As a therapist, a friend, and a human being, lately, I’ve had too many conversations about how hard it is to set boundaries during the holidays. Because of everything that happened with the pandemic, many of us did not celebrate the holidays in the same way last year; therefore, there is extra pressure and higher expectation from loved ones to make up for it this year. This can cause a lot of different emotions that are difficult to navigate, including anxiety and guilt. So, what to do to take care of ourselves during the holidays? These four tips will help you take care of your physical, spiritual, and energetic being.
1) Let’s stop pretending it is not happening:
Many of us have learned from family, friends, and society not to look at things, to pretend they are not there, or that they are not as bad. While we do this, that thing that we are spending all our energy avoiding is getting closer to us. No matter how many snacks we eat or how many things we buy online to get ourselves distracted, the thing, the event, the party where you are expected, it is still happening. So, accepting that will allow you to be able to explore it. This might be the first step to take care of ourselves and our families because the better we feel, the more equipped we are to be present around the people we love.
- You can do this by looking at your calendar, seeing what you have going on. Is there anything you forgot to include that you were invited to? Maybe even creating a color system separating the events you feel you “should” go (Warning: if you felt identified with the word SHOULD, this might be a red flag and something to pay attention to) versus the events you are looking forward to going to. Another way to look at this is by having a family meeting and deciding how many things to attend. If your children are too little, then talk to your partner. What brings you joy? How much energy do you have? How many things can you do on the weekend before needing an extra weekend from all you did? Try to be honest with yourself and see what comes up for you.
2) Let’s take the labels away:
We constantly label things as good or bad, ugly or pretty, and all those different things we’ve been using for years. That label brings more than a word; it brings all the memories and connections we have from the past associated with what is supposed to be “good” or “ugly.” In other words, when we label an upcoming holiday event as “the worse thing in my life,” it is tough for the name alone not to bring any emotions, which might make it harder for us to come up with the best way to take care of ourselves in that situation.
- You can take the labels away, starting with recognizing if you are using words that will make you feel like a victim in the situation. For example, you had an interaction with someone that left you feeling anxious, and you know that person will be at the party you are thinking of going to; trying to think of the situation as neutral might help you make better decisions. This is not easy to do, particularly when you start practicing it. Try putting your judgment aside, and look at the situation with curiosity, so what you are telling yourself can be something around these lines: I know I had a challenging experience last time I went to Marie’s house, she is inviting me again, and this is a party, it is not a good thing or a bad thing, it is just a party.
3) Let’s unpack the boundaries’ box:
You know those boxes of decorations we put away until this time? One box is super important, and we often forget about it, and it is the boundaries’ box. Please unpack that box by thinking about what strategies you used last year that were particularly helpful; which ones do you want to use again? Which ones do you want to replace? Remember that last year was very different, so it may be helpful to go back to the year before.
- You can unpack the boundaries’ box while adding some playfulness. Can you imagine some boundaries as those tree ornaments pass on by people you love? Or how some boundaries are like those ornaments that were super hard to find, and therefore you feel a unique way about them? While some other boundaries may feel like those silly ornaments, you can even laugh about them. What about the ones that you reserve for very extraordinary occasions? Make it your own and have fun with it.
4) Let’s make a plan:
How wild is it that we can spend more time comparing black Friday sales’ than actually making a plan to take care of ourselves during the holidays? Do not underestimate how powerful it can be to be well prepared by thinking about all the big and small things you can use to your advantage. Going back to tip # 1, when you spend a lot of energy avoiding thinking about the event or encounter, you may not have any energy left to make a plan to cope with it in the best possible way, with the available resources at that time. Remember that this is all about you and what works for you. I often feel that I can be super annoying when creating a plan with my clients because I ask them very detailed questions, but I invite you to do the same. If you have a therapist, please know that this can be done in therapy. However, you can do it on your own as well.
- You can make a plan for the holidays by thinking about the small things, without underestimating how important they are. For example, can you take your car, instead of going with someone? that way you may leave earlier. Can you think about a time frame? So, you have already decided that staying for two hours seems doable versus being there until everyone starts leaving. If you are going with someone else, do you feel comfortable talking to them about this? Perhaps you can even develop a code word that you can use when you reach your limit point.
Lastly, remember that holidays are about celebration and joy; please think about your own happiness. Putting yourself first sometimes means doing things that nobody around you seems to understand, and that is perfectly fine. I wish you a happy holiday season with an extra dose of boundaries covered in self-care and self-compassion wrapped in love for yourself.
Bio: Dulce Orozco is a Latina immigrant therapist helping women of color and from immigrant families in Massachusetts, putting themselves first guilt-free. Dulce’s first language is Spanish, and she is also fluent in English and Portuguese. Because of her personal and professional experience, she is fascinated by culture’s role in our mental health and how we perceive ourselves. She works using mindfulness, whole-body integration, self-compassion, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). Dulce also works with corporations, institutions, and organizations, supporting them in caring for their employees of color in the best possible way. When she is not working, she is with her young daughters trying to savor their childhood as much as possible.