How boundaries can help you navigate Christmas (or any holiday)

Use these six simple strategies to help you deal with tricky situations and people over the holidays.

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It’s meant to be the most wonderful time of the year, but for many people the holiday season can be fraught with challenges.

Whether it’s coping with feelings of loneliness, navigating family issues, or working out who goes where and when on Christmas Day, there’s usually something or someone we’d rather not have to deal with.

After many years trying to figure out how to navigate the holidays, I’m sharing my top six go-to strategies.

Change ‘I have to’ to ‘I choose to’
Christmas (and frankly life) often involves doing things we don’t want to do. I find it helpful at these times to remind myself that I always have a choice, even though I may not like my choices.

Rather than telling myself I have to do something, I shift my language to ‘I choose to’. For example, you may not want to go to your in-laws on Christmas Day but you choose to go because you love your partner and it’s important to them.

Reframing your experience in this way can help you feel more empowered and energised.

Say no when you need to
Sometimes the best thing you can do is say no and recognise that just because someone has expectations of you, it doesn’t mean you have to fulfill them. It’s okay to politely decline and say no. You could try something like:

“I/we really appreciate the invite but we have other plans. How about we catch-up in the new year/some other time?”

You don’t have to make excuses or explain yourself. Just a simple ‘we can’t make it but thank you’ will do the job. Initially, you might feel some guilt but better that than seething with resentment over Christmas lunch. It’s your Christmas too after all.

Set an intention
Once you’ve made your decision, own it. Set an intention for what you want to experience and who you want to be while you’re there. For example, are you going to be grumpy and resentful or could you focus on the positives and what you might enjoy? Stay curious and open to the idea that you might actually have a good time or learn something.

You can also decide to put a boundary around how long you’ll stay and ‘bookend’ the event with something more fun before and after.

Dealing with a difficult person
We all have that one tricky person who triggers us, and spending Christmas Day with them can be really tough. It might be your nosy cousin, your advice-giving older sibling, or your racist uncle. Here are a few ways to deal with these tricky people.

  • Change the subject
    When your nosy cousin asks you a question you don’t want to answer, you can simply change the subject or say “I’d rather not get into that just now”. If your uncle has one too many scotches and starts talking about Black Lives Matter or the #MeToo movement (not in a good way), you can simply move to another topic or speak to another person at the table. Have a think in advance about some safe topics you’d like to discuss or share on the day.Don’t make the mistake of trying to educate or change Uncle Frank. You might share your view e.g. “I see it differently Uncle Frank” but calling him a racist or trying to change his mind will only fuel him and the issue, and no-one wants to derail Christmas Day with a family argument. Sometimes we just have to let things go.
  • Walk away
    If Uncle Frank can’t let it go you can simply choose not to listen and leave the room. Go and help with the dishes, talk to someone else, or call a safe friend. I’ve spent many a moment in the bathroom taking some deep breaths and have found this to be an effective strategy!

Dealing with unsolicited advice
We all know someone who has a good idea about how we should live our lives. The best way to tackle these well-meaning people is with the phrase ‘you could be right’. I used to argue and try to prove them wrong, but it just wound me up and drove me crazy. Saying ‘you could be right’ acknowledges them without taking it on. You could also try ‘thanks but I’m not looking for advice right now’ and then change the subject or divert the conversation to someone else.

Focus on what you want to experience, rather than what you’re trying to avoid.
It’s easy to wind ourselves up about all the ways in which someone might aggravate us over Christmas. Rather than focus on what you don’t want to experience, try to place your attention on all the people and things that bring you joy. Look for the love, and focus on what connects rather than separates you.

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