Holiday Boundaries: Reduce Stress, Reclaim Joy

Holiday Boundaries


Boundaries for the holidays.

You don’t really need my permission to say no to any of the things that add stress or decrease happiness, but I’m going to give it to you just in case it helps. You have permission to set boundaries and say no to everything that doesn't bring you joy this holiday season. You don’t even need a “good reason”.


Feel empowered to say no because you just don’t want to do it anymore or because you’re tired or you're short on funds. It doesn’t really matter because you’re an adult and you know what’s best for you.


Is it a tradition or an obligation?

We do a lot of things at the holidays in the name of tradition. Growing up my family had a lot of special Christmas traditions. We’d make cookies, participate in the Christmas pageant at church, sled down the big hill at the neighborhood park, and take a very long car trip to my grandparents. But that doesn’t mean I have to continue all of the same traditions.


Times change and people change. Sometimes we try to hold onto the past so tightly that we miss other opportunities that would better suit us. I like sending Christmas cards and baking bread for my neighbors. So, I do those things. But we like staying home for the holidays, so we rarely travel this time of year. And I really hate shopping, so Black Friday shopping is not part of my holiday tradition. Yes, some compromise is part of being a family or couple, but I also know how to decline or modify the things I really don’t want to do.


Holiday obligation or tradition



Say "no" to holiday stress.

What do you want to give up this holiday season? Is it another trek to the mall or sending out holiday cards? Or is it stressing yourself out trying to make things perfect only to feel unappreciated? Or hosting your entire family for Christmas dinner?


You have choices. And one choice is to say, “I’m sorry I’m not going to be doing that this year”. Yes, some people will be disappointed by your new holiday boundaries or choices. But many will adapt.


When you say no it creates a space to say yes to something else. Sometimes that something else is just more sleep or watching a movie with your honey by the fire.


Boundaries create happier relationships.

When you say no it also creates a space for someone else to take on the tradition or task if they’re inclined. If you decide you’ve organized the office party for enough years, maybe your coworker Robert will head it up this year and bring something new to the festivities. Or maybe no one will pick up the slack and you’ll realize no one really gave a damn about that office party so why bother doing it. Either way, it’s a win!


If you’re still not sure what to keep on your holiday to-do list, I suggest making a list of holiday traditions that you enjoy and then cross reference it with your actual to-do list. How does it match up? Are the things that really matter on your to-do list or is it filled with meaningless stuff that a magazine or advertisement told you would make a happy holiday?


So many things are actually optional. You don’t have to put up a Christmas tree or lights. You don’t have to send cards or bake. You don’t have to spend hours cleaning your house. You don’t have to search tirelessly for this year’s must-have toy. Perhaps we should remember that last scene in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” where the Grinch realizes that Christmas is a state of mind and not all the trappings. Do what really matters to you this holiday season!



©2016 Sharon Martin, LCSW. All rights reserved. Originally published by
Photo courtesy of


Are You Dreading the Holidays with Difficult Family Members?

  • Do the holidays feel more like obligations than celebrations?
  • Do you feel like you’re walking on eggshells, trying to keep the peace?
  • Do you put everyone else’s needs before your own?
  • Are you afraid to speak up and ask for what you want or need?
  • Do you feel overwhelmed, exhausted, and unappreciated?
  • Do you feel tense and anxious as you prepare for the holidays?
  • Do you need to set new holiday boundaries?

Get a copy of this digital guide HERE.

Sharon Martin, a licensed counselor and psychotherapist in Northern California, specializes in helping adult children of alcoholics and others who struggle with anxiety, perfectionism, and self-criticism. She has a private psychotherapy practice in CA where she is available for online counseling. Sharon is also the author of The CBT Workbook for Perfectionism and write the blog Conquering Codependency for Psychology Today.

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