are your needs and/or what are your stressors? This first step is important because it is difficult for others to know what you need and what stresses you. This can be effective by focusing on your top five.
  2. You should expect resistance from others because your needs may conflict with their needs. This can be a challenging step in establishing boundaries for that reason. This is also challenging because you are imposing a change from past behavior.
  3. You must communicate the boundaries and any subsequent changes. This may result in uncomfortable discussions and possibly conflict, but this is a necessary step in establishing boundaries. This is important for the people who will be directly impacted by the changes.
  4. You must be consistent with the boundaries and hold yourself accountable. Others may intentionally or unintentionally challenge your new rules and habits. It is important to stand firm and remind others of what has been discussed. For this step, practice makes perfect. The longer you are consistent in reinforcing your boundaries, the more beneficial the boundaries will become.
  5. Be prepared to distance yourself if necessary. On occasion someone may wholly reject your boundaries and object to any change. That is okay for them to do, and it is okay for you to distance yourself from the person or the situation. The boundary has been created to provide you with peace of mind and protection.

Q: What are examples of healthy boundaries? Is this important for both adults and children? How so?

Dr. Tate: An example of a healthy boundary during the holidays is setting a budget. Many people are faced with financial challenges due to rising costs of food and gifts. Many people feel that their disposable income has decreased over the past few years. Setting a budget for holiday spending to include gifts, decor, travel, and entertainment is a form of a boundary. Overspending causes anxiety, depression, and relationship problems. A budget can be beneficial for an individual and/or a family. It can be shared electronically or on paper, and it can be discussed with significant others and children. This allows for spending a certain amount, managing expectations, sparking creativity, and establishing new standards for the holidays.

The holiday season is an optimal time to take a social media break as another example. Recent reports in the news highlight how social media harms teenagers and children. Not only is this information not new, but we also know that social media negatively affects adults too. This is an opportunity to disconnect from what others are doing (or pretending to do) and allows you the space to focus on your values and the needs of your family.

There is so much pressure for us to experience a certain type of holiday season that usually includes overspending, indulgence, and being happy about it. Establishing boundaries is an opportunity to show yourself and your children that you can create positive and meaningful memories by doing things that suit your family based on your means and your values.