Setting Boundaries During the Holidays

Dr. Erin Nitschke

Cheers during the holidays season. Image: Pexels - cottonbro studio

The holidays are a busy time of year with events, parties, shopping, planning, cooking, gifting, and going. As much as there is to celebrate, it’s still important to prioritize your needs and time for self-care. You cannot commit to being everything to everyone and nothing to yourself. One way to ensure you stay balanced this holiday season is to set (and consistently honor) reasonable and realistic boundaries to protect your mental space and preserve your energy.

Types of Boundaries

Boundaries vary from person to person and situation to situation. You can set boundaries related to any or all the following areas of life (and others beyond this list):

What serves you in one situation may not be relevant to another. For example, you can set a professional boundary that says you will not be available to answer work emails after 5p.m. on Friday and before 8a.m. on Monday. Or you can set a boundary that supports your energy such as “I will not volunteer to host the Christmas party this year.” Boundaries can change based on where your needs are at the time. Although setting a boundary allows you to protect your energy and time, no boundary must be so rigid it cannot be amended in the future.

What Boundaries Can Look and Feel Like

Setting boundaries might include making statements to others, creating an affirmation for yourself, writing down a to-do list and leaving it at the necessary tasks (versus trying to tackle it all at once), creating space for mental rejuvenation or declining an invitation. Let’s look at some examples of different boundaries.


“I am exhausted. I think I will take a break.” Or “I prefer to shake hands instead of hug.”


“I would like to talk with you about how I’m feeling, but I need some space to process first.”


“I can meet from 3–4.” Or “I already have a commitment at 5 tonight but thank you for thinking of me.”

Sometimes, setting a boundary is as simple as saying “no thank you” without the need to explain yourself (which is hard to do).

Woman decorating gingerbread cookies

Healthy Boundaries and the Holidays

The holidays are often a time when individuals feel pressured to imbibe, indulge, and do it all. Sound familiar? This is more common than you might think, so it is okay to feel that pressure, but don’t feel you must give in to it to enjoy the season and the festivities around you.

Before you set boundaries, you will need to identify your basic rights and your nonnegotiable needs (what you are not willing to give up). These are two different aspects to the boundary setting process. Rights are affirmations about what you deserve.

Examine the following statements:

Needs, on the other hand, are those basic requirements necessary for you to feel safe, healthy, and well during the holidays. Look at these examples:

After you identify your basic rights and needs, you can then decide what boundaries you need to have in place ahead of time.

Let’s look at an example. Maybe you have been the holiday host for years, and you do not feel up to hosting a large gathering unless some revisions are made. Perhaps a suitable boundary might sound like “I would love those, but I would like to offer that it be a potluck. If everyone agrees to pitch in with the clean-up, that would be great. I just don’t have the same energy I did in years past.”

Another example might involve declining certain events or gatherings to prioritize more downtime and relaxation this year. A simple and respectful way to decline is to say “I am really honored that you asked me to attend again this year, but I will need to decline. Please ask me again next year.”

Boundaries are not designed to keep anyone out or make you feel the need to hibernate (though sometimes we need that time to recharge — especially for introverts — and that is ok). Boundaries are there to help you respect your limits and support your needs. The holidays are a time of increased stress; setting reasonable boundaries will reduce some of the stress we tend to accumulate during these months.

Dr. Erin Nitschke is a professor of exercise science at Laramie County Community College. She holds certifications including NFPT-CPT, NSCA-CPT, ACE Health Coach, Fitness Nutrition Specialist, Therapeutic Exercise Specialist, and Pn1. Erin is an editorial author for IDEA, NFPT, where she writes regularly on topics related to personal training and health coach skill building, behavior change, and career success.

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